6:52 AM / Sunday February 25, 2024

9 Feb 2014

Phoenix, Arizona: Golden Valley of the Sun

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February 9, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOT: JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa entrance


By Renée S. Gordon


“Treat the earth well, it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.”   

≈Native American Quotation≈


The first documented non-native to enter the southwestern portion of our nation was a Moorish-African slave. Estevanico had been a member of the ill-fated Narvaez Expedition in 1527 and was enslaved by the Indians for five years. During captivity he learned several native languages and after escaping he was selected to serve as a healer, guide, advance scout and interpreter for a party led by Cabeza de Vaca and in 1539 he took on the same duties for Friar Marcos de Niza. 


The friar’s expedition was blazing a trail for Coronado and seeking the “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola,” the Seven Cities of Gold. Each day he was required to send back a small cross to indicate that everything was fine but not exceptional or a large cross to represent riches. He passed through Arizona successfully but in what is now New Mexico he was killed by the Zuni. In spite of the loss of Estevanico, Friar de Niza sent back glowing reports to Spain about the beauty of the landscape.


Between 1937-38 Jay Datus painted six murals, now on the third floor of the State Library of Arizona. “The Pageant of Arizona Progress “ features Estevanico on the right side of the panel depicting the Spanish Era.


The first mural in the series, “Ancient Civilizations,” depicts the highly evolved culture that existed prior to European contact. The area that is now Phoenix was settled around 2000 years ago and occupied by the Hohokam circa 700 AD. Pueblo Grande, as the 500 acre village was named in the 1920s, was located on the Salt River, consisted of 20,000-acres of farmland and housed approximately 1,000 people. The farmland was irrigated by a complex canal system that extended more than 100 miles and was as much as 78 ft. in width. The site was abandoned around 1450 AD and the tribe was given the name Hohokam meaning “those who have gone.” In 1964, Pueblo Grande was designated a National Historical Landmark and visitors to the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Park can view two prehistoric canals, a ballpark and reconstructed dwelling.


Phoenix is a post-Civil water city that grew out of the 1868 settlement of Swilling’s Mill, founded by ex-confederate soldier Jack Swilling. The name Phoenix was the brainchild of Darrell Duppa. He felt Phoenix was the perfect name because, reminiscent of the mythological phoenix, the town had risen from the ruins of an older civilization. The original city was only a half mile wide and early lots sold for less than $50 each. It was incorporated in 1881 and became state capitol in 1912.


From the time of first contact people entered the Valley of the Sun in search of gold. The natives were not caught up in gold frenzy because they felt that you could not eat it, it did not provide warmth and it is too soft for most practical uses. Early on they realized that the region had a spiritual, almost mystical, quality that had benefits greater than that of the yellow ore the Europeans sought. The indigenous people recognized man’s need for a harmonious relationship with nature and honored the interconnectedness of an individual’s mind, body and spirit. 


A tradition of healing, rejuvenation, health and wellness has always existed in the Valley of the Sun. When Estevanico passed through the area in the 1500s he carried with him a gourd, that allowed him safe passage, adorned with owl’s feathers that identified him as a healer. Today Phoenix offers 400,000-sq. ft. of spa space that range from day spas to more than 20 resorts, out of a total of 40, with a mind-boggling array of services and specialties.


In maximizing a personal spa experience and quest to “live your life like it’s golden,” you should be certain to select the venue that most fits your personal needs and goals. Even more significantly, choose a site that evokes a spirit that enhances your senses.


The 65-acre Royal Palms Resort and Spa grew from a 3,500-sq. ft. Spanish Revival mansion built for Mr. and Mrs. Delos Cooke in 1929. The home had a Granada-tiled roof, inner courtyard, beamed ceilings and on the grounds there were 900 palm trees imported from Africa and a citrus grove. After WWII the mansion was converted into an inn with areas in the main house becoming a reception area and 15 additional casitas. The resort was so popular with its upscale clientele that 45 casitas were added in the 1950s and the citrus grove was transformed into a nine hole golf course. In 2012, the casitas underwent a full renovation.


A stay at the Royal Palms is to experience a visit to a secluded, luxurious, hideaway filled with such elegant touches as a 250- year old fountain and 322-year old Mexican stone pavers. Accommodations feature private patios or balconies with views of Camelback Mountains and private label products. T. Cook’s, the on-site restaurant, is noted for its Mediterranean cuisine. The Mix Up Bar is equally famous for its craft cocktail menu. Guests can have a cocktail created exclusively for them by the resident mixologist.


Alvadora Spa retains the Spanish Colonial style and couples it with an aura of intimacy. The design deftly blends indoor and outdoor settings with its use of natural stone, wood and colors. Outdoor treatment rooms feature fireplaces and showers.


Royal Palms Resort and Spa is a member of Historic Hotels of America and is a AAA Four Diamond property. Rates are seasonal and you must make reservations, but then, so did Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.


Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is nestled in the high Sonoran Desert in the foothills of the 150-acre Pinnacle Peak. In the 1940s the property was owned by heiress Lois Kellogg Maury whose Crescent Moon Ranch housed a finishing school for debutantes and rental guesthouses. She sold the 127-acre estate in 1967 and ultimately it was purchased to become a Four Seasons Resort. The resort opened in December of 1999, has been the recipient of the AAA Five Diamond designation since 2002, and has been named to Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List and numerous other awards. It also is said to have the best sunset view in all of Phoenix.


The 210 rooms and suites are designed to become one with the existing terrain and the effect is achieved by the accommodations, large adobe casitas, being arrayed along the natural curvature of the landscape. Both the arrangement and architecture of the casitas is reminiscent of early native cliff dwellings. Guest rooms feature walk-in closets, gas-burning fireplaces, deep-soaking tubs and stunning views.


Guests can arrange a number of experiences through guest services including guided hikes through the 40-acre Pinnacle Peak Park, golfing at the Pinnacle and Monument championship golf courses, designer shopping tours, yoga classes and demonstrations by resort food and drink experts. These demonstrations are interactive and feature both tastings and historical information. 


A particular favorite is the Tequila Tasting. While vodka may be the most poured drink in the country, tequila holds its own in this region. It is made from the agave plant and is 99 percent organic. The Spanish conquistadors saw that the Aztec chewed on agave to give them energy so, when the King of Spain forbid them to grow grapes because they would be competing with Spain, they began to distill agave. 


The Spa and Fitness Center at the Four Seasons has received numerous accolades including Condé Nast and Forbes Four Star designations. The fitness facility features a state-of-the-art exercise room, aerobics studio and sauna and steam rooms. Fourteen treatment rooms are housed within the 12,000-sq. ft., full service spa. A complete palette of treatments is available, many incorporating indigenous elements such as aloe vera, Sonoran honey, and Sedona clay. The spa’s signature services are the Golfer’s Massage and Head Over Heels, a treatment given by two therapists simultaneously.


This is a great choice for a family. Four Seasons Kid’s Club’s complete schedule of children’s activities is available to guests.


The Pima refer to themselves as the Akimel O’otham, “the people of the river,” the descendants of the Hohokam. The Pima and Maricopa established villages and farmed the land for centuries producing such crops as corn, cotton and beans. Their way of life and their culture was sustained and nourished by a pre-European complex system of canals and ditches that brought water from the Gila River into the area. 


When settlers entered the area they began to syphon off water and by the late 1860s there was very little water left. The Gila River Indian Reservation was established in 1859 and expanded in 1876 and again in 1915 but the native’s farms continued to suffer drought conditions. The Irrigation Act of 1902 enabled the government to dam the Salt and Verde Rivers effectively dealing a deathblow to the Pima and Maricopa farmers. The tribe filed a suit to establish their water rights. More than a century later they won and now control 51 percent of the state’s water rights. Their victory has enabled them to begin a number of enterprises, each with a strong, mandatory, cultural component, to preserve, protect and communicate their heritage.  


Arizona’s most notable Native American resort is the $170-million, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa. Situated on the 372,000-acre Gila Rive Indian Community the resort is designed to provide visitors with a luxury experience that is true to the region’s early culture. Wild Horse Pass features panoramic views from 500 rooms incorporating traditional native motifs, colors, artworks and materials. On the property guests also have access to the 1,000-acre Koli Equestrian Center, four pools, an 1880s Western Town, Gila River Casino and Kai, Arizona’s sole AAA Five Diamond Restaurant.


The Apache were enemies of the Pima and Maricopa and during times of conflict the women and children would take refuge in a place of safety in the hills. Their word for this haven was Aji, meaning sanctuary. Aji Spa was designed to create an ambiance evocative of the environment and its 2,000-year culture. No aspect of the spa experience has been overlooked from the hand-beaded locker bracelets to the Native American inspired treatments offered. The Forbes Four-Star, Native American, 17,500-sq. ft. spa features a boutique, 17 treatment rooms, Watsu pool, and guided meditations led by the resident “healer” in a traditional dwelling. Guests can select from a wide variety of treatments that incorporate indigenous ingredients and ancient rituals that promote wellness and spiritual harmony.  


Set like a jewel on 316 of the most picturesque acres in the Sonoran Desert stands the AAA 4-Diamond JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. It is the state’s largest resort and boasts five acres of pools. The resort opened in 2002 and underwent a $16-million guestroom renovation in 2011. The resort features 950 guest accommodations decorated in colors reminiscent of the southwestern desert, an activity center for children, the Wildfire Golf Club and six restaurants, each with a special menu using local, fresh and handcrafted ingredients.


One of the words Native Americans use to refer to ritual purification is oenikika, “the breath of life.” Desert Ridge’s 28,000-sq. ft. Revive Spa has 41 rooms and employs treatments that do indeed heal, revitalize and rejuvenate you. The experiences deftly integrate state-of-the-art techniques with the use of native plants, minerals and rituals. The signature service, the Turquoise Blue Sage Body Ritual, heals and reinvigorates you using sacred turquoise gemstones. Revive Spa’s additional features include a full-service salon, Sanctuary lap pool with 7 poolside cabanas and Spa Bistro. “Condé Nast Traveler Magazine” has designated Revive as one of the Top Resort Spas in the United States.


We struck gold in the resorts and spas in Phoenix but this is one city where gold seems to be everywhere. In part two, we will venture around the city and into the surrounding communities to seek even more treasures. You can start planning your visit now by accessing information online.


I wish you smooth travels!



Travel Tips:


The AAA Four Diamond Mt. Airy Casino Resort is presenting their Second Annual Vow Renewal Ceremony on Friday, February 14, 2014 at 3:00 PM. The wedding ceremony, presided over by Catherine Thayer, will be held on the stage of fully decorated Gypsie’s Lounge and Nightclub. Admission is free and participating couples will receive complimentary champagne, cake and two passes to dine at the Valentine’s Day Buffet.


Spend Valentine’s Day with your significant other at the Blue Cross RiverRink at a special Sweetheart Skate session. There will be flowers, chocolates, mood lighting, a DJ and panoramic views of the Delaware River. This is a really creative and fun way to impress your loved one.  


Philadelphia’s Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel has extended Valentine’s Day to include three romantic offerings, Roses are Red, Radisson is Blu; Do Not Disturb; and Romance for Two are available the entire month. Amenities vary by package and complete information can be found at


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