Scottsdale on the wild side: Off the golf course and off the grid
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Once a wild, desert town, Scottsdale has evolved into an upscale hotbed of golf, shopping and spas, now home to nearly a quarter-million residents just east of Phoenix.
The city bills itself today as the "West's Most Western Town."
Downtown Scottsdale's fine Italian clothing shops and swanky new hotels are sleek but hardly cowboy. Still, the days as a wild, wild west spot haven't exactly evaporated. The Valley of the Sun sprawls for miles, covering more than 20 municipalities that house 4.2 million people.
But Scottsdale's position on the eastern edge of the metropolis opens it to much of the valley's natural splendor.
The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy has helped preserve the eastern boundary of the valley along the mountain range. To the northeast, the Tonto National Forest, a camping and backpackers' paradise within an hour of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, attracts visitors with no intentions of spending days pampered in the spa or on the golf course.
Scottsdale's spa culture is no coincidence, though. The biseasonal rain pattern makes this the most fertile of the four North American deserts. In total, the desert gives life to more than 3,500 species of plant life, including those believed to contain healing power - like jojoba, prickly pear and tepary beans, all known for their salubrious qualities.
So don't spend a minute indoors (unless you're getting a good rub down). Here's a guide to Scottsdale's off-course and off-the-grid activities.
Biking adventures in Scottsdale
Locals adore their greenbelts. The Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt, 13 miles of parks and paved trails, for example, connects Scottsdale to Tempe. Visitors should head into the McDowell Mountains for its system of dirt paths.
With AOA-Adventures.com, half-day bike tours start at $95 per person. ranging from moderate to very difficult in skill level. They'll pick you up at your hotel and offer high-quality bike rentals.
Keep in mind that few people in their right mind bike on summer afternoons in Arizona, but the summer months are popular for night rides under the moonlit sky, when the temperatures are much more manageable.
Desert Wolf Tours on Tomcars and shooting tours
Part educational, part renegade, the indestructible Tomcars, used by the Israeli army, let you tour fearlessly through the desert. And don't worry, you'll get a chance to drive. If that's not extreme enough, opt for the firearms add-on, with which you can fire rifles and pistols in the desert under the guidance of the owner, Israeli Zev Nadler. Consider it the preference of modern cowboys in exploring the desert. For information, see www.DesertWolfTours.com.
Rock climbing in Scottsdale
The 12-million-year-old formations at the Boulders Resort aren't just for show; you can climb some of them, too. Book Boulders Resort rock-climbing sessions through the Golden Door Spa. A three-hour tour starts at $130.
Off the Boulders property, 360-Adventures.com offers half-day rock climbing at a dozen locations around the valley.
Hiking trails abound in Scottsdale
If you feel you didn't work your legs enough while riding a golf cart and sipping beer for 18 holes, loads of hiking spots in Scottsdale await. Many of the resorts that feature sprawling acreage also include their own trails.
North of downtown Scottsdale, visit Pinnacle Peak Park. The Pinnacle golf course at Troon North is named after the park, and it serves as the backdrop for the 10th hole. The 150-acre park features a hiking elevation gain of 1300 feet. Visitors can hike, rock climb or horseback ride at Pinnacle Peak Park.
The Phoenician offers another convenient hike for those near downtown. Golfers who try twilight play on the resort's Desert nine will notice plenty of hikers admiring views of the desert at sunset from the rocks above.
For a list of trails, visit ScottdaleAZ.gov/trails.
Water sports in the Sonoran Desert
If you're willing to head away from Scottsdale a bit, you can discover water sports on the valley's Upper Salt River. A two-hour drive from the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, you'll find intermediate to high-intensity river rafting or kayaking at Salt River Canyon between 2,000-foot walls. Rafting is seasonal at Upper Salt River, usually running February to May with Mild2WildRafting.com. Conditions vary and rates start at $100 for a half-day.
More information on Scottsdale off the golf course and into the wild
While the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau actively promotes its shops, golf courses, fine dining and plenty of other fine-living options, it's more than happy to help you find your wild side while visiting. For information, check out www.ExperienceScottsdale.com.
*Note: All tour companies recommended by the Scottsdale CVB.
January 19, 2010