Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson

Creative Accommodations

By: Bryn Bailer

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March 30, 2016

Stay at one of Arizona's unique lodgings – from a yurt to an observatory to an underground cave.

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.

The only thing cooler than finding a unique location to vacation is also finding a cool place to stay when you’re there. Arizona offers a variety of options for creative accommodations. If you’ve had your fill of hotels, motels or resorts, you can embrace adventure in these unique digs.

Stars in your eyes

The wide, dark expanses of Southern Arizona are renowned for stargazing – and Kitt Peak National Observatory is one of the premier sites in the nation for studying the stars. Located on the Tohono O’odham Nation west of Tucson, it offers the exclusive Overnight Telescope Observing Program, which features customized tours and private nighttime viewing through research-grade telescopes.

After a night of gazing, participants retire to cozy, “light-tight” mountaintop dormitory rooms that usually host research astronomers from around the world. Scientists have to book time on the ’scopes months (or even years) in advance, and overnight public visitors have to plan ahead as well: Schedule at least 30 days in advance, and hope for favorable weather.

Deep sleep

For 20 years, the front lines of the Cold War were located underground – in more than 50 subterranean Titan II launch control centers throughout the United States. The Tucson area was home to several, staffed in 24-hour shifts by specially trained U.S. Air Force missile combat crews. One deactivated site survives as the fascinating Titan Missile Museum, now a National Historic Landmark.

Four times a year, the museum offers an exclusive Titan Overnight Experience, during which participants bed down in the crew’s subsurface sleeping quarters – not far from the nine-story Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile, still standing tall in its underground silo.

Park in the dark

Another subterranean sleeping experience is courtesy of Mother Nature – and 65 million years in the making, to boot. Northern Arizona’s Grand Canyon Caverns, located just off historic Route 66, are among the largest dry caverns in the United States and offer adventurous accommodations in the Cavern Suite.

Located 220 feet below the surface, the “suite” includes 50-foot natural limestone ceilings and a 24-hour on-call personal attendant topside. Guests are given a private tour and can even explore on their own with flashlights. For those who don’t like deep and dark, the attraction in Peach Springs also includes aboveground motel rooms and an RV park.

Vintage digs

The former copper mining town of Bisbee in Southern Arizona is known for its colorful Wild West history, but visitors can also relax in 1940s and 50s style at The Shady Dell. Step into an era of mid-century modern Americana with overnight stays in aluminum travel trailers – each restored and decorated in high-kitsch accouterments. (Think pink flamingos, black-and-white TVs, checkerboard linoleum and leopard print.)

Radical architecture

Arcosanti, a self-described “urban laboratory constructed in the Arizona high desert,” celebrates the work of noted Italian architect Paolo Soleri (himself a student of innovative American architect and fellow Arizonan Frank Lloyd Wright).

Visitors to this site 70 miles north of Phoenix come for volunteer construction gigs, guided tours, architecture exploration, gift shop visits, and for its modestly priced, simply decorated guest rooms. Each boasts dramatic vistas of the surrounding Agua Fria National Monument.

Yawns and yurts

Northern Arizona is known for year-round recreational opportunities, and the Arizona Nordic Village doesn’t disappoint. Located in the sprawling Coconino National Forest, it is a convenient base for skiing, hiking and even outdoor weddings.

The Nordic Village’s lodging options include unusual-looking structures called yurts – fabric-walled round tents originally used by nomadic tribes in Central Asia. Each yurt contains sleeping pads or futon beds, a wood-burning stove and nearby portable toilet. Small yurts stand 12 feet high, and comfortably sleep two; large models are 20 feet high and can accommodate up to eight.

This article was last updated in January 2018.

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