A Night at Cat Mountain in Tucson

The first thing I notice is that Juan Wayne, the resident tortoise, is missing. There’s a sign propped up next to the guestbook in the shared kitchen describing his disappearance and asking for everyone to be on the lookout. He looks like a very sweet tortoise (could I even say he has kind eyes?), and even though I’m not sure I’d recognize Juan from any other desert tortoise, I make a mental note to keep my eyes peeled for him roaming around in the backyard. I could only imagine how I’d feel if one of my two cats were missing.

Having a tortoise as a resident is, you might be surprised, not actually that uncommon in Tucson, Arizona, where people can apply to adopt a tortoise who can no longer live by himself in the wild. Although the Arizona Game and Fish Department sanctions the adoptions, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum arranges them, reminding hopeful families that they “should also consider that healthy tortoises can live upwards of 80-100 years and should have a long-term plan in place in either a will or other succession plan as the tortoise may outlive its owners.” This is not necessarily the case at Cat Mountain Lodge and Roadside Inn, a place that–although new as of last year–has every sign of still being around for a very long time.

First view of the Roadside Inn’s entrance

Front entrance to the Roadside Inn

When I first heard about Cat Mountain, I’d just come back to Tucson after being away for the past three years. Though my husband and I had lived in the Southwest for the eight years prior to that, we’d missed a number of the area’s more adorable b&bs. When we decided to come back, I made a promise to myself that I would start exploring some of the places I’d missed while we lived here the first time. And that included places like Cat Mountain, places that were just far enough off my beaten path as a graduate student to qualify as a place to run off and spend the night. Now, however, we’d come back with a six-month-old baby, and the idea of taking our first getaway as a new family together together under the stars of the Tucson Mountains seemed like a perfect choice.

Cat Mountain’s backyard

We’d only been back a few weeks when we arranged the trip. We packed about a hundred extra items that, prior to having a baby, never ever thought we’d need, piled the three of us into the car, and made the 30-minute drive from Central Tucson. We arrived just around dusk, when the sunlight was casting long shadows across the mountains, and checked in just as they turned a deep red. I realized I’d forgotten the magnificence of those Southwest sunsets.

Here’s the interesting fact about Cat Mountain: it is actually two bed and breakfasts in one. The Lodge and the Roadside Inn are across the street from each other. Though the Lodge has been in operation since 2010, the Roadside Inn opened just last year after the owners bought and repurposed an abandoned building that at one time was an indoor strip mall. If you go, make sure you drive up to the right place–the Lodge on one side, the Inn on the other.

Our baby was still in a pretty good mood, everything was glowing, and our room–the Old Tombstone Room–was a meticulous mash-up of Victorian furniture and Southwest accents. There was a birdcage installation on one side of the room, a comforter with a brown and orange Southwestern pattern on it on the king-sized bed and a complimentary cowhide rug on the floor, and a Victorian-era seating area with two wingback chairs and a small side table. (All of the rooms at the Roadside Inn, by the way, are designed to be completely different from the other five rooms in the hallway). Each room has a patio, too, that runs along the side of the building.

Baby Riley (before we decided to take him home!)

Outdoor patio area

We lasted two hours together as a family before our baby started wiggling around and getting fussy and we realized that he probably needed to go home. The rooms are so close together–and they are all offshoots from the same hallway–that we were worried the baby would wake up the other guests in the middle of the night.

So there I was, the first night I’d had by myself since before I found out I was expecting a little person. After the rest of the family left, I went into the kitchen, got a cookie from the jar, made a cup of hot cocoa, and sat down in the public seating area for about ten minutes before I decided to go back to my room. I had lots of grand ideas–I’d write! I’d catch up on Netflix! I’d commune with nature!–before I ended up falling asleep by 9:30 p.m. When I woke up the next morning, I hadn’t even stirred in the bed.

Ryan and Riley came back to meet me in the morning for breakfast.

The three of us at the Coyote Pause Cafe

Breakfast was served at the Coyote Pause Cafe, a sizable brunch spot that used to be a biker bar (it’s also across the street from the Inn, on the Lodge side). I could tell that it used to be something other than what it is, because it was almost too big to be a cafe–the paths between the tables are roomy and the tables were spread out pretty generously–but the bones of the place still resembled a restaurant. We ordered huevos rancheros and burritos and tortillas and coffee and met all of the servers (bringing a baby into a restaurant tends to spark lots of conversations). We even met the chef, who came out to thank us after Ryan told our server how much he loved his garlic white sauce burrito. After that, we drove the 30 minutes home and kicked off our Sunday together.

Cat Mountain’s backyard

So, first trip with (and without?) baby? Kind of a success–and at a beautiful place, no doubt.

And I am still on the lookout for Juan Wayne–I hope they find him soon.

Article and photographs by Kristin Winet. A generous thanks to the Cat Mountain Lodge and Roadside Inn for hosting my stay!


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