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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Author Aneta Hebrova on Essence of Tucson: The Story

Jun 30, 2024 10:01AM ● By Suzie Agrillo
Aneta Hebrova. Photo Credit: Aneta Hebrova and Andrea Rodriguez

Aneta Hebrova. Photo Credit: Aneta Hebrova and Andrea Rodriguez

Essence of Tucson: The Story is a captivating and beautifully written book that enlightens you with the author’s irrepressible spirit of adventure. This book is not just a travel guide—it’s a springboard for you to visit the Old Pueblo with intention. Author Aneta Hebrova brings you her unique perspective of travel combined with insights into finding self-awareness, personal growth and purpose in life.

A native of the Czech Republic, Hebrova co-authored her first book, Prague Green City Guide, with a friend in 2016. In 2018, while working as a freelance research and marketing consultant, she took a business trip to Arizona. She immediately fell in love with Tucson’s landscape, as well as the people of Tucson who embraced her.

Visitors come from around the world to enjoy Tucson’s outdoor adventures and the awe-inspiring beauty of the mountains and desert. As Hebrova drove from Saguaro National Park via Gates Pass toward downtown in the late afternoon, she says, “The desert landscape’s golden glow left me in awe. Witnessing thousands of saguaros bathed in orange light was a truly mystical experience.”

Weaving together her experiences and insights, Hebrova uses interviews with local celebrities Domingo DeGrazia, Peter Ronstadt and Diana Madaras, as well as lesser-known residents in order to capture the essence of Tucson’s soul. The book explores diverse topics including birding, dude ranches, golf, mountain biking, astronomy, gastronomy, music and the history of the Sonoran Desert.

Originally founded as a military fort by the Spanish, Tucson was incorporated as a city in 1877, making it the oldest city in Arizona. Today, it is a thriving mecca, a combination of old-world charm, historic locales and modern innovations.

Hebrova’s guide to Tucson chronicles the Native American roots, the Spanish origins and the early settlers of the Old Pueblo. Tucson has been designated a City of Gastronomy by UNESCO for its food, which includes the heritage of ingredients grown and harvested by Indigenous people of the region.

Tucson has been selected as one of Condé Nast’s choices for “The Top Places to Go in North America and the Caribbean in 2024.” Whether you are a resident, or planning to visit Tucson, read this fabulous book and be inspired to change your life through travel.

A Conversation with Author Aneta Hebrova

What can you tell us about your journey into becoming an author?
It began fortuitously when a tarot card reader pointed out the writing card at the center of my life journey. At first, I didn’t believe her, but I eventually fell in love with writing. The desire to write stems from my passion for storytelling. It is the oldest method for creating, sharing and exchanging information. I believe in the transformative power of books to inspire and enrich lives. Writing and reading serve as invaluable tools for personal growth and self-discovery.

Can you tell us about your experience here with dude ranches?
I visited the White Stallion Ranch owned by Russell True. More than a businessperson, he was the heart and soul of the operation—a skilled chef, a caring host and a true steward of the western experience. He gave me a beautiful explanation about dude ranches in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and how Tucson was the dude ranch capital of the world. The ranch is a family business, and it has an intimate atmosphere with a beautiful family vibe.

I also went horseback riding at the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. It was a much bigger venue with a beautiful wild west experience.

What did you learn about teeing off in Tucson?
I am just a beginner with golf, so I interviewed Maya Benita, a golfer since age 14. She related how golf here is equally beautiful and punishing due to the cactus, sand, all sorts of animals and of course sometimes the intense heat.

Some of her favorite courses are La Paloma, Skyline Country Club, Ventana Canyon Country Club and The Gallery. Her tip to newcomers is to “embrace the uniqueness of Tucson’s golf style with patience.”

What are some of the hiking adventures you took?
Sabino Canyon, Ventana Canyon, Finger Rock (I’ve hiked it perhaps 50 times), Catalina State Park, Mt. Lemmon, Madera Canyon—even the Rillito Loop is a fun walk in some parts.
Please share your observations about the local cultures and what you appreciate about Tucson’s history.

I learned a lot of fascinating information about the Indigenous Pasqua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham tribes. Their extraordinarily rich culture has played a significant role in shaping Tucson’s history. It’s sacred, and we should acknowledge and respect them more. To support these communities, consider visiting their cultural centers, the Tohono O’odham Nation Culture Center and Museum, the Old Pascua Museum & Yaqui Culture Center and the Yoemem Tekia Foundation.

Tohono O’odham literally translates to “people of the desert”. I interviewed Maegan Lopez at Mission Garden, and she comes from the Tohono O’odham Nation. She gave me an explanation of the “Man in the Maze” symbol. The symbol is a labyrinth that is a metaphor for life, with twists and turns. The core concept is surviving, knowing that you have a purpose and reminding us to live a meaningful life.

What did you learn from your interviews with Diana Madaras and Domingo DeGrazia?
I visited Ted DeGrazia’s artistic sanctuary, Gallery of the Sun, and explored the gallery with his paintings and sculpture. The gallery director, Lance, connected me with Domingo, Ted’s youngest son. Domingo informed me, “Tribal members and Hispanics were his circle of friends, so it was his lifestyle, a lot of Native American dances and other rituals, and you can see it throughout his paintings.” Ted captured local cultural and tribal heritage very well.

The connection with Diana Madaras began at a lively house party, where her magnetic energy immediately drew me in. As our conversation unfolded, I was delighted to discover her profound love for animals. She graciously invited me to her home for an interview.

Beyond her iconic Southwest art, she runs a nonprofit named Art for Animals, which engages in numerous projects. One of her favorites is the Tucson Wildlife Center, which is dedicated to rescuing injured wildlife, such as coyotes, javelinas, mountain lions, raptors and quail.
Please tell us about your interview with musician Peter Ronstadt.

It was an absolute delight to interview the talented musician, Peter Ronstadt. Growing up in the legendary Ronstadt family, Peter shared some stories of his childhood. He said his aunt Linda was supportive and close, playing a significant role in his musical history.

Peter’s passion for music is evident in his regular performances at Monterey Court, a favorite venue where he connects to his audience. He also enjoys playing at various other spots around town, including The Rialto, the Fox Tucson Theatre, Hotel Congress and The Temple of Music and Art.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers based on your own experience?
Start with a diary. A diary is a powerful tool that helps us heal from our past and shape the future by accepting what has happened. Additionally, delve into The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, a seminal work on mythology and legends. This book laid the groundwork for many beloved stories, including The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter. Through Campbell’s exploration of the hero’s journey, you’ll gain insights that can transform your own life and personal narrative.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a writer?
As for the most challenging aspect of being a writer, for me it’s English, because it’s not my first language. I also find it difficult to carve out time for reading, which is essential for growth and inspiration as a writer.

How do you relax after a stressful day?
I always feel relaxed when I’m in nature. Music, exercise and spending time in good company also helps me unwind. Sometimes, simple things like deep breathing and taking a nap can make a big difference, too.   

Where can people buy your book?
You can order it on Amazon in both printed and e-book versions. It is also available at Barnes and Noble, The Tucson Gallery, the Pima County Visitors Center and a few other brick and mortar stores. Additionally, I am planning an audio version.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell; Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling; The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll; Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach; Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading a memoir/biography written by my friend, Judith Austen, titled Sulamiths’s Daughter. Her parents narrowly escaped the worst of the Holocaust with her then two-year-old brother. After living in Sweden for two years, they immigrated to the United States to begin a new life in New York.

What are you most excited about now?
That the book is done! It’s a huge relief!

Connect with Aneta Hebrova at

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at [email protected].

Photo Credit: Aneta Hebrova and Andrea Rodriguez

Book Cover by: Andrea Rodriguez