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Arizona's new oasis

February 22, 1987|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It's not the quaint little bunkhouse y'all had in mind.

Not with 487 rooms, 28 fountains, 47 waterfalls, 9 pools, a Jacuzzi, a spa and a three-story water sled that's Arizona's answer to Niagara Falls.

There's more.

The new $80-million Hyatt Regency features its own beach, fish pond, a lake and a Water Temple that would please the fussiest Greek god.

The site is the 640-acre Gainey Ranch, which is eight miles north of downtown Scottsdale on the road to Carefree. Only instead of horses, guests ride golf carts over a 27-hole championship course framed by the haunting McDowell Mountains.

Wranglers who once rode herd over cattle on Gainey Ranch would turn in their spurs if they saw the dudes on duty at Hyatt's hacienda. Imagine bellhops wearing knickers, ties and matching argyle sweaters and socks. No 10-gallon hats. No chaps. Just those sissy outfits. Still, blond Michelle Harmon, 20, and 19-year-old Kerry Markov are stunning in their outfits. Bell captain Dan Maxery boasts how they're Arizona's only female bellhops.

Opened only last December, the Hyatt is to Arizona what Disneyland is to California. Only instead of slipping off the Matterhorn, guests skim down a three-story slide disguised as Big Ben. Or what the Hyatt gang describes as the Clock Tower.

The grounds are so waterlogged that visitors who don't swim are advised to wear life preservers. The hotel intends to bring in gondolas to transport guests around the grounds. As a result, Gainey Ranch promises to become the Venice of the West.

Without California it could have been a bust. Workmen trucked in 300 date palms from Palm Springs and 500,000 pounds of sand from Monterey. The palms were planted to turn Gainey Ranch into an oasis. The sand was spread across a man-made beach.

Guests who wish to keep their feet dry stroll along an aqueduct above the pools, the fountains and the Water Temple. The latter features a king-size spa that bubbles with hot water. The idea is to soak until one is limp. Then it's a plunge into an icy pool. If that sounds like an invitation for a cardiac, never mind. The house physician, Dr. Art Mollen, is close by, presiding over the hotel's fitness center. He is there to assist guests who wish to lose weight and firm up the frame with weights, aerobics classes, jogging and biking. Stress tests are administered on the spot. Herbal wraps are part of the deal.

Non-actives relax beside fire pits on chilly mornings and on toasty afternoons they soak rays on the Hyatt beach.

Bathers are advised to use caution approaching the resort's Big Gun, which is the name given to a waterfall that plunges off a 20-foot ledge. Something like 600 gallons a minute spill onto the heads of swimmers. The Big Gun is for macho types. Gentler souls cool off under the calmer Cascades, a second waterfall that pours off a three-level perch.

Disneyland-in-the-Desert features a lobby with removable glass doors; water trickles off a dozen crystal pillars that are lighted at night, and swans glide gracefully across Hyatt's man-made lake.

The soaking a guest takes for settling in this waterlogged world starts at $175 a night and runs to $265 for a room in the Regency Club.

The Regency is Hyatt's answer to the airline VIP lounge. Only Hyatt's club is better. Trust me. It occupies a private wing with a fetching female concierge, Lori Jernigan. A brown-eyed sophomore from Arizona State University, she wears a lady's tuxedo and works miracles obtaining airline reservations, theater tickets, beauty appointments and other favors sought by guests. Another beauty, Lisa Smith, is in charge of the VIP lounge where breakfast is served each morning, coffee, tea and soft drinks are poured in the afternoon and hors d'ouvres and cocktails are on the house evenings, 5 till 8 o'clock.

One can spend more. Suites range from $300 to $1,500 a night. Or there are four-bedroom casitas in the $265 bracket, which is the cost per room. Hyatt charges extra for the living room. It's the same with the golf. Eighteen holes comes to $62. And you'll pay $5 an hour for tennis.

As the biggest resort in Scottsdale, the Hyatt Regency is a far cry from the little riding resorts Scottsdale used to be famous for.

The ballroom alone took over 14,000 square feet of ex-pastureland. And instead of a cowpoke strumming a guitar, a serious chap plays tunes and classical melodies afternoons and evenings in the lobby.

General Manager Ed Sullivan figures the hotel's flower bill will run in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year. And he won't even estimate the cost of all the 23-karat gold leaf that chef Anton Brunbauer sprinkles in the duck consomme. While mixing gold leaf with consomme may seem a trifle eccentric, chef Brunbauer says he's struck a bonanza among guests.

"They eat it up!" he says.

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