Contributing writer Jim Conaway sends a dispatch from Scottsdale, Arizona where he spent this past weekend at the Travels Classics writers’ conference.
Okay, so you don’t do spiked saddle oxfords and are dismayed at the sight of kelly-green links spouting water in the Sonoran desert. I won’t say get over it but I will urge scrambling over some rocks anyway, for a broader view of one of the most spectacular, physically challenging landscapes in America and a better understanding of the bounty of, and challenges to, the aridly sublime. And if you can afford a traveler’s respite in considerable style, well, there’s no better place than The Boulders, a saguaro, palo verde and ocotillo-strewn former bit of nowhere in the scantier reaches of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Golf widowers and the aroma therapy-averse can easily put together a day of hiking, swimming, rock climbing, and biking (mountain and road), with a reflexology foot massage tossed in after to aid your weary bones. Your iron man of a guide is Rico Riley, all 165 pounds of him in rip-stop trail shirt and yellow cap bearing the logo of Sawyer Adventures, commissioned by the resort to take you on gentle and not-so-gentle perambulations. The easiest, through what was once known as the Carefree Rockpile, has been known to feature coyotes, javalina, and even bobcat, as well as tactile evidence of earlier civilizations, like depressions in the granite where Indians ground corn for subsistence survival in the third century.
The rock-climbing wall is fitted with belaying gear seemingly anchored in the hot blue sky. But turn around and you can see the far-off glimmer of Phoenix dominated by isolated, spooky mountain ranges (including, appropriately, the Superstitions). It’s hard to avoid a better understanding of just how big and remorselessly water-starved this part of our world is, and how we all are subject to the rigors of declining water sources.
“Over there,” says Riley, pointing to the southwest, “is great wild country.” He and the more determined outdoors-persons can reach it on a mountain bike in half an hour. “And out there” – pointing southeast now – “is some of the best road biking anywhere. Lance Armstrong stayed at The Boulders for three days and practiced there before his sixth victory.” (Armstrong’s rangy shadow, as far as I know, doesn’t fall across fairways.)
“He went riding with some people here,” Rico adds, disappointment in his voice, “but that was my day off.”
Photos: The Boulders