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By Lauren Kramer
For Travel Writers' Tales

I'm flat on my back on a spa bed, my body slathered in adobe clay and wrapped hot dog-style in plastic and towels. The clay hardens, releasing its therapeutic minerals into my skin and leaving me in a transcendently relaxed state. It's been a decadent hour of massage, exfoliation and mud work at The Boulders Golden Door Spa in Scottsdale.

Yet you only have to look around to see that Scottsdale is an unlikely place for a 33,000-square-foot spa with all the bells and whistles: hydrotherapy, Vichy showers, an O'furo Japanese dipping bath and underwater spa treatments among others.

Around me the Sonora desert stretches for miles, punctuated by saguaro cacti, gnarled black trees and 12 million-year-old boulders the size of apartment buildings, piled on top of each other in an oddly beautiful symmetry. This is a land where bobcat and coyotes hunt for food at night, where chuckwalla lizards bask on the hot rocks and rabbits dart between the arid foliage. Just a few meters away from the simmering desert heat lies my treatment room, where my Adobe Clay Wrap is coming to a blissful conclusion.

You have to hand it to the folks in Scottsdale. They took a desert and in less than a century, turned it into a city with posh hotels, infinity swimming pools, hundreds of lush golf courses and a gal's shopping dream come true. Here, just a quick flight from Vancouver's grey skies and rainforests, you get more heat than you ever dreamed possible, coupled with retail therapy, hydrotherapy, and just about any other therapy you could wish for.

We flew into town for a weekend of 'couple time,' a quick escape from kids, work and the endless days of a BC winter. He brought golf clubs, I brought flip flops but both of us were ready for a few good meals, time at the pool, a little shopping and some serious pampering.

That's exactly what was on the menu when we checked in at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa, a gorgeous Spanish-Mediterranean style property that sits in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. The property itself was a love story cut short: American financier Delos Cooke had built it in the mid-1920s, moving into his 'winter haven' home with his wife in '29 but succumbing to illness two years later. Still, in the years since his death romance has been infused into the very walls of the Royal Palms.

A courtyard of palm trees announces the transition from desert to sanctuary when you arrive, and inside the resort is a haven of luxurious casitas, bubbling reflection pools and bougainvilleas spilling over trellises into the lush landscaping. We cooled off with cocktails at T.Cooke's, grateful for air conditioning and later for the tranquil respite of the swimming pool washing the desert dust from our skin.

The next day he played golf while I succumbed to a citrus massage in the resort's Alvadora Spa, chased with a replenishing sweat in the eucalyptus steam room and a glorious soak in the women's-only outdoor tub. Then we were off to explore the shopping at Fashion Square, a few minutes away on Camelback Road.

Ah, American retail. I had forgotten, briefly, the wonder of exploring a long list of brands we don't see back home at prices that are actually affordable. Two hours later I'd barely skimmed the surface of the fashion mall - but it was time for shopping of a different kind. For this kind, you never have to take out your wallet.

I'm referring to Scottsdale's Art Walk, the experience of browsing through some of the many galleries that line Main and Marshall streets in Old Town Scottsdale. The perfect après-dinner activity, the galleries display a massive selection of art and sculpture with price tags so high you have to look twice to believe they're for real.

Old Town is a place with personality, a small quadrant that welcomes new boutiques while protecting the integrity of the remaining few authentic cowboy bars reminiscent of the Wild West. We picked our way through a few tourist shops, ducked into a yesteryear diner for an ice cream sundae and strolled hand-in-hand through the galleries, feasting our eyes on art we'd never be able to afford or justify purchasing.

The next day we were determined to learn more about life in the desert, so we headed out on horseback with Fort McDowell Adventures, a ranch 20 minutes from town owned by the Yavapai Nation.

From my saddle on a steed that refused anything but a painfully slow walk, it was easy to appreciate the seriousness of the Sedona desert, a place where every last drop of water takes on new significance. A leather-skinned cowboy guide led us across the Verde River, past majestic cacti that arched into the sky, budding with white flowers that seemed impossibly lovely for a plant this thorny. It's a different kind of beauty than the Pacific Northwest, yet it's easy to fall for the rich splendour of the desert.

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If You Go

  • Boulders Resort & Spa offers two 18-hole golf courses, accommodation in rustic casitas and first-class dining and spa treatments.; (480) 488-9009
  • Royal Palms Resort ( is the kind of place couples long for: quiet, adult oriented, centrally situated and decadently luxurious. (800) 672-6011
  • For info on Scottsdale visit or call (800) 782-1117


    1. Boulders 021: The casitas at The Boulders Resort are carved into the slope of 12 million-year-old rocks jumbled together in a beautiful symmetry. Photo: Courtesy Boulders Resort

    2. Boulders 034: The Boulders is home to two championship golf courses and the exquisite Golden Door Spa, a sanctuary of treatments inspired by the landscape and rituals of the Sonora desert. Photo: Courtesy Boulders Resort

    3. Royal Palms Resort & Spa Pool. A lush oasis in the shadow of Camelback Mountain Photo: Courtesy Royal Palms Resort

    4. Royal Palms Resort & Spa Exterior. A couples' retreat of fine dining, citrus massages at the Alvadora Spa and luxurious casitas decorated in Spanish-Mediterranean style. Photo: Courtesy Royal Palms Resort


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