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Scottsdale Off-Road and Off-Season : Upscale Phoenix suburb draws golfers, horseback riders and other outdoors lovers to its resorts.

March 07, 1993|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — From all the Rolls-Royces steaming down Scottsdale Road these days, one might get the idea that this town is an exclusive haven for the well-heeled--those with money in the bank, cattle on the ranch and a few oil wells pumping here and there. Yet compared to many upscale resort destinations in the United States and abroad, Scottsdale is surprisingly affordable, particularly in the spring and summer months ahead.

So what's the big attraction? Start with the fact that Scottsdale is smack dab in the midst of the lush Sonoran Desert, the greenest and certainly one of the most beautiful deserts anywhere in the world. Local officials say they expect the upcoming spring season to blaze with more wildflowers than during any year this century. That's good news for residents of the "Valley of the Sun," who, like us, have endured a wetter-than-normal winter since the storms that plagued Southern California moved right through the Scottsdale-Phoenix area.

Then there's the seemingly endless supply of golf courses (133 in all) and tennis courts, plus horseback riding, hot-air ballooning and, during the month of March, major league baseball spring training games.

To its credit, Scottsdale has differed from big brother Phoenix by living and growing in harmony with the desert. Building codes permit no structure to be more than three stories tall. No blinking neon or gaudy signs intrude on the saguaro ( sue-war-oh ) cacti, palm and citrus trees that form a natural part of the cityscape.

The Zagat annual survey of hotels and resorts has just put the Scottsdale-Phoenix area at the very top of its list of most desirable U.S. destinations for vacation or business travelers. According to the survey, Scottsdale finished ahead of the likes of Honolulu, Palm Springs, Miami, San Francisco and 32 other well-known and popular cities and resorts.

Scottsdale was founded in 1888 but wasn't incorporated until 1951, when the town budget still was doled from a cigar box in the fire station. Its rise in little more than four decades to an active, vibrant community borders on the phantasmagoric. Indeed, judging from the numbers of Germans, English, Canadians and other foreign types we met on a recent visit, the word has gone far beyond our shores.

Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps the greatest American architect of the 20th Century, in 1937 began a bold new experiment with 23 young men and women apprentices in Scottsdale and the Sonoran Desert. They built Taliesin West, his home and now an architectural school, using boulders and sand from the desert floor for his masterpiece of desert sculpture.

"Our new desert camp belonged to the Arizona desert as though it had stood there during creation," Wright once wrote. As cantankerous as he could be at times, Wright would probably approve of the way today's Scottsdale fits into its lovely desert environment.

Getting settled in: Scottsdale itself grew up around the Safari Resort, one of the town's oldest, and still within a comfortable walk of shopping, night life, good restaurants and other diversions. Set on 12 acres of manicured grounds, palm and citrus trees, the Safari has two pools and a whirlpool, a putting green, horseshoe pit and guest laundry.

The bedrooms are bright and cheerful, some with patios, others with kitchenettes, each with its own refrigerator. Safari's bar has a happy hour that includes a free buffet of self-made tacos and hamburgers.

A few miles north of town, Resort Suites is dedicated to the dedicated golfer, with enough golf packages for anyone's budget and time. There are also three pools, a whirlpool spa and exercise room, an on-site deli and restaurant.

One-, two- and four-bedroom suites all have kitchens and a bath for each bedroom, the largest units being the most popular. There's also a heli-pad, and management pushes its Heli-Golf for foursomes who wish to shoot a round in Sedona, Wickenberg or Tucson, gourmet picnic lunch included.

The Scottsdale Plaza Resort caters to a wide variety of recreational interests, with packages that range from a 12-course golfers' dream to a desert Jeep-tour special. The resort, set on 40 acres beneath Camelback Mountain, includes five outdoor pools, three spas (including Arizona's largest), tennis and racquetball courts. All guest rooms, including the 180 suites, have fully stocked refrigerators, and there are two fine restaurants and two lounges.

The Holiday Inn is dead center of Scottsdale's Old Town, right on the grassy Civic Center Green. The lobby and spacious bedrooms are done in soothing desert colors, and there's also a pool and tennis court.

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