Days in the Sonoran Desert tend to have a theme – sunshine, sunshine and more sunshine. Life in the Greater Phoenix area comes with more than 325 sunny days accompanied by low humidity and blue skies. Both Mesa and Scottsdale offer walkable downtown neighborhoods with shopping and restaurants, while cacti laden stretches of sun-drenched scenery offer a varied and somewhat surprising selection of outdoor adventures, including hot air ballooning, hiking and even stand up paddle boarding. During spring training, the Valley of the Sun is the home-away-from-home for 15 professional baseball teams, but however you choose to soak up rays while you’re in town, the odds of hitting a vacation home run are in your favor.
Up, Up & Away
You’ll look at the desert in a whole new way when you view it from 5,000 feet. Morning launches with Hot Air Expeditions take place shortly after the sun comes up. Location sites vary day to day depending on wind conditions, but wherever you fly you can expect panoramic views that typically come with visibility in excess of 50 miles. Along with balloon studded mountain panoramas, you could see a variety of wildlife including jackrabbits, quail, roadrunners, coyotes and other desert animals. Returning to terra firma is celebrated with a champagne toast and light picnic-style breakfast. Rising with the sun comes with the perk of having a full day ahead for more desert adventures.
Pampering yourself comes with a variety of unique twists and possibilities at the Well & Being Spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Start your day with an Aerial Hammock Yoga class, meet with a nutritionist or even attend a cooking demonstration. Guests with booked treatments have full access to Well & Being’s varied facilities on the day of their treatment. Amenities include changing rooms with steam rooms, saunas, Swiss showers and cold plunge pools. You could take advantage of all the fitness classes available at the resort, or simply lounge in a padded lounge chair around the rooftop pool with a glass of their signature prickly pear lemonade. Add in a co-ed massaging waterfall pool that offers three different massage pressures and it’s easy to lose a day here. Guests must be 18 years or older.
Make a Splash
The Lower Salt River just might be one of the Sonoran Desert’s best kept secrets. Perfect for all levels of kayakers, river views include a handful of mountains including Camelback, Four Peaks and Mount McDowell (also called Red Mountain). If you have a waterproof camera, bring it with you. Egrets, juvenile bald eagles, cormorants and wild horses have a reputation for making appearances. Along with guided kayak tours, Arizona Outback Adventures also offers stand up paddle boarding tours on the Lower Salt River.
Crescendos, Culture and Shade
If desert temperatures leave you craving shade, seek shelter at the Musical Instrument Museum, also affectionately known as MIM. Keep cool while seeing, hearing and playing musical instruments from around the world. Instruments on display include a drum that dates back to China’s Neolithic period and the Steinway upright piano John Lennon used when composing the song, “Imagine.” MIM also hosts more than 200 concerts every year in its on-site theater.
Architecture and design buffs will want to squeeze in a stop at Taliesin West, the winter home of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his still enrolling school of architecture. The most popular guided tour of the National Historic Landmark runs 90 minutes, winding its way through the home and gardens.
Wanna Be A Cowboy?
It’s a dirty job, but riding the range and working with cattle is what romantic legends and, for some, what dream vacations are made of. But hopping on to a horse and galloping into the sunset takes real cowboy skills. Arizona Cowboy College is a working ranch that offers one, three and five day courses where you learn how to safely giddy up. Riding lessons are just one part of essential cowboy training. Would-be wranglers get dusty learning how to handle, groom and saddle a horse. Guests work with cattle, and get an introduction to roping that typically comes with the realization that cowboys make it look much easier than it is. Pack clothes you won’t mind getting dirty and your sense of adventure. A cowboy hat is optional, but comes with endless photo possibilities.
Where to stay in Arizona
Photographs: iStockPhoto; Shutterstock; Artotem/Flikr Creative Commons, Fairmont Hotels