Place of Little Spring & Good Oak Tree … a Land for You & Me
By Henry & Elaine Levy
December 15, 2017 Hanukkah issue
Arizona actually means “Place of Little Spring” according to the Pima natives and “Good Oak Tree” from the Basques influence. One quarter of the State is made up of Indian reservations, home of 27 tribes including the Navajo. Even though it did not become our 48th state until 1912, it was under our control following the Mexican-American War of 1847-1848 and was officially named the Arizona Territory in a law passed by Abraham Lincoln. The first tourists showed up in the 1920's and 1930's when people were attracted to dude ranches.
These days Arizona is an attractive destination for retirees and also is a big draw for tourists anxious to see its natural beauty and participate in its vibrant art and museum scene and all-inclusive hotels and resorts.
Our visit concentrated on the Scottsdale area plus a side trip to beautiful Sedona. Many resorts were undergoing major renovations and it was exciting for us to see some the results first hand. Each of the five places we stayed were quite different and yet charming in their own way. They are Mountain Shadows, Royal Palms Resort & Spa, The Phoenician, The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, all in the Scottsdale area plus L'Auberge de Sedona in Sedona.
Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley may be known as the newest boutique resort in town, but can be traced back to the original resort in 1959 that catered to the likes of John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor and where the afternoon shadows of Camelback Mountain inspired its name. The desert modern design is complimented by outdoor pools adjacent to an enclosed fitness facility and a revamped 18 hole par 3 golf, perfect for beginners or a quickie round prior to exploring the area. For the enjoyment of the guests, there are activities such as the 6pm yoga on the lawn, Champagne tastings, monthly photography classes and events incorporating fitness, cycling and yoga. The highlight of our stay was the food at Hearth 61, commemorating the incorporation of the town of Paradise Valley in 1961. What made the breakfast choices so memorable were the complimentary freshly baked scones that were outstanding. Dining outside by the lit fire pit made for a romantic dinner.
Our next destination was the Royal Palms Resort & Spa known for its beautifully appointed guestrooms and casitas. It was built in 1929 as the mansion of Delos Cooke, a NY industrialist, opened for guests in 1948 and fifty years later underwent a dramatic restoration to its original grandeur with lush gardens, tapestries, stone fireplaces, tennis, swimming, fitness center, spa, meeting spaces and award winning T. Cook's restaurant. We stayed at one of the lovely casitas with a shared courtyard providing a sense of relaxation and privacy. The feeling of being in our own little world with no stress and no worries made our stay here special.
The setting for our dinner at T. Cook's exuded an elegant, high class Spanish design, was intimate and romantic with a menu echoing the philosophy of Executive Chef Todd Allison's culinary style of fresh, seasonal and local. After a few days in Scottsdale we hit the road for a couple days in Sedona, one of our favorite places. L'Auberge de Sedona was our destination, one of the Southwest's foremost luxury retreats, established in 1984.
We stayed at one of their private creek side cottages with a porch facing Oak Creek. The cottage was beautifully decorated with a bathroom that included an open-roof cedar shower. Nothing beats the feeling of warm water cascading from a rain style shower head when there is a still a slight chill in the fresh morning air. And sitting on the porch, drink in hand, watching the ducks parade below and listening to the ripple of the creek is about as relaxing as you can get. In fact, each morning at 8am is duck feeding followed by yoga stretch. For those who rise a bit later there is star gazing from 6:30-8:30pm. Creekside massages are available including feet in the creek treatment, reflexology and neck and shoulder massages.
The on-site L'Apothecary Spa allows guests to create custom body care blends with local ingredients which make a lovely keepsake. To say L'Auberge is a There was an extensive choice of food options and although there was a large wine list we stayed with another Russian River Pinot Noir most romantic setting is an understatement as they average 1-2 proposals per week. We had the pleasure of dining outdoors at their superb restaurant, Cress on Oak Creek, serving French cuisine, naturally. Our server was a true connoisseur of wine, skillfully guided us through the menu ensuring that we ended up with truly delicious courses paired with the perfect wines. The next morning, following a scrumptious breakfast, we headed out to Fay Canyon Trail for an easy hike with awe inspiring views of the Red Rocks.
We spent our final days back in the Scottsdale/Phoenix region with a stay at the magnificent Phoenician, an AAA Five Diamond Resort. Massive renovations have taken place transforming and refurbishing the main lobby, Thirsty Camel Lounge, Afternoon Tea Room and pool complex. Planned for 2018 is a new three story Spa, athletic club, fitness center, redesigned 18 hole golf course, remodeling of casitas and guestrooms and a makeover of the fabulous Canyon Suites. The dining facilities are new as well including world renowned chef Jean-Georges' J&G Steakhouse.
We had a lovely lunch with friends at the 19th Hole Golf Clubhouse, as well as breakfast and dinner at Mowry & Cotton. Our dinner, with Denise Seomin, the Director of PR & Marketing Communications for the Phoenician, was a real feast. The only thing that surpassed the tastes of so many items on the menu was the easy flow of conversation with our charming hostess. The Phoenician is awe inspiring and one can only imagine how amazing it will be when the final touches are added. It is like a city within a city but don't just take my word for it, take your own digital tour by visiting www.thephonecian.com.
Our final days were spent at The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, located between the Sonoran Desert and bustling downtown Scottsdale. The current resort is on land originally purchased by Anne and Fowler McCormick in the early 1940's as their winter home and where they raised Angus cattle and set up an equestrian center for Arabian horses. Recent renovations further upgraded their conference centers and dining areas to premier hospitality venues. The highlights of our stay were the onsite Luna Spa and the nearby golf course. Elaine had a custom made massage treatment incorporating Swedish, Deep Tissue and Aromatherapy that left her completely relaxed and tension free plus a scalp massage with oils that transported her to another level of Nirvana.
The words “pampering indulgence” were no understatement when it came to describing the Luna Spa experience. Knowing my wife was in good hands provided me the opportunity to play 18 holes at the McCormick Ranch Golf Course, just moments away. There are two courses to choose from, both opened in 1972 and they are among the most popular layouts and a favorite of locals, visitors, convention groups and PGA and LPGA pros. The Palm course has ten water holes with the ninth hole included among “America's top 18 water holes”, by Golf Illustrated. The courses were also honored as one of “America's Top Golf Courses” by Zagat. The golf club was purchased over forty years ago by Edwin Pincus, grandfather of the current generation who held their Bar & Bat Mitzvahs parties there and Stuart Kirk (son of Edwin) who had his daughter Elissa's wedding reception at the golf club as well in 2013.
The McCormick Ranch Golf Club also hosts many charity galas and lavish banquets including JNFuture Arizona's 3rd Annual Shabbat in the Desert this year. To follow in the footsteps of the likes of Lee Trevino, Phil Mickelson, Betsy King and other stars, visit their website www.mccormickranchgolf.com.
We had our final meal at McCormick's Kitchen West Restaurant offering satisfying western American fare with Executive Chef Rick Dupere utilizing the best local ingredients to create a delicious seasonal menu. We enjoyed the Alaskan smoked salmon board, Farmer's vegetable salad and seafood catch of the day accompanied by a Prickly Pear Refresher and Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma. After a good night's sleep in our comfortable bed, we said our much too soon goodbye to The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch (www.TheScottsdaleResort.com).
One can spend days visiting the large variety of museums in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. One of the best is Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West. Western Spirit celebrates the art, history and unique stories of the 19 states of the American West and does so in a most educational and fun to experience manners.
There is a major exhibition of posters and objects from the movies, oil paintings, watercolors and prints from the 1850's to the 1930's, bronze sculptures, Hopi pottery, a sculpture courtyard, an impressive array of saddles, spurs and gear of the legendary cowboy and lawmen as well as easily recognizable images of famous and historical characters. Visit scottsdalemuseumwest.org for more details.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in the Old Town district with a series of changing exhibits of architecture, art and design. The work of Paolo Soleri and his unique presentation of “The City is Nature” showcases his innovative thinking.
Once in Old Town peruse the pedestrian friendly stretch of over 50 fine galleries where every Thursday is Artwalk, your opportunity to mingle with the artists and gallery owners while enjoying wine and appetizers.
An early morning adventure, before it gets too hot, is a mild hike in the Sonoran Desert. We highly recommend Arizona Outback Adventures where we were fortunate to have Steve Sporoviero guide us through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Steve, who loves the outdoors, has a thorough knowledge of the nature and history of Arizona and has led small groups up to a 70 person Hasidic group on a rafting adventure. He pointed out that the Sonoran Desert was the greenest and hottest of any desert in the world. It was special to stand alongside 400 year old Saguaro cacti some of which grew to 30 feet high. One can hike for a few hours, as we did, or multi day guided backpacking. Arizona Outback Adventures provide guides in many national parks for those interested in hiking, mountain biking, rafting and kayaking and can provide food, gear, detailed planning and a wealth of knowledge to make any adventure memorable. Visit them at www.aoa-adventures.com to learn more.
We also wish to thank the professional team of travel experts at Experience Scottsdale (Laura, Jennifer and Christina) for helping to introduce us to the good life at “The Place of Little Spring” and “Good Oak Tree”. For them to help you get started on your vacation to remember please visit www.experiencescottsdale.com.
The Jewish community of Sedona has a website, www.vosjcc.org, so check that out if you are interested in services or activities.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix is very active (www.jewishphoenix.org) as is the Scottsdale JCC known as the Valley of the Sun JCC (www.vosjcc.org).