The house is cantilevered out from a mountainous rock pile. Everything about it is as new as next week, except for the view of the giant saguaro-cactus-strewn desert that is much the same as it was when the Hohokams trailed across the Continental Mountains into the valley 2,000 years ago. It sits very much at home in this desert landscape, for the building materials are a camouflaging sandstone, and the flat roof has been graveled in pebbles from the desert itself. The owner goes up the crunchy path to his study, stepping carefully to miss the needle-sharp cacti that line the walkway. A gigantic boulder protrudes halfway into the house, with a wall of glass that frames the view set right into a groove in the rock. The Westerner steps to the house intercom and says tersely: "Betty, turn on the waterfall."
This is landlocked Arizona's famous Valley of the Sun, where the living is lush and water now springs into the desert on command, where million-dollar houses and 36-hole golf courses, luxury resort hotels and canyon lakes are being built at such a clip that soon California and Florida may well start wondering where all the tourists went.
Arizona's message is now getting to a growing group that does not suffer from asthma, emphysema or arteriosclerosis. "We are getting a lot of bounce-backs," says one native. "By that I mean young people who go out to California, find it isn't what it's cracked up to be and bounce back here to stay." Even the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce insists that its average citizen is probably 36 or younger.
Yet something about the dry, ultraviolet air of the living desert preserves all the old myths. It is hard to discard the notion that only elderly millionaires can enjoy the luxurious life of the famous oasis resorts in the Valley of the Sun. After all, you do see quite a few grizzled types on the streets, and there is that sign that seems to carry status a step too far in front of the Millionaire's Club in Scottsdale. The myth was no myth, however, when the palatial San Marcos Resort opened at nearby Chandler 59 years ago and when the Wrigley family commissioned an apostle of Frank Lloyd Wright to design the now stately Biltmore in 1928. In those days the trip from New York to Phoenix took two days and three nights on the train. In fact, it was a heck of a long way from anywhere outside Arizona to the Valley, so people only came if they intended to stay awhile. Winter guests arrived for the "season"—January to Easter—and you had to have the time and money.
January 16, 1967
For all that, life in the oasis was never quite as sedate as legend would have it. The sun and bracing dry air revived even the most mummified and sent them out onto the golf courses and bridle paths to enjoy the huge imported palms, the purple mountains and the groves of fragrant orange and lemon trees. Yet compared to the yeasty active types arriving nowadays those visitors seem like denizens of the Petrified Forest.
The new resorters are not juvenile go-go types. They are the mature, hard-driving, golf-bag guys—executives, scientists, doctors, lawyers and engineers, who work hard and play harder. Chances are they were first introduced to the Valley's superb golf climate and some of its 36 different courses during a blue-chip business convention or professional seminar in the off-season months just before or after the January-to-March high season. Liking Arizona, they came back and brought their wives, who fell hard for the combination of desert beauty and simulated roughing it.
As a result, new vitality and energy are being pumped into the area. The Valley of the Sun is swinging—especially its golf clubs. Many more golf resorts are planned, the seasons are growing longer, hotels are staying open year-round, package rates are better and even the saddle horse is coming back into its own. In addition, these younger, more vital visitors are demanding new attractions to go with golf, poolside lolling and resort living. They want skeet shooting and jeep rides into the back country and desert-trail riding. They have discovered that a small airplane can take them skiing, fishing, boating, water skiing or big-game hunting in a matter of minutes, all in Arizona. For these people, the Valley is bursting with polo, trotting, Thoroughbred and quarter-horse racing, dog tracks and bowling alleys. And Maricopa County is developing a Sun Circle Trail for hikers, cyclers and equestrians which will be 125 miles long and will completely encircle the little resort towns that surround Phoenix.
These are the city's beguiling, diamond-studded decorations. There is Paradise Valley, where property sells for as much as $20,000 an acre. Barry Gold-water lives here, perched on a hilltop, his short-wave antenna higher than anybody else's. There is Scottsdale, which calls itself "the West's most Western town," to the consternation of a host of urbane sophisticates who despise such a corny image. There is Carefree, a splendid new resort 20 miles to the north in a beautiful saguaro-cactus forest; and Litchfield Park, developed around the attractive Wigwam Country Club resort, where the Goodyear Company is building a model community for 90,000 by 1990. There is Chandler, where the San Marcos has just spent $42,000 on new sod to keep its golf course open all year. There is the little college town of Tempe, its streets filled with Arizona State students, and there is Mesa, the Gateway to the Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman mine. There is Wickenburg, with its fabulous dude ranches, typified by the Rancho de los Caballeros—and a host of other pleasant spots with appealing names like Surprise, Queen Creek, Bapchule, Ocotillo, Komatke, Buckeye, El Mirage and Palo Verde.
Thirty-five years ago Phoenix was such a little hick hole in the trail west that they ran a sprinkling wagon up and down the two main streets to tamp down the dust kicked up by horses. The morning after the 18th Amendment went into effect, the sprinkler wagon was filled with the town's entire stock of wine, beer and whiskey, and that is what it sprinkled, while parched cowboys ran after the spray, catching it in their felt hats.
Phoenix retains remnants of this Wild West past. Sheriff's sales are still posted on open bulletins in the heart of town. Indians straight out of Central Casting stand on street corners in blinding turquoise shirts and dusty black hats. At the Big Apple, the waitresses, far from being topless, pack real six-shooters. But mostly Phoenix is a smart modern urban community, turning a clean smiling face to the visitor. And why not? The tourist is the butter on the Valley's tortilla, the chili pepper in its hot sauce and the salt around the rim of its Margarita. "This area lives on tourists. I think most people here realize that, and they don't resent tourists a bit," says Scottsdale Society Writer Lina Juliber. "We draw just about the nicest people in the world, and they come to us from all over the world. We are lucky. For some reason, we simply don't get creeps like other resorts."
Phoenix and its playground somewhat resemble the famous cocktail tree of the region, a unique member of the citrus family found growing in many a patio. Delicate graftings enable the tree to grow lemons, oranges, limes, grapefruit and tangerines, all from one trunk. If Phoenix is the trunk of the tree, and the resorts the sun-ripened fruits, then Scottsdale is the tree's pink grapefruit. With its pseudo-western flavor, its stores selling boots and moccasins, its longest annual all-horse parade in the world preceding its Parada del Sol Rodeo, its mixture of movie-set-western, New Orleans-bawdyhouse and early-Indian-reservation architecture, downtown Scottsdale seems to have a mild case of "the cutes."
Its snazzy Fifth Avenue resort street is a hoked-up mélange of shops selling everything from Indian jewelry to stick candy, and there are enough "outfits" to stretch from Hobe Sound to Honolulu. There is a little too much of the tourist-trap feeling in some of the local craftsmen's shops, and the proliferating art galleries sell a range from the mediocre to the ridiculous, including acres of Arizona-sunset canvases, which the natives invariably describe emphatically as "oil paintings." It is difficult to find a dress, gown, sweater or apron that doesn't have either a cactus or a road-runner embroidered on it. But the sophisticated shopper will be able to separate the sweet from the sour, and if Scottsdale's Fifth Avenue is a little overrated, it is still absorbing. For one thing, that's not all there is. Another shopping area lies across the Old Scottsdale Road, and it, too, demands a visit. Here there are fetching bars, restaurants, ice cream parlors and places with fascinating things to sell—stained-glass windows, shark's jaws, checkers made of flowers and mushrooms, and fine antiques.
At Troy's Western Store there is casually on sale, no bigger than a packet of Kleenex, a rescue blanket made of high-visibility, waterproof, radar-reflecting, treated cloth, "easy to spot from the air." Air is the magic word in Arizona these days—both to inhale and to fly in. Visitors choking on Los Angeles or New York smog come to the Valley of the Sun, breathe deeply and smile.
"Welcome Cessna Dealers" is a typical Phoenix convention sign, and nowhere could airplane manufacturers and dealers find a more responsive audience. At Sky Harbor Municipal Airport in Phoenix, Pilot Bill Cutter waits for vacationers to play 18 holes of golf, then takes them in his Bonanza for a day or two of fishing at Guaymas or at one of Arizona's chain of lakes. He can whisk them in an hour to Flagstaff to ski Mount Humphreys Peak, or even on to Aspen. Aerial tours of old copper mines, ghost towns, Monument Valley, the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon are popular. "When we came here in 1950," says Bill, "we never hauled anybody less, than 60 years old. Now we get young kids who want to fly over to Lake Havasu to water-ski."
That is the outdoor side to life in the Valley, but as Satchel Paige once said, "The social ramble just ain't restful." And this might well describe the high-powered goings-on that characterize other aspects of the Valley scene. There is everything from a first try at a debutante ball this season to big benefits such as the annual Aid to the Zoo horse show to be held in the Phoenix Coliseum from March 8 to March 12. Then there is Mrs. Fowler McCormick's All-Arabian horse show each February (SI, February 21, 1966). There is a lot of entertaining out at the Biltmore and the Paradise Valley Country Club, and there is even more entertaining at home. There are those who do it up very formally in dinner jackets, and there are the hearty hostesses of the fried-meat-and-whiskey persuasion. ("Whatcha serving at your party, Eula?" "Oh, just fried meat and whiskey.")
The Valley loves to dress up for charity, and the season grows hectic with at least one benefit a week, culminating in the Symphony Ball. By the time this happens in May, the ladies have run out of clothes, their husbands have run out of patience and every available extra man from Tucson to Tumacacori has been pressed into service. (Like most resorts, the Valley suffers from a man shortage.)
There are interesting places to eat out, the Toots Shor's of Scottsdale being Joe Hunt's Steak House, which the genial 6-foot-6 former softball star took over from the Goldwaters after an abortive family attempt to run a restaurant on the same premises as one of their department stores. Joe, who is somewhat famous in these parts for having once played a ball game from a rocking chair at first base, loves to tell how the Gold-water backers came in during the election and quizzed him. "You're helping Barry out, aren't you, Joe?" they'd say anxiously. "Sure," Joe, the lifelong Democrat would say, thinking of the rent he paid the Goldwaters. "I'm sending him a check every month."
Joe's is one of the nice places to dance in the Valley, his Los Patojojos Band being a snappy group that can play anything by ear. The resort hotels all offer decorous "society dancing." There is also a French Quarter nightclub at the nearby pink-and-purple Safari Hotel, while the younger generation gravitates to two rock 'n' roll spots, the Red Dog and J.D.'s. Scottsdale offers a Gay Nineties atmosphere at Lulu Belle's, some fine Mexican food in a variety of private homes turned restaurant and two good French spots—Etienne's and Chez Louis. There are numerous Chinese restaurants, although the Valley's 3,400 Chinese do not offer one Chinese laundry.
One of the popular excursions in the Valley is a turn on Lincoln Drive past the Mountain Shadows and Camelback Inns onto Desert Fairways Drive through Paradise Valley. A guide like Al Cooley of the Tanner Gray Line tours tells you whose house is whose and fills in the interesting details. The dream homes here have two types of landscaping—green lawns paid for at an extraordinary price (water is precious in Arizona even when it is plentiful) or landscaping with gravel, sand and natural growth of century plants, creosote bushes or paloverde, the beautiful state tree. Homes here are frequently built of brick that has been made to resemble the oldtime adobe. No tour is considered complete without a look at the house of Walker McCune, one of Texaco's largest stockholders. Estimated to be worth $1 million to $5 million, it is on 37 acres that cost $10,000 an acre. It has a swimming pool, an ice-skating rink, a 16-car garage and, according to Cooley, 28 bathrooms—"one for every day in February."
From there it is a short drive through the glorious Biltmore Estates, down roads lined with sour-orange trees, into the atmosphere of the solid old resort past of yesterday. There are tasteful private homes in Biltmore Estates—such as that of the Cudahys of the Chicago meat-packing fortune. The Biltmore is a perfect example of one resort extreme in the Valley—a place of entrenched tradition, a hotel so steeped in the ways of the past that its largely Filipino work force returns faithfully each year. The Biltmore has its own stables and 26 miles of bridle trails. Some guests still bring their horses from the East to share their vacations, and the horses graze on the most expensive real estate in Arizona. Backgammon tables and a Dow-Jones ticker tape in the lobby are touches missing in most other Valley resorts. The Biltmore, however, is making concessions to change—it may soon stay open all year round, and it has begun to advertise for dinner customers in the local papers.
If the Biltmore represents the old Arizona, the Chamber of Commerce could find no better image for the new than the three-year-old Carefree Inn, 20 miles north of Scottsdale. Carefree is designed to make use of the desert as a dramatic natural backdrop, with the golf course blending into the rugged terrain, as far removed from the parklike greens of the Biltmore as possible. Carefree offers fast but casual service, hearty friendliness minus any hint of social direction, unobtrusive convenience and luxury, exclusivity because of its out-of-town location, but no snobbishness. There is good trail riding on "desert safaris," and there are moonlight rides with a colorful cowboy character named Hube Yates and champagne breakfasts in the desert—they move furniture, coolers, chafing dishes to a picturesque spot, where eggs Benedict are served topped with caviar.
Here is a letter a stunned New Yorker wrote just after arriving at Carefree: "I'm sitting at a lovely table under a Spanish lantern in a luxurious room. Beyond the 18-foot glass doors hang the McDowell Mountains, purple and mauve with sunset. Between is the desert, all spiny and thorny, blue-gray by necessity—green leaves cost water. Does the mind reel? It is merely a sudden dizziness caused by too much ozone in the air and not enough sulphur dioxide. I never knew smog was addictive, but I have withdrawal pains.
"There is something even more addictive about this country. You are only here about three hours when anxiety starts. Will they have sold the last two acres before you can get to the real estate agent? Back East Barry Goldwater was a joke, but in Arizona he suddenly seems poetic and attractive.
"The desert is what the ocean is to us back home. It has an odor, a movement, a sense of infinity all its own. Though civilization is creeping up on it, here there is a heartfelt interest in preserving it. The Desert Foothills Drive from Scottsdale is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, with tasteful markers identifying mesquite, gray thorn, cat claw from jumping cholla, and other signs asking us not to shoot at the giant saguaro cactus, which may be hundreds of years old and is slowly beginning to die out.
"I can't write more now, I must close and rush to the real estate office."
So, as they say in the ads, come on out. Or if you can't come, send your sinuses. They'll love it.