On the Hilltop
I imagine the days when drivers would just head down a US highway until sunset and hope to find a place to stay, or when planners would use an outdated travel guide to call long distance to the anticipated city of arrival and book a motel that seemed to fit the size and budget of the party. How clean was it? How old was it? How well kept was it? These mysteries eluded even the most seasoned traveler, but with the advent of the Internet, booking hotel accommodations has entered a completely different era, yet somehow, the question still lingers over vacation planning: When booking a hotel for a vacation, how often does the place where we lie our heads reach a cosmic status?
Luck must have been on our side when we traveled to Benson, Arizona. We read a few online reviews, and we booked a one-night stay on a hilltop overlooking the edge of the Sonoran Desert at a three-room inn with a self-explanatory name. We splurged and booked the largest accommodations in the Egyptian Suite. Delight ensued. Besides a luxurious garden tub, walk-in shower, and add-on suite with sink, and a sensational view of the sunrise, the building included a guest kitchen, a spacious living room, a media room, an interactive classroom, an indoor dining area, a sunroom dining area, a lower patio with barbeque grill, and an upper patio with a stone-and-groove recreation of the solar system. To top it off, the modest beacon offered three private rooms with telescopes to view the celestial spaces overhead. Quite the heavenly retreat!
Before And After Sunset
Son #1 wandered the desert hillsides, tracking down rabbits, flowers, and vistas worthy of his 35mm camera. Son #2 wandered through the indoor education areas alternating his exploring by climbing the stairs to roll the smooth stones representing Jupiter, Venus, and then-planet Pluto around the boulder of the sun on the upper deck. I repeatedly pulled my hair for my face where the wind felt determined to toss it as I attempted to capture the ambiance of the late May afternoon in words. From time to time, one of the boys might stop to check in with me, but they had become enthralled with their own expeditions and not until the proverbial dinner bell rang did we finally regroup as a family. We savored and swallowed our prepared dinner as the horizon likewise did the same to the evening sun.
When darkness covered the hillside and the valley, and while the moon waited patiently offstage awaiting its late evening entrance, we joined our guest astronomy buff alongside the 20” telescope in our own private observatory. From this vantage point, and with a few magical clicks of the web-enabled mammoth in the room, we each took turns gazing upon the rings of Saturn. Looping effortlessly around the sphere they called home, the rings lacked Hubble-quality color and clarity, but beyond a doubt, the proof that these spinning collections of rocks and debris hugged their mother planet and we witnessed this spectacle together as a little family. Distant nebula followed suit, and once the moon distracted from our perfectly clear view of the skies beyond our little atmosphere, we stepped outside to watch man-made satellites loop the earth passing south to north, swiftly darting through the night sky. Even with its user-generated content, expert advice, and special savings offers, Expedia could not have given our night at the Astronomer’s Inn a remotely suitable rating to match the majesty of our exquisite night among the stars.