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Sue De Lapa

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The Cool Life in Arizona

Rough Desert and Fine Dining


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rainy Blips: People say Santa Barbara doesn’t really have seasons — just a fairly even climate marked by few annual cool, rainy blips. Even our elections are bland.

I’m just back from Arizona, where politics and the weather are as dramatic as a Wagnerian opera, complete with the Ride of the Valkyries and bloodshed.

If Arizonans aren’t impeaching a governor or recalling a corrupt politician, they’re rightfully gushing to Californians how delightful their balmy summer evenings are — after the mercury slides from 115.

Sue and I drove over recently for a family reunion, figuring that things had cooled off. Had they ever.

Yellow Cactus
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Sue De Lapa

Yellow Cactus

The first night at the Boulders resort, about 45 minutes north and 1,000 feet higher than Scottsdale, we burrowed under our blankets as wind drummed rain on the casita roof and desert pyrotechnics put on a show with jagged lightning and loud claps of thunder. Blazing wood crackled in the fireplace.

When we awoke, the sun was out, attendants were tidying up the golf course, and we headed out for breakfast, then a hike up the nearby boulders that give the resort its name.

Looking Vertical
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Sue De Lapa

Looking Vertical

This was not a casual stroll through the desert. As we splashed along a wash, where pig-like javelinas a.k.a. collared peccaries live, and climbed the rocks, guide Rico Riley pointed out that all manner of critters make their homes around there, just a seven-iron shot to the greens below.

Great horned owls make their homes above the smoke-blackened roofs of caves and the shallow cavities in the granite where the ancients who lived there ground the necessities of life. Bobcats live up there, too, heading down to hunt and to drink at the creek. Mule deer roam this high desert, along with wild donkeys, Rico said. Tarantulas shelter in the holes underfoot. We spotted snake holes, too, but they’re hiding this time of the year because it’s too cool, Rico explained.

Scenic Rocks
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Sue De Lapa

Scenic Rocks

We could hear the faint snick of golf balls being smacked back at the resort and the thump of tennis balls. The Boulders calls this the rock outing. I highly recommend it for getting in touch with the desert beyond the luxury life, even though we saw not a one of all those creatures, including Gila monsters, that Rico told us about. Maybe the next trip. Although this is not a strenuous hike, I recommend wearing a sturdy pair of hiking boots with treads and awareness that sometimes you may be on sliding sand and holding onto rocks for support. It was the highlight of our trip. The Boulders: 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree.

Boulders Country
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Sue De Lapa

Boulders Country

A bit tamer was a casual stroll through the nonprofit Desert Botanical Garden down in Phoenix among the red buttes of Papago Park. It’s the home of a diverse collection of rare and threatened succulents from around the world. 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy. Adults: $15.

On our Arizona visits we never miss the botanical garden, or Taliesin West, the late superstar architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s sprawling desert studio and campus. There are guided tours, but we just like to browse in the bookstore. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. and Cactus Rd. Go to franklloydwright.org.

Purple Cactus
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Sue De Lapa

Purple Cactus

Scottsdale has loads of fine dining restaurants, and the Boulders’ Latilla is one of the best, if not the best. The new chef, Stephen Jones, who got his start in Scottsdale eateries, has juiced up the menu with wild game and local organic ingredients.

Scottsdale seems to love restaurants with colorful names. The Spotted Donkey, home of spicy dishes, is within walking distance of the Boulders, while another place with the same name under different ownership is in a mall at 8220 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale.

The Culinary Dropout, 7135 East Camelback Road, is very much a young folks’ hangout and watering hole. We ate outside as a dust storm approached, drinking beer and gobbling ricotta gnocchi, with tasty monkey bread for dessert.

Up the road in downtown Phoenix, a homer’s distance from Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Arrogant Butcher has an industrial look and a hip clientele from nearby offices. I had a turkey sloppy Joe, featuring grilled poblano chile, and thought about but didn’t order the filet mignon sliders or salted (?!) caramel pudding. The After School Special is not a Shirley Temple but Modelo beer, raspberry-infused Sauza Tequila, ginger agave, lime, and smoked salt. (Maybe next time when someone else is driving.)

Head Shape?
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Sue De Lapa

Head Shape?

We finished off the weekend at the ranchy Wigwam, a former getaway for Goodyear Tire executives, now a resort west of Phoenix. The rooms are modern, but the main, low-slung building is a comfy old place built of adobe and timber, with wood flooring, leather trimmings, vintage tables, a blazing fire in the main room, and drinks in the relaxed ambiance of the bar.

Litchfield’s, in the far end, is the main, informal restaurant, with an open kitchen where you can watch cooks tending the stoves. The menu includes lemon wood-fired free range chicken, dates from the ranch’s palms, and Four Peaks Kiltlifter beer from Tempe. The Wigwam got its start in 1918 when Goodyear bought 16,000 acres to grow cotton for its tires. Its suppliers and visiting executives enjoyed the desert outpost so much that Goodyear opened the place for tourists in 1929. Today, the cotton’s long gone, and the fields are greened up for golf. 300 Wigwam Blvd., Litchfield Park.

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