Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/2/2016 (1324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz — In retrospect, my previous visits here had perhaps been rather myopic — playing golf, getting ready to play golf, shopping for golf clothes, and well, thinking about the recently completed round of golf and then of course the next day’s game of golf.
This time, I decided to take my eye OFF the ball.
Turns out there’s more to Scottsdale than chasing after that little white ball.
Don’t get me wrong — if you’re looking to hit the links, Scottsdale knows few rivals. The city is blessed with more than 325 days of sunshine each year and has about 200 courses in the area, offering layouts that range from rolling green fairways of traditional courses to the latest in modern desert target-golf designs.
You want to escape the cold and white stuff in the middle of a Winnipeg winter and play some golf? The Scottsdale-Phoenix area is second to none.
But, if you’re looking to branch out and give the clubs (and your nerves) a break there are other reasons to visit this desert getaway.
Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying ‘Golf is a good walk spoiled.’ There’s not a lot of walking done on golf courses these days (most places insist on you taking a cart), so if you are in fact looking for a great walk through some very unspoiled landscape, then get your runners or trail shoes on and explore the Sonoran Desert.
And after a day on the trails, there are plenty of great places in the area to satisfy your hunger for food and perhaps soothe your toes with a little R and R.
Splendour off the grass
I was collected by my guide Steve (Spro the Pro) Sproviero from Arizona Outback Adventures (aoa-adventures.com) at 7 a.m. A little earlier than I would normally be ready for golf, but no sweat. The hook was, I was advised the desert was not only cooler at that time of the day, but the scenery was more impressive.
Not that I’m trying to avoid the heat — it’s December and minus 20 back home! A half-hour drive and we have escaped the hustle and bustle of Scottsdale proper and are passing through the gates of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Established in 1995, the preserve offers over 30,000 acres of do-it-yourself or guided outdoor adventures — including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and horseback riding. Our three-hour morning trek was on foot and Steve provided terrific insight into the area that overflows with towering mesas, solitary saguaros and exotic wildlife. Except for the occasional fellow hiker and a few folks on bikes, the overwhelming feeling I got was... peace and quiet. The Sonoran Desert is unlike most in that it receives rainfall twice a year rather than once, producing a much greener landscape and an abundance of flora — more than 2,000 native plant species in fact.
There are about 300 kilometres of hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails crisscrossing Scottsdale. Other notable places to check out the unique terrain in the area include Camelback Mountain (great views of the Valley of the Sun), Pinnacle Peak and The Boulders Resort (www.theboulders.com), where 1.4-billion-year-old rock formations in a foothills setting provide hikers and bikers with stunning scenery.
And if you are feeling extra adventurous, Scottsdale is within day-trip distance to a couple of world-famous hiking spots — the red rocks of Sedona or the wonders of the Grand Canyon — maybe next time.
Am I ever hungry after that.
While cowboy-themed steakhouses and Americanized-Mexican are what first comes to mind, Scottsdale in fact has a burgeoning foodies scene and offers a wide array of culinary options apres hike.
Over my numerous trips to the area, I have enjoyed too many great meals to chronicle here, but my most recent visit served up a couple of notable mentions — and not what I would have anticipated. The best calamari I have ever eaten was in a small village on the Aegean Sea on the Greek island of Lesbos. Since that experience I have always passed on the dish, feeling it would never be as good as that August evening in 2001. I tried to explain this standard to my waiter at the The Spotted Donkey Cantini, but he persisted — insisting this sampling of calamari would change my mind. Yep, he was right: Filet de Calamari Frito — tender morsels of squid panko-crusted and served with a variety of chipotle sauces — was extraordinary and has broken the ties on my calamari embargo. It was explained to me the head chef was not only allowed to special order the calamari, but he also plucked only the finest pieces for this house specialty.
Voted the best Mexican restaurant in the Greater Phoenix area, the Spotted Donkey is adjacent to The Boulders Resort, and a great spot to re-nourish after a hike or — yes, a round of golf at The Boulders’ two 18-hole courses that meander through the breathtaking landscape in the area.
So, if it wasn’t surprising enough to discover this amazing calamari dish in the desert, it was equally unlikely to be served up one of the tastiest lobster dishes I’ve been blessed to enjoy at another Scottsdale dining stalwart. (Listen, I was born in Nova Scotia — we take our lobster seriously). Located inside the Westin Kierland Resort (kierlandresort.com), Deseo (meaning desire in Spanish) showcases Nuevo Latino cuisine. Grilled meats and fish cooked in rich and mouth-watering marinades and sauces highlight the main courses, but it’s the ceviche appetizers that draw many of the diners and one that brings them back over and over again is the lobster escabeche (Escabeche is the name for a number of latin dishes that are marinated in an acidic mixture before serving; ceviche, by the way, is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with chili peppers).
As I sat on ‘The Rail’ which is 12 seats overlooking the open kitchen, I watched order after order being prepared and delivered to guests — and each had the same amazed and delighted response to their first bite. I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Deseo a few times, and each visit has had its highlights (great steak, grilled shrimp) but the lobster escabeche is always the first thing on my mind as I pony up to The Rail.
Some much-needed R and R
The definition of resort can mean different things to different people: One description I found was ‘a self-contained commercial establishment which attempts to provide for most of a vacationer’s wants while remaining on the premises.’ So, I can hike (or golf), eat afterwards and then perhaps get a little rest and relaxation in as well.
I once read Scottsdale has more resorts than any other city in the United States. And most offer desert tours, guided hikes, championship golf, world-class spas and an assortment of dining options.
Some highlights from previous visits include;
— the amazing grounds at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess;
— the gorgeous pools and close proximity to Camelback Mountain at The Phoenician;
— the incredible attention to detail, the amazing spa and the magnificent vistas at the Four Seasons Troon;
— the great golf and seclusion at The Boulders;
— and the central location, great shopping and bustling nightlife at the Westin Kierland.
On my most recent stay in the area, however, I found a hidden gem of a property just an easy two-block walk from Old Scottsdale. Lounging in the lobby at the Hotel Valley Ho, you half expect Don Draper to stroll by and take a seat at the bar. A fine example of mid-century modern decor, the Valley Ho has a very adult-vibe that beckons old Hollywood glamour.
That shouldn’t be surprising: Back in the day, Jimmy Durante used to come down and play piano on sleepless nights; Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh stayed there while filming Psycho; other guests included Bette Davis, Roy Rogers, Bing Crosby, Frankie Avalon, Humphrey Bogart, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. In late December 1957, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood celebrated their wedding reception at the hotel.
Originally designed by Edward L. Varney — a student of Frank Lloyd Wright — the Hotel Valley Ho first opened in 1956, and it became known for its trendsetting guests and its fashionable atmosphere. It fell out of fashion in the ’80s and ’90s and had to be rescued from a possible demolition at the beginning of this century, but since its renovation in 2005 the grand dame has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance. Since its renovation, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Van Halen, Korn and others have stayed at the hotel: the stars have flocked back and even Wagner has reportedly returned from time to time
It really is a retreat: Incredibly comfortable beds in spacious rooms, deep soaking tubs in the bathroom, a lap pool and nice exercise room for working out. Every room has a walkout balcony or patio and the suites are super sexy.
And the hike over to Old Scottsdale is hardly more than a drive and a pitch.
Steve Lyons is the Sports Editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. His trip to Scottsdale was sponsored by the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.experiencescottsdale.com)
As a young boy in the 1960s, Steve would plead with his mother to let him watch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. And CFL football. And baseball. And PGA golf. And… well, you get the picture.