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Learning to love the Valley of the Sun

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Like to hike? Phoenix might just be the place for you.

PHOTO BY ROSEANNA SCHICK Enlarge Image

Like to hike? Phoenix might just be the place for you. Photo Store


After taking my first winter vacation six years ago, I now have an affinity for warmer climes.

As soon as snow arrives, I feel the lure of sandy beaches and oceanfront resorts as they call out to me from places like Mexico, Cuba and The Bahamas. Then one day, Phoenix came calling, so I went there instead. However, considering it’s in the desert with no waterfront, I didn’t expect to enjoy it.

Boy was I wrong.

Phoenix is nicknamed the Valley of the Sun, and has more than 300 sunny days each year. Situated in the Sonoran Desert, the dry air is a welcome reprieve for someone who melts in humidity (like me). Phoenix is also surrounded by mountains, so for those who like outdoor activity (again, that would be me) it’s a haven for hiking. It’s also home to magnificent resorts that easily rival those along the shore.

Stay at a place like the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort and you’ll quickly forget about wanting to be by the ocean. The sprawling 27-acre property boasts mountain views, and a four-acre water park with pools, waterfalls, waterslide, and my favourite — the lazy river. Drifting slowly on an inner tube under the blazing sun with cold beverage in hand reminded me of the "good ol’ days" of tubing at Red Lake Falls. Minus the gaggle of rowdy young adults (oh wait, that was also me).

There are 563 spacious suites and split-level casitas with individual carports, kitchenettes, dining spaces, and private sundecks. The resort also has three restaurants, four tennis courts, miniature golf, a children’s activity camp, an amazing fitness facility, a 24-hour business centre, and what every luxurious resort needs — a spa.

The world-class Tocasierra Spa & Salon offers a full range of treatments for men and women including body wraps, scrubs, massages, and reflexology. Tocasierra means "touching the mountains" in Spanish, and their signature hot oil massage with paraffin therapy almost allows you to do that transcendentally.

If you want to touch mountains for real, just a few miles away in a convenient urban location is one of Arizona’s most popular hiking destinations. Squaw Peak is the second highest mountain in Phoenix, and it’s estimated more than half a million people visit annually to conquer its 795-metre summit.

The trailhead has a paved parking lot, drinking water and restrooms, and is staging area for up to 10,000 hikers each week. The summit trail is nearly two kilometres in length, zigzagging back and forth over moderate terrain on the lower portion.

As you near the top, the trail becomes substantially steeper and quite a bit more difficult. But if you keep in mind that each step takes you closer to breathtaking panoramic views waiting at the top, it helps propel you forward.

Once you get there, take time to stop before starting the challenging trek back down. Have a seat, drink some water, gaze at the beautiful valley below, and just take it all in.
After all, this is one journey that’s about the destination.

RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. Email her at rascreative@yahoo.ca.

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