In the distance slivers of sunlight creep over the mountains lighting the sky in crimson, faded tangerine and pale yellow, and illuminate the desert floor. This is the beginning of another perfect day in Scottsdale; a day of soaring above the otherworldly landscape in a hot air balloon with 11 other adventurers and our pilot David.
Although the desert can get chilly at night, by the time we are airborne, it’s already in the 70s as we glide over miles of cactus, shrubs and small trees surrounded by cinnamon colored mountains pushing their way skyward. The seemingly barren landscape supports its own ecosystem of birds, rodents and jackrabbits, we are told by David, as we watch a coyote sprint across the brown earth.
Scottsdale, named for the first European landowner Winfield Scott, has been attracting visitors since the early 1880s when Scott purchased the 640 acres that is now Downtown Scottsdale. Today there are nearly 220,000 year-round residents with another 8 million visiting every year; drawn by warm temperatures, resorts and spas, and a myriad of things to do.
Frank Lloyd Wright
One famous winter guest was Frank Lloyd Wright. The architect began building his winter home, studio and architectural school campus here in 1937 at the age of 70.
Tours of Taliesin West offer guests an understanding of how Wright, with the assistance of his students, built massive walls of desert rock embedded in masonry, and topped with canvas flaps for ceilings affixed to redwood beams to create rooms.
The Insights Tour includes the subterranean Cabaret Theater, Music Pavilion and Wright’s living quarters along with terraces, gardens and walkways.
Another legend who made Scottsdale his home was Paolo Soleri, an Italian immigrant who studied under Wright and decided to make the desert his home.
Although he had early success in architecture, he is best known for his art complex – Cosanti – and his decorative bells.
The tour provides a glimpse of his art, the innovative design of the buildings and the man, who passed away last year at the age of 93. Throughout the complex Cosanti bells sway in the breeze, adding a lyrical inspiration to the setting.
As much as the area is known for its more recent inhabitants and visitors, Native American history is also honored here at several attractions including the Heard Museum.
Founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard, the museum is dedicated to the precise interpretation of Native arts and cultures.
Exhibits range from ancestral artifacts to contemporary works including paintings, drawings, prints, photography and sculpture. The museum also uses the outdoors as a backdrop for several stunning works of art.
Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park is another excellent attraction honoring the area’s Native American history.
The prehistoric Hohokam culture created the archaeological structures and items of Pueblo Grande. It is believed that this area was settled around 450 AD. Due to major population movements, among other factors, the site was abandoned by 1450 A.D.
Pueblo Grande features a large platform mound with retaining walls, several dwellings and at least three ball courts.
The Hohokam people are known as the first to practice irrigated agriculture in the region. The remnants of their irrigation canals are part of the historic site.
Another popular destination in the area is the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden. Easy to follow trails take guests past all manner of desert plant life.
Scottsdale’s first resort, the Ingleside Inn, opened in 1909. Since then, Scottsdale has grown into one of the premier golf and resort destinations in the world. More than 70 hotels and resorts offer amenities personally suited to individual needs.
Hotel Valley Ho, for example, is a fun casual resort in Downtown Scottsdale. Built in 1956 and fully restored, the hotel is decorated in the mid-century-modern style. It’s like walking onto the set of Mad Men. From the lobby area and restaurant to guest rooms, the theme stays true.
W Scottsdale is another downtown resort offering a very modern approach with beautiful contemporary design elements in public areas as well as guest rooms.
Hotel Valley Ho and W Scottsdale are located within walking distance of downtown shopping areas and attractions.
Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, a boutique resort, is farther away from the city and offers beautiful panoramic view of the mountains.
All three resorts have spa treatment facilities, irresistible swimming pools and lovely landscaped grounds with friendly and attentive staff members guaranteeing a wonderful resort experience.
There are also more than 900 restaurants in Scottsdale and hundreds more in neighboring Phoenix.
At Zookz – Sandwiches with an Edge, owner Carole Meyer creates a pocket-style sandwich by placing fresh ingredients between two pieces of bread and sealing the bread along the outside. My favorite is No. 30: thinly sliced ham, a layer of soft Brie, a spoonful of apricot preserves and a sprinkle of roasted almonds; unbelievably delicious.
Café Monarch chef and owner Gus Lewkowicz offers a set three-course menu that varies depending on the season. Not only is the food excellent, but the candlelit dining room is reminiscent of a European courtyard and very relaxing.
Citizen Public House, located in Old Town Scottsdale, features a unique menu that includes everything from bacon fat heirloom popcorn and pork belly pastrami, to truffle grilled cheese sandwich and meatloaf.
You can also celebrate farm-fresh American cuisine at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain’s restaurant elements. Food Network celebrity and Executive Chef Beau MacMillan creates delectable entrees, served in a glass-walled room with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
If shopping is on your list of things to do, there are lots of options.
A fun place to start is Old Town Scottsdale with locally owned shops and boutiques. A neighborhood within Downtown Scottsdale, it features the feel of the Old West. Three of my favorite shops are Kris Kringles, Kactus Jock, and Stones – Gifts & Collectibles.
If you’re looking to escape winter’s cold grip, head to Arizona and beautiful Scottsdale. Her warming embrace will make you forget about ice, snow and the cold winds blowing back home.
For more information:
Hot Air Expeditions, hotel pickup provided; (800) 831-7610.
Taliesin West, 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard; (480) 627-5375; .
Cosanti, 6433 Doubletree Ranch Road; (928) 632-6212.
Heard Museum, 2301 North Central Avenue, Phoenix; (602) 251-0218.
Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park, 2243 East Rose Garden Loop, Phoenix; (480) 502-6999.
Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix; (480) 941-1225.
Hotel Valley Ho, 6850 East Main Street; (866) 882-4484.
W Scottsdale, 7277 East Camelback Road; (888) 627-8347.
Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, 5700 East McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley; (855) 245-2051.
Zookz - Sandwiches with an Edge, 4750 North Central Avenue, Phoenix; (602) 279-0906.
Café Monarch, 934 East 1st Avenue; (480) 970-7682.
Citizen Public House, Craftsman Court and Fifth Avenue; (480) 398-4208.
Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Elements, 5700 East McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley; (855) 245-2051.
For additional information:
Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4343 North Scottsdale Road; (800) 782-1117.