Pool at Arizona Biltmore
Sue De Lapa

When summer temperatures soar in Arizona, room rates at Phoenix-Scottsdale resorts plummet to affordable levels for cheapskates like me.

As June gloom clouded Santa Barbara one morning, Sue and I hit the road east. Friends wondered why we didn’t fly. Well, there are two reasons why we jumped in the gas-sipping Honda Fit and took off.

Barney Brantingham

One: Cheapskates don’t fly when they can drive. (This may not apply to owners of gas-guzzlers.) Two: Sue loves to get behind the wheel. We have a “relatively” painless route that avoids the worst of LA. traffic. And once you hit the Arizona border, the scenery is magnificent if you like jagged arid mountains, lots of sky, and saguaro cactus with welcoming arms.

Luxury awaits in cool pools, but to get there you will spend eight to nine hours on the road. Sue brings a stack of classical CDs, and I read. Last time, I read aloud to Sue pungent parts of a biography of the late filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, a brilliant guy but bursting with odd fears and sexual hang-ups.

We drove early in the summer, before the 115-degree weather hit. One negative to driving there is the lack of anywhere along the trail to get a decent bite to eat. We don’t ask much. Maybe a reader will have a tip.

Our little red Fit took us all the way to the Colorado River on one tank. We bought gas just across the border at cheapie prices. We visit Arizona fairly often, despite its weird politics, because my sister Joyce and my two nieces live in Scottsdale.

But why shack up in crummy motels where the A/C rattles all night and the walls are so paper-thin you can hear your neighbors enjoying themselves in bed, when you can pay motel prices at swank resorts?

Garden at Arizona Biltmore
Sue De Lapa

It’s smart to work the Internet for low summer rates. But this time, Sue insisted on dropping our bags at the classic Arizona Biltmore, designed partly — there’s some question about how much — by Frank Lloyd Wright. Deals come and go, but at this writing a double will cost a mere $100 a night, plus tax, resort fee, etc. It’s a lovely place, maintaining its art deco charm.

My advice is to save up and splurge on an upgrade to the separate Ocatilla enclave. You have free access to the huge lounge where you can eat breakfast, drop in for cocktails later, and then dessert, read the papers, and watch flat-screen TVs. Ocatilla also has its own pool.

The Biltmore was owned by chewing gum king William Wrigley Jr. (How could he become a millionaire by selling gum?) And if you look up on a nearby hill, you’ll see the magnificent mansion he built in 1932. It’s open for meals. I hear the food leaves something to be desired, but the sunset view from the Wrigley Mansion is superb. Sue and I thought about going, but the relatives were visiting and we never made it.

North of town, The Boulders is one of our favorites, set in a wildly beautiful jumble of huge rocks out in the desert. We didn’t visit this time, but right now a double will run you around $95, plus the extras. The spa’s design is world famous.

Also north of town, up higher and a bit cooler, is the Four Seasons, a class act commanding a $149 room rate this summer. Even if you’re not staying there, the sunset view from the lounge and dining room, down onto the twinkling lights of Scottsdale, is worth the drive.

Among all this luxury, one of Sue’s favorite is the Wigwam, west of town. Goodyear executives who came to oversee the growing of long-stapled cotton to strengthen their tires decided to open it for guests in 1929.

There’s a definite Western air about the place, although the riding horses are gone and the golfers plentiful. There are soft chairs in the lounge by the fireplace (in winter) where you can page through books about the Old West. There’s a delightful outdoor bar where you can quaff a beer or sit out at tables near the pool. The Wigwam is somewhere between rustic and up-to-date. Comfortable. We scored a $95 rate.


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