Japanese Friendship Garden by Jennifer Mullins

Contemplative Spots

By: Bryn Bailer

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November 14, 2016

Ditch your mobile device and surrender to silence at these contemplative spots.

About the author

Bryn Bailer

Bryn Bailer

Native Tucsonan Bryn Bailer is an award-winning journalist, former newspaper reporter, current-affairs junkie, and a firm believer in indecision. (At least she thinks so.) Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Dallas Morning News, Arizona Highways, Arizona Daily Star, international news service Agence France-Presse, scads of lifestyle magazines, and curiously, the English-language financial magazine Czech Business Weekly.

Arizona has bustling city centers in Phoenix, lively art districts in Tucson and Bisbee, and majestic natural landscapes all throughout the state. But when and if you tire of high-energy pursuits, the following contemplative locations will give you that space you want for quiet reflection and—dare we say?—renewal.

Spiritual sanctuaries

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona: Perched delicately on a red-rock butte, this striking Roman Catholic chapel is visible for miles. The glass-walled chapel juts out from the sandstone hillside, seemingly supported by a single, towering cross. Visitors from around the world come to pray, light devotional candles and marvel at nature’s majesty stretching out below.

Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David: Located between Benson and Tombstone, this small Benedictine monastery features a lovely chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as a picturesque courtyard garden, stations of the cross and a shaded, waterfall-fed koi pond. Several peacocks also roam the grounds.


Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson: The celebrated "White Dove of the Desert," considered one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, was built in the 1790s when the area was part of New Spain. The mission still celebrates Mass daily and remains a vital part of Tohono O’odham culture.

St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Florence: Rising up from an arid landscape, this oasislike monastery features manicured gardens, soaring cypress and palm trees, splashing fountains and quiet chapels for private prayer. Modest dress code is strictly enforced for visitors—no pants for women, for example, and no open-toed sandals or short-sleeved shirts.

Note: Visitors are welcome seven days a week, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Any guest wishing to stay for church services after 2:30 p.m. must notify a father at the gatehouse.

Our Lady of the Sierras, Hereford: This space—a popular Mexican pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary is said to have delivered messages of hope to believers—is marked with a 75-foot cross and a monumental statue of the Madonna, both visible from State Route 92. It also includes a-larger-than-life marble statuary, a prayer chapel constructed of local river rock and a contemplative trail following the stations of the cross.

Zen gardens


Japanese Friendship Garden, Phoenix: Completed in 1996 as a Sister City project between Phoenix and the Japanese city of Himeji, this is more park than a garden—featuring more than three acres of lush landscaping, flowing streams and waterfalls, a traditional Japanese tea house and a half-acre pond filled with flame-colored koi. Authentic tea ceremonies for guests 12 years and older are held October through June on the third Saturday of each month. Call well in advance to reserve a seat.

Yume Japanese Gardens, Tucson: This outdoor space, constructed on an unassuming ¾-acre plot in midtown Tucson, features five traditional gardens, each a reflection of Japanese culture and trends in landscaping. Find peace among two intimate courtyard gardens, a Zen garden, a stone and gravel garden, a sinuous dry river or a tranquil strolling pond garden. A small, shoji-screened cottage allows for further contemplation.

Tohono Chul Park, Tucson: Meandering trails in this desert preserve get you up close and personal with local flora and fauna, as well as a variety of demonstration gardens. Tohono Chul’s Desert Living Courtyard includes a small, Zen-inspired meditation garden featuring specimen boulders gathered from the Tucson Mountains, as well as desert-adapted white autumn sage and Sonoran potato bush shrubbery.



The Lodge at Sedona, Sedona: This secluded bed-and-breakfast inn makes its labyrinth, one of the largest in the US, open to the general public. The spiral walking trail is a seven-path classical labyrinth—seven being symbolic of the body’s seven chakras—and is constructed of locally harvested, precisely placed river rocks.

Superstition Mountain Museum, Apache Junction: A former Green Beret and long-time volunteer at this 15-acre desert site along the scenic Apache Trail designed this labyrinth, basing it on designs he encountered abroad. It measures an impressive 50 feet in diameter and is carefully constructed of earthen berms.

Sanctuary Cove, Marana: At the base of Safford Peak on the northern border of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, you’ll find Sanctuary Cove—a little-known oasis featuring scenic mountain vistas, a non-denominational chapel, and a rock-bordered labyrinth. Built on private property as a place for quiet prayer and meditation, Sanctuary Cove and its labyrinth is open to the public from sunrise to sunset—and requests you leave the pets at home.

Note: For those wanting more time, an on-site cottage is available to rent, which permits guests all-hours access to the grounds.

Portions of this article were updated in October 2018.

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