Driving into the city limits brings an unexpected change of vista, not to mention pace and social class. I ponder why ‘the Beverly Hills of Arizona’, a sanctuary for the rich and famous, complete with high-end shops and gated communities, exists at all. How is there the Populus to support its inventive food scene and more destination spas per capita than anywhere else in the country? I get why the affluent see places like South Beach or Malibu as a natural fit and I understand the draw of harder-to-reach conurbations like Aspen and Provincetown as sought-after getaways. But how can an upscale ‘barrio’ (as hip locals call it) thrive in terrain that’s the last in a long list of places suited to human habitation?
I’m amused by the paradox – the idea that the very people who came to the desert to get away from it all built a city-sized country club here. I wonder what FLW or the Cattle Track Arts pioneers would make of it? They were around to see the city incorporated in the 1950s, but I bet they would never have expected this. At Taliesin West, Frank was not a fan of encroaching modernity. In fact, when power lines were run in front of the compound, he changed the aspect of the property to face away from them. And for the original Cattle Track Arts collective, surely this was the very thing they wanted to escape?
The attraction of Scottsdale is obvious, though. Three hundred days of sunshine, plus a low-stress, uncrowded environment far from coastal earthquakes to the west and hurricanes to the east. The air is pure and the low-to-zero humidity is undoubtedly good for one’s health. Then there are the spellbinding sunsets and calming landscapes.
Coming from a big city, life for me is a constant, maddening bumble, so it’s only natural that I look for moments that invigorate and feed the soul when I travel. And, as someone who thinks of himself as creative, I’m also deeply interested in the idea of the desert – in my mind until now, a challenging, inhospitable place – as somewhere that can inspire.
“Floating high over the plains and mesa in a hot-air balloon at dawn, I marvel at the grandeur and tranquillity of the sunrise-tinted desert below me.”
At Taliesin West, FLW prescribed studying, observing, staying close to, loving and understanding the deep mysteries of nature – coupled with silent contemplation – as a way of being inspired. Scottsdale’s proximity to the Sonoran wonderland allows me to do just that. It’s this that gives the desert city an edge over other American destinations.
Absolute silence is easily found just a short drive from the city. At Saguaro Lake, I paddleboard in the cool, Salt River-fed water of Arizona’s riparian zone, with a backdrop of the magnificent Usery and Superstition mountains and an endless sky. The landscape here demands that I pay attention to it and I find my creative thoughts responding openly and confidently, without any forethought of consequence. It is as if here each breath of wind whispers Frank Lloyd Wright’s mantra to me: observe, listen, breathe and connect.
Floating high over the plains and mesa in a hot-air balloon at dawn, I marvel at the grandeur and tranquillity of the sunrise-tinted desert below me. The lack of sound is startling at first. But before long, it becomes intoxicating. I start to notice the wind, on my clothes, to begin with. Soon, I see the sand below me dance, swirling like a magical mist over the desert floor. I tune into the littlest of sounds and see things I didn’t before – wildlife, flowers and, of course, the ubiquitous saguaro cacti and the shapes they make. Then there’s the quality of the first light out here, the spellbinding violet sky with cloudy wisps that look almost painted on.
It is said that deserts have a mystical effect on people. Some believe it’s where we come from; others feel it’s how we will meet our end. I’m not sure I believe either, but here in Scottsdale – like Frank Lloyd Wright and the artists, chefs, hoteliers and entrepreneurs who left their other lives behind to come to the desert to experience its magic – I find solace in this stark but beautifully simple environment. It’s the perfect place to nurture the creativity and inspiration I seem to spend a lot of my waking hours seeking.
For more about the desert utopia that is Scottsdale and its surrounding area, as well as its jam-packed calendar of fabulous goings-on, head to www.experiencescottsdale.com.
Scottsdale is just 12 miles from Phoenix, where you’ll fly into if visiting from abroad. Even if you’re in town to experience Scottsdale’s escapism, Phoenix is well worth a stop, with its inventive bars (check out UnderTow), hipster eateries such as Windsor (make sure you save room for dessert at Churn ice-cream parlour next door), easy access to the desert and, for OutThere travellers looking for a sense of community, thriving scene (ask for Charlie’s). For everything you need to know about Phoenix, check out www.visitphoenix.com.
Photography courtesy of Experience Scottsdale and by Meritt Thomas via Unsplash
Get out there
… get with the lingo. There’s a code to discern who’s local and who’s not. To get real local, don’t talk about the heat – just be aware it’ll always be ‘a hundred and fuck’. If you’re in need of a cool-down, ask for a ‘swamp cooler’ aircon unit.
… sup some Arizonian wine at Merkin Vineyards’ tasting rooms in Old Town Scottsdale, which specialises in regional, sustainable, local varieties produced from some 100 acres of vineyards in the Verde Valley and Willcox regions of the state. www.merkinoldtownscottsdale.com
… explore Scottsdale’s culinary offering. We really enjoyed chef Matt Carter’s The Mission, which serves modern Latin cuisine in an amazing setting. www.themissionaz.com
… miss the spellbinding hot-air-balloon adventure over the desert. Bring your camera and try not to be out drinking the night before, as it’s an early start. www.hotairexpeditions.com
… be put off by the heat. Paddleboard on Saguaro Lake – it’s a magical experience and a chance to witness incredible nature, views and wildlife. The go-to company is Arizona Outback Adventures, which offers a range of other outward-bound ideas as well. www.aoa-adventures.com
… skip Scottsdale’s low-key bar scene. For some cowboy antics, visit Rusty Spur Saloon or show off your karaoke skills at LGBT+ institution BS West. www.rustyspursaloon.com / www.bswest.com