Scenes from Scottsdale, Part II: City Slickers


In the second part of our Arizona feature, Larry sidles through saloon doors into downtown Scottsdale, stays at a legendary inn, and climbs the saddle of a camel…?

There’s a brunch venue in Scottsdale that has something I’ve never seen before. As I walk into Hash Kitchen, I’m met with a buffet counter which, on closer inspection, features an array of pickles, crudites, onions, olives, you name it; but it looks a little unlikely for breakfast. “Oh, that’s just the Bloody Mary bar,” the waitress informs me. The what? No token limp celery stick here; if a city can be summed up in a cocktail, it’s in a glass jug of fiery tomato juice laced with tequila and a kebab skewer plugged with every conceivable condiment you can think of. In Scottsdale, your cup clearly runneth over.

From my perch in Fountain Hills, I’m heading into downtown Scottsdale and there’s something that immediately strikes me; for a country wedded to branding, everything is understated; there are no billboards, no huge signs. Utilities and power lines are underground, and there is guidance, too, on buildings, both in height and design – I see that Frank Lloyd Wright influence throughout – including that a proportion of a building is given over to planting. I don’t know whether I’m stepping back in time, or into an alternate reality, but it’s inviting, even refreshing. In a word, it’s how you’d want your city to look.

Much of this context is provided by my tour guides, Kirk and Monica, one of the jolliest, most ebullient couples I’ve met, who operate JoyRidesAZ, pootling about in souped-up golf buggies, offering a potted history of the downtown area via landmarks including a statue of the city’s founder Winfield Scott, a Baptist minister and civil war hero, and its oldest building, the Adobe Mission church, built by Mexican settlers – an influence that continues through the city to this day.

That influence is perhaps best exemplified by the food, never more so than at The Mission. It’s known for its guacamole, mixed to order tableside in a large, coarse stone mortar, and I tell you, I’m not buying shop-bought guac again, thank you very much. The tacos here, too, would surpass any you’d find across the border. And while you can’t go wrong with a margarita anywhere in Scottsdale, I’d challenge anyone to find better than their Primarita.

Of course, even in downtown Scottsdale, amid the influence of modernity, the heart of the old west beats through its streets, and not just with names like Thunderbird Ave, Cactus Road and Jackrabbit Drive. While the historic part of the old town, as you might expect, is a proliferation of clone tourist shops and boutiques, among the tequila t-shirts and branded baseball caps it’s tasteful, and there are some genuine finds for the enthusiast, many in original buildings, including some old-style trading posts and a chance for a cold one through the swing doors of the Rusty Spur saloon.

But the southwest is not just about cowboys. Craft shops, owned by Navajo, with jewellery and object d’arts from the reservations, sit beside countless art galleries and a number of public art installations – an effect of its art heyday from the ’60s. But perhaps the best the way to embrace the culture and history of the old west is at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. A Smithsonian affiliate, amid all the art on display, there’s a barrel-load of artefacts; from Native American clothing, tools and weapons, not to mention racks of all sorts of cowboy regalia, from chaps to spurs, revolvers and wanted posters.

My gait by now resembling John Wayne, as I tip my hat and leave the Rusty Spur, I make for my lodgings for the next couple of days, the Hermosa Inn. Well, lodgings is an understatement. Located in the highly exclusive Paradise Valley, the Hermosa is the former home of cowboy artist Lon Megargee; illustrator of many novels, and once Head of the Art Department at Paramount Pictures, his reputation as a bon viveur seems to have outshone his trade as a commercial artist, but he’s perhaps most known for his painting The Last Drop, which features as the mark of authenticity in every Stetson.

At the Hermosa, his artwork hangs throughout, where wooden, beamed ceilings, flagstone floors with woven rugs and leather furnishings make you feel as if you’re still stepping into Lon’s house – which, in effect, you are. A tea and cookie stand in the lobby is the perfect welcome amid soft leather sofas and a rustic fireplace, features that are echoed in the rooms, where each guest has their own casita in the gardens, abundant with desert flora and lush bougainvillea.

The eponymous Lon’s is its signature restaurant, with dinner enjoyed under the boughs of a large, ancient mesquite on the terrace. As the lanterns come to light, it’s easy to see why Lon’s is a draw for locals as well as guests, with a chef-sommelier combo that would rival any in Europe’s capitals. A convivial dinner, sharing style, features dishes such as salt-seared ahi tuna with papaya and avocado relish, and bison short ribs in a mesquite syrup, and concludes with a churros tree before a fitting bourbon nightcap, naturally, at The Last Drop. A fine way to finish the evening, but perhaps inadvisable for what was in store the next morning.

That first hike I undertook in the McDowell Mountains, when we made it to the viewpoint we saw what is perhaps Scottsdale’s emblem; Camelback mountain. You can’t escape views of Camelback almost anywhere in Scottsdale, in fact; it rises from the centre of the city and, at certain angles, its outline does indeed resemble a reclining camel. From a distance, it appears an innocuous climb, ideal to walk off an indulgent dinner, perhaps, but the guidepost at the trailhead indicates ‘extremely difficult’.

While I scoffed a little, they weren’t kidding. It’s 2.5miles and more than a 1km climb over boulders and steep inclines which, at times, require handrails. But, once at the summit, the views of the city are well worth it – and, of course, you then have the descent. Little wonder there are T-shirts in the stores emblazoned, ‘I climbed Camelback’.

There’s only one way to conclude an Arizona experience; getting out on the range. Well, a trail in this case, but on horseback, and at sunset. And for this, we venture back out into the desert. Heading up past Cave Creek, the city falls away behind us and we’re into the outback of the Tonto National Park. We’re met by our guides, Joseph, a former rancher, he even lives off the land, and is so at ease on a horse he could be a centaur, and Vicky, our outspoken lead, who knows the horses’ every nuance.

We’re sized up, literally and figuratively, and presented with a steed, and then we’re nose-to-tail wending our way through the brush. While there was little provision for gallivanting or galloping off, this was no trot round a paddock; we were up and down ravines and riverbeds, at times the great expanse of the Sonoran opening up before us. If anything evoked that Southwest spirit, it’s catching a saguaro cactus silhouetted against the sunset, from horseback.

I think I can safely say I’ve earned my spurs.

A Rancho room at The Hermosa Inn, 2024 peak season, will be $599 per night, with peak season being 15 January – 15 May. For more information, including details of LON’s, please visit

For more information about Scottsdale, including details of where to stay, what to see and do, and to start planning your trip, please visit