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Open space oasis in a desert metropolis

While this city of 250,000 residents in the northeast sector of the Phoenix metropolitan area has all of those amenities envisioned, the area’s open-air activities are getting noticed more with an increased focus on distancing from others when traveling. Golfing; hiking; bicycling; off-roading in all-terrain vehicles, Hummers, and Jeeps; hot air ballooning; horseback riding; and river rafting are among the activities available within a short drive once you touch down at Scottsdale Airport.

The city of Scottsdale is just 31 miles long from north to south. The airport is next to the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa and is centrally located nine miles north of Old Town Scottsdale, which has more than 80 art galleries, 90 restaurants, and 320 retail shops.

You could easily stay at the Kierland without a vehicle and have plenty to do: three golf courses, an adventure water park, a heated adult pool with cabanas, a spa, seven restaurants and bars, and more dining along with shopping and entertainment options at the open-air Kierland Commons.

If you want to venture farther away from the airport, though, those famous resorts are aplenty. Marketers have started touting their sprawling campuses for seclusion and safety. The Kierland Resort has 250 acres. The Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale sits on 1,300 acres with casitas, villas, and suites surrounded by 12-million-year-old granite boulders. JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa covers 125 acres and within a 20-minute walk you’re at the base of the namesake Camelback Mountain.

The hike up the 2,704-foot-tall Camelback Mountain is steep and rugged in spots, but it’s worth the effort for the views of the Phoenix Valley. I’ve hiked it twice and recommend the Cholla Trail (longer) over the Echo Canyon Trail (steeper). Either route, you’ll gain nearly 1,260 feet in close to 1.5 miles. The Cholla Trail closed in 2020 while the city of Phoenix improves the trail as well as access to it; completion is expected summer 2022 and updates are available through the city’s website.

On the north edge of Scottsdale, you can find more than 225 miles of trails at a variety of fitness levels at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The preserve permanently protects diverse, sustainable desert habitat.

Even if you’re not looking for an active vacation, there are options for spending time outdoors.

Arizona Cactus League baseball is a local spring ritual. Photo MeLinda Schnyder.Scottsdale has two baseball stadiums where three Major League Baseball teams play their spring training games. From Scottsdale you can easily drive to any of the 10 facilities that host Cactus League games for 15 teams; read more about Arizona spring baseball here. Watch the site for updates on the 2022 season, originally scheduled for February 26 to March 29 but delayed amid ongoing MLB contract negotiations.

Outdoor concerts in the Scottsdale Civic Center Park are on hold pending construction scheduled to be complete in 2023, though the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (which presents those outdoor shows) remains open for entertainment.

Taliesin West, the winter home and desert laboratory of Frank Lloyd Wright that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers self-guided and guided tours. Through June 19 there is a self-guided, outdoor experience of the “Chihuly in the Desert” exhibition, a temporary installment of several large-scale glass works by Dale Chihuly.

You can also see a portion of the “Chihuly in the Desert” exhibition at the Desert Botanical Garden, four miles south of Old Town Scottsdale, through June 18. There are glass installations on the garden’s trails and also a major indoor gallery exhibition with never-before-seen installations.

I’ve visited Papago Park on nearly every visit to the Phoenix area; it offers convenient access and easy hikes in a quintessential red rock setting. But my most recent trip to Scottsdale was the first time I took time to visit the Desert Botanical Garden, one of three popular attractions within the park.

I was amazed at the variety of cactuses, trees, and flowers on display from around the world. There are thousands of species across the garden’s 55 acres, including more than 50,000 desert plants, with the stunning backdrop of Papago’s red buttes.

It’s the perfect place to begin or end a trip exploring Scottsdale as an open space oasis amid a desert metropolis.

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