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Meagan Morrison paints at sunrise.

The Top Things to Eat, Gram, and Draw in Tucson, Arizona
Artist Meagan Morrison escapes city life for 72 inspiring hours in the Sonoran Desert.

By Amber Kallor

 

For many, New York City—home to artist and globetrotter, Meagan Morrison—is a cultural oasis. A fast-paced destination that has something to offer around every corner. In fact, Morrison relayed the details of her trip to The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain while getting a manicure prior to a big event in the always-bustling Big Apple. Multitasking is simply second nature for the city dweller who is known for her eye-catching art on Instagram, which visually transports her followers to far flung locales like Shanghai, Seoul, and Kathmandu. 

The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain view from the canyons.

 

In order to hit pause on her hectic life, Morrison made the trek to Tucson, Arizona to relax, renew, and recharge. “My first impression upon landing was an immediate feeling of calm—the energy is pretty palpable,” she said. “There is something very healing about the dry heat of Arizona.” Nestled into a canyon, The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain served as Morrison’s home base. “You would think that the Saguaro cacti on the property were planted to match the hotel’s design, but it’s actually the other way around,” she explained. “The property was built around the cacti, some of which have been there for 200 years. Respect for nature is what really sets Dove Mountain apart.”

Meagan paints the desert

 

Morrison also took some time to capture her memories via her go-to medium: paint. She pulled her palette and inspiration from the natural landscape, as well as the electric colors of the rising and setting sun. Here, the artist shares her favorite things to see, eat, and draw in the stunning Sonoran Desert, a laid-back locale where time seemingly stands still.

Spa: To unwind upon landing, Morrison hit the spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain for the signature Desert Gemstone Ritual. After selecting a stone that informed the types of essential oils used throughout the treatment, she decompressed with a relaxing foot soak, rejuvenating dry exfoliation, calming hydrotherapy bath, and soothing massage. Morrison gravitated toward citrine, a yellow gem said to emanate positivity and joy. “There’s something about it that just spoke to me,” she said. “The energy in Arizona is very healing. That, combined with actually taking the time out to care for myself was an amazing way to set the tone for the rest of the trip.”

A Saguaro Cactus at sunrise.
Meagan Morrison's painting of sunrise hiking
The fruit atop a Saguaro Cactus

See: “There’s something to be said for getting up early, otherwise you miss the beautiful views,” said Morrison of her 4:00 a.m. wake-up call to hike the canyon and paint the sun rising over the desert. “It was a remarkable and almost spiritual experience,” she explained. “The sky transitioning from pink to orange to blue was so beautiful and everything was so still.”  

With the entire day ahead, Morrison suggests stopping at the San Xavier Mission, a historic landmark in Tucson. “They call it the White Dove of the Desert. The white and orange of the mission against the blue sky is really striking,” she said. She also recommends spending some time at the Tucson Art Museum, which features an interesting mix of Native American and contemporary art. Round out the downtown experience with a visit to local artisans who create impressive pieces via a variety of different mediums ranging from fabric to paint. Morrison was particularly impressed by Lisa Kanouse, a Tucson native known for her bold and colorful paintings that capture the American Southwest. “It was really cool to see a local artist incorporating some of the same methods I use into her work,” she said.

And be sure to keep an eye out for Ben’s Bells, a non-profit that promotes kindness by creating hundreds of clay bells that are hung randomly in public places throughout Tucson with a written message that encourages anyone who finds one to take it home and pass on the love. “It’s really for people to happen upon by chance and there’s something really sweet about that,” said Morrison. “You never know who might need that message of hope and joy when they find it."

Dinner setup on the porch of Cayton's
Dinner menu
Tablescape at dinner

Sip: One doesn’t typically think of Tucson as a buzzing culinary scene, but the city was actually crowned UNESCO’s Capital of Gastronomy, a first for the United States. Foodies will find a plethora of interesting options ranging from traditional Mexican fare to homegrown delicacies, including cholla buds from the jumping cactus. “The needles are burned off and you eat the cactus like you would an avocado. It has an interesting flavor, almost like asparagus,” Morrison said. Not feeling adventurous? She also recommends sipping on prickly pear lemonade (a “vibrant, fuchsia-colored beverage”), enjoying some prickly pear jellies (a sweet treat served at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain), or ordering the mole sauce at Cafe Poca Cosa (a favorite spot among locals). For incredible views without leaving the hotel, Morrison suggests finding a spot on the patio at CORE Kitchen & Wine Bar for breakfast and retreating to Turquesa Latin Grill near the pool for lunch. Ask for a hand-crafted margarita and a side of crudité with Green Goddess dip (Morrison’s favorite mid-afternoon snack).


Meagan Morrison's painting of Tucson's food offerings

Spend: The Mercado District offers a mix of local shops and eateries, making it an ideal stop to regroup and refuel. “It felt like old Tucson meeting new Tucson,” said Morrison. “There were men in cowboy hats, people line dancing, and a Mexican food stand, but at the same time, there was a cute accessory store with modern jewelry and amazing hats from Columbia. It was a really nice mix of things that were local but not touristy.” 

Meagan Morrison's painting of Tina Guo performing atop a mountain
Tina Guo and Larry Redhouse perform together
Meagan Morrison's painting of Larry Redhouse, flautist

Sketch: Serenaded by Grammy-nominated cellist and composer who explores the connection between music and travel for The Ritz-Carlton, Tina Guo, Morrison created a painting that captured her experience in Arizona. “Every time I hear Tina play, I’m moved to tears,” said the painter. “There’s something about her music that transports you, and I strive to do that with my art as well.” For daily inspiration, sketch to the sounds of a local flutist who plays every evening at sunset, a signature of The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain. “He’s up in the canyon, so the music bounces off the mountain,” said Morrison.

 

Meagan Morrison's painting of her stargazing experience

 

Stargaze: After the sun goes down on Dove Mountain, the action is just getting started. The remote location removed from downtown offers an undisturbed blanket of stars. Through the Astronomy 101 program, guests can even receive guidance from a personal astronomer who will take them on a visual tour of the universe. “I stargazed properly for the first time in my life,” said Morrison. “Seeing light from stars that are over 430 light years away and being surrounded by Saguaro cacti that have been around twice as long as me, if not more, put a new perspective on time that inspired me personally and artistically.” 

Meagan Morrison's painting of Tina Guo

 

Sleep: The Circle of Life, a piece Morrison painted to commemorate her time in Tucson, was inspired by every facet of her trip—from the vibrant colors of the sunrise to Tina Guo’s performance to the Native American dancers who incorporated traditional hoops into their movements. “I wanted it to feel cerebral—almost like a dream,” she explained. Speaking of dreams, there are a variety of luxurious suites and scenic rooms where one can escape it all and get some much-needed beauty rest. Whether you want panoramic views of the Tortolita Mountains or a completely private casita, Dove Mountain delivers. “I was completely blown away—Tucson truly exceeded my expectations,” Morrison said.