Arizona is a great place to visit in the spring, and not just because of the warm temperatures.
Editor’s Note: To read the first part of this two-part series, click here.
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa in Chandler.
Phoenix and Scottsdale lure you with much more than golf, even though the areas’ green fairways offer up some of the best putting and driving anywhere. In both cities and just beyond, the legends and colors of the Sonoran desert with its Indian lore and pastel painted bluffs, buttes, and bold red mountains beckon.
Here are some of Phoenix and Scottsdale’s top attractions as well as great choices for dining and lodging.
Make Music: Musical Instrument Museum
At Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, rated as one of the city’s top attraction, get into the beat of music around the world. Experience cool Jazz, classic singers, hot Hip Hop, Salsa, Rock, and other rhythms from around the world. The world’s only global musical instrument museum, the facility displays 6,500+ instruments from 200 countries and territories.
The cleverly designed exhibits, organized by region and also by topic, showcase the instruments and feature videos of people in their various countries playing the instruments. Headphones enable you to hear the music. In the hands-on Experience Gallery, you can play a Burmese harp, beat African drums, and strike a huge gong from Thailand. The Artist Gallery presents changing exhibits on music icons. Past exhibits have focused on such diverse artists as John Lennon, Pablo Casals, and Taylor Swift.
Discover Native American Art: Heard Museum
The museum features one of the US's best collections of Native southwest artifacts. In this Spanish-style building of courtyards and intimate galleries, view baskets, tapestries, pottery, and jewelry. The contrasting black and beige stripes of Pima baskets, along with the brown, red, and black designs of the Mimbres, Hopi, and Zuni pottery, and the rows upon rows of turquoise and silver belts and necklaces delight the eye.
The katsina gallery, many of whose Hopi dolls were donated by Senator Barry Goldwater, exudes a special magic. Some katsinas, brightly painted and feathered, are sprightly figures; others, intricately carved from cottonwood roots, and bearing elaborate headdresses and masks appear more formidable.
The annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, March 5 to 6, 2016, showcases the work of more than 600 American Indian artists, potters, weavers, jewelers, sculptors, and painters.
Explore the Desert: Desert Botanical Gardens
A visit here dispels the myth that deserts are boring and barren. You walk by huge acacia trees, mesquite thickets, and tiers of purple-tinged prickly pear cactus. The golden round spines of barrel cactus and the brownish green sprawling fingers of the octopus cactus beguile. Opt for a self-guided walk or choose a docent led tour. Enjoy jazz concerts in the garden on Friday nights, February through June.
Go Hot Air Ballooning
Instead of hiking the terrain in the heat, get up early to float over the landscape in a hot air balloon. The balloons launch just after dawn when both the temperatures and the winds are mild. This bird's eye view is worth the 6 a.m. pick-up. It’s interesting to watch the inflation of these huge balloons, 100 feet tall and 75 feet wide.
From a hot-air balloon, the Sonoran desert floats for miles. The balloon leaves the earth so smoothly that you won't be aware of the moment of lift-off unless you look down. All of a sudden you're wafting air borne, but you feel a stillness that comes from moving at wind speed. From 2,000-3,000-feet high, you see the desert as a smooth stretch of green cacti dotted earth. Check with your concierge about reliable companies. Rainbow Ryders offers balloon rides in Phoenix.
Take an Art Stroll: Scottsdale ArtWalk
On Thursdays from 7-9 p.m., enjoy the evening air by strolling downtown Scottsdale’s gallery district during ArtWalk when scores of the town’s many galleries remain open. Interesting galleries include the Marshall Gallery of Fine Art and Altamira Fine Art, offering contemporary and southwestern pieces. For those looking for works to fit a modest budget, browse Art One Gallery, which represents students in Arizona universities.
Take a hike: Climb Camelback Mountain
An area landmark, red-rock Camelback Mountain, located in the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area between Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, rises 2,704 feet above sea level. There are easier and more difficult climbs. If headed to the summit, go with a guide who can coach and steer you along the more strenuous rock scrambles.
Restaurants and Resorts
La Hacienda (right) features the modern Mexican fare of Richard Sandoval plus a tequila bar with 240 varieties of tequila. A Tequila Goddess (a sommelier for tequila) presents tastings. The resort also offers Bourbon Steak, the noted steakhouse.
The resort, an AAA Five-Diamond property, has well-landscaped grounds, two renovated championship golf courses, a noted spa and the Trailblazers Family Adventure Center activities program for ages 5 to 12.
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa
Owned by the Akimel O’othom, called the Pimas by the Spanish, and the Pee Posh, known as the Maricopas, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa weaves aspects of the Pima and Maricopa cultures into the resort. A cultural concierge leads complimentary tours of the lobby’s tribal artifacts. At select times the resort hosts jewelry-making, gourd-painting, and other Native craft sessions for guests, including families.
The resort labels the items available at the Aji spa as “the only authentic Native American spa menu in existence.” Among the many treatments are a Pima medicine massage, a salt wrap and a thoachta session, a powerful balancing treatment of light touch, Native American ritual, and centering techniques.
Treat yourself to dinner at Kai, the only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star restaurants in Arizona.
What are you favorite spots in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area? Comment below or connect with me on Twitter, @familyitrips.
All photos by the author.