Rock-carved pool scene makes Tempe's Wyndham Buttes Resort

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

TEMPE, Ariz. - Every resort and want-to-be resort in The Valley of the Sun boasts that its pool is unique. Even if that pool happens to be nearly kiddie-sized and overlooking an asphalt parking lot.

When you're in the desert, it's all about the pool.

The Wyndham Buttes Resort is no different. Except that its pool actually is one of a kind. Carved out of the rock walls on which the resort is built, it provides a striking scene to wile away the non-golf hours of a golfing vacation. It's not the biggest pool you'll ever find. It's not the fanciest pool.

It's just one of the best combinations of scenery and scenes you'll ever find.

The pools (there are two large ones, right next to each other) are down below the lobby and patio restaurant, which occupy the top of the hill. This completely outdoor descent is made on a series of stairs and landings, adding a showmanship quality to the trip.

At about the midway point, there is an outdoor bar with a big screen TV turned to ESPN on a larger landing. From here, you can get a drink and appetizers while staying above the pool deck scene or keep on heading down to join the gathering of sun worshippers.

This group is likely to be a diverse bunch. On this day, there were college co-eds, next to families with kids, next to middle-aged middle managers, next to a few European guys wondering where all the Speedos were. It didn't have the frenzied feel of a party-time pool scene, but it did not have the languid lull of a 4:00 p.m. dinner pool crowd either.

Instead, the Buttes offers a mix of worlds. You can get in as much trouble as you want here, trying to hit on guys or girls out of your league. But you can also find plenty of the type of businessmen or businesswomen you probably are in real life. A few have even managed to leave their BlackBerrys behind.

"Sometimes my friends and I sneak in because it's one of the nicer pools in the area," Arizona State University student Heather Gillman said. "It's a place where you won't be bothered, it's not as much a pick-up scene, but you can still have fun."

The views around the pools aren't bad either. You look up at the rock walls and the rugged scenery beyond the hotel building. This is the place you want to spending those non-golf hours at the Wyndham Buttes Resort. If you don't like pools, stay elsewhere, because this is the overwhelming highlight of the hotel.

The Buttes is located in a semi strange location. It's a scenic nature resort set right off a strip mall central thoroughfare. You turn off shortly after the Pizza Hut and the Taco Bell and go up this hill to the resort's main building.

There are rocks stretching into the distance beyond the hotel, real desert landscape you can take a walk in, but it never really achieves anything close to a true out-there sense. For one thing, a number of the rooms overlook a rather loud highway.

It's difficult to be a nature resort when trucks are roaring past.

In terms of pure geography, though, as a golf base, it works rather well. You have easy access to Raven at South Mountain, Phantom Horse, Legacy and other worthy plays in the South Phoenix area. The airport is a mere 10 minutes away.

It's also close to Arizona State University, which may be no big bonus. This is one of the more disappointing campuses you'll come across for a major university. In fact, the whole area around the Buttes is suburban ho hum. You're not in Scottsdale and you'll know it.

But if you can get a good rate at the Wyndham Buttes, you'll get plenty of room for the dollar.

The rooms are pretty spread out with an open feel. There's even a pantry area with a microwave and small fridge, near essentials if you're traveling with the family. And you'll see plenty of families taking advantage of the space. There's no danger of the kids getting too far ahead of you here either.

One of the more safety conscious resorts in the area, the Buttes makes you use your room key to get from one hallway to another. You'll hear that electronic key click so often that you'll think you've entered a high-tech sun city.

Any annoyance can quickly go away with another visit to that sunken, rock-surrounded pool deck however.

"Golf in the morning, hang out here in the afternoon, hit Scottsdale for dinner, it's not so bad," Chicago vacationer John Evers said, smiling.

A water volleyball game was starting one pool over. A few couples were settling in to the open-air bar overhead. Further up at the top, a few conference goes looked down in envy.

Every resort in the 200-course Phoenix-Scottsdale resort labyrinth has a pool or two. The Wyndham Buttes Resort lives off theirs.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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