Neil Jones, Events Committee member at Visit USA and Director at TTM, gives his insights into a trip to remember.
I guess it would be safe to say that when you mention desert, it may come with some preconceived ideas, dry, arid and little in the way of life. But arriving into Scottsdale, Arizona in the heart of the Sonoran desert, you quickly learn that this could not be further from the truth. I spent an amazing few days touring Scottsdale with my host, colleague and friend Emily Wininger as part of a wider Arizona trip in August 2018, so here I hope to shatter some other misinformed illusions. August is hot there’s no two ways about it but it’s not unbearable by any stretch of the imagination and here’s why – it’s a dry heat, which means as a destination it lends itself beautifully to outdoor life filled with fun and activities year round, with plenty of air conditioned bars, museums, art galleries, restaurants & spas to retreat to if the midday sun gets too much for you. As it is a dry climate, keeping a bottle of water with you at all time is highly recommended.
I was fortunate enough to experience kayaking on the Salt River – returning to a spot I enjoyed over 15 years earlier while travelling the US. With tubing being an essential summer pastime for locals and tourists alike, kayaking on the river was such a different experience, the peace and serenity of self powered travel means you get to see the wildlife up close – we were blessed to see the wild horses bathing and cooling themselves in the river’s slow moving waters.
After a leisurely paddle it was of course time for food and Scottsdale serves up an eclectic blend of cuisines mixing influences from Americas west coast, the neighbours to the south in Mexico and with heavy inspiration from the East all this means fresh light flavours blended with meat a plenty for me.
I have tried my hand at golf more than once or twice, Scottsdale is famous worldwide for the abundance of courses in and around the city limits from par 3 beginners to PGA Tour courses – but for me and my host and companion during my stay, Emily, we knew our limitations and stuck strictly to Top Golf – a multi level driving range accompanied with flashing lights, music, beer and chicken wings.
As with all trips like this we move at a frenetic pace to make sure we see and experience as much as possible, but we did eek out a good amount of time to be able to pay a visit to somewhere that is truly unique and can only be experienced here in Scottsdale. Having grown up around an architecture fanatic, I have heard much about the world renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania remains on my list to visit and see with my own eyes but a visit to Taliesin West in Scottsdale, his winter retreat and architectural school, definitely ticked off a bucket list spot for me. It remains a hub for design and architecture but also where arguably FLR was at his most happy and creative - the landscape and lighting is amazing. Each tour guide creates a unique experience incorporating their own first hand experiences and stories to tell .
Another surprise element for me was the amount of public art installations and exhibits that Scottdale has to offer, wine and art go hand in hand on a Thursday at the weekly free art walks in the suitably titled Arts District located down town.
I am partial to a sunrise so an early start on my final morning had us heading to experience something that should be on everyone’s “must do” list when in Scottsdale. As the sun came up we found ourselves at the Rainbow Riders Hot Air Balloon take off location at an eye rubbingly early 5am. This was every bit the wow I had hoped for, crystal clear, calm and blue, blue skies justified my 3.30am wake up call. A bird’s eye view of the mountain ranges, lush green habitat and the desert inhabitants delivered from above, presented a unique way of exploring without disturbing as we glided along with nothing but our flying companions expressions of joy to break the quiet as the sun rose higher over the horizon.
Sadly with this last adventure, my journey was at an end and I found myself en route to Sky Harbour Airport. We made one last stop on the university campus in hunt of one of the most unique souvenirs I have ever bought. I am proud uncle to a very well accomplished, medal laden swimming niece and nephew and so I was hunting for 2 swimming caps with the Sun Devils logo, whom I learnt are an institution, a legend of the swimming world as well as a source of much pride for Arizona State University alumni.
Following these successful purchases we continued to the airport, where my thoughts were already pondering on “I’ll be back”, so much more I had yet to see and experience, not least the amazing spa and wellness side of the Scottdale experience that I sadly didn’t have time for on this trip!