Summer fun – in the desert?

“Are you crazy?” ask my friends from the north.

“Certifiably,” I reply with a wry smile.

August has been my family’s go to month to vacation in the southwest for over a decade. We love heading down there mid-August for a couple of weeks or however long everybody’s schedule allows.

“Isn’t it like 110 degrees down there this time of year?” they continue.

“Absolutely,” I reply holding strong with my smile.

These friends, who have never been to the hot southwest, are incredulous as to why we would vacation, or as my Canadian friends say, “holiday,” in such hot locales, when there are so many cool(er) weather destinations to check out.

There certainly is some weight to that argument. We bought our first vacation home in Arizona in December of 2003, and no one said “boo” about that decision based on the time of year. Heading to the great southwest, from any of the heavily wintered Canadian provinces or U.S. states when it’s well below freezing with several inches of snow on the ground for a good thaw out in the hot desert is almost a must to survive the rest of the winter spent in the frozen tundra.

“What can you even do in that kind of heat?” their questions continue.

“Everything!” I reply and go on a sales-pitch rant.

These people live in areas where it can get to 30-40 below, for weeks on end, and they say I’m crazy for doing the same, just at the opposite end of the temperature spectrum. You can get frostbite in a matter of minutes at those kind of cold temps. And you can sunburn in a matter of minutes in temps of 110+. Cars can freeze up, wheels break, electronic systems shut down in freezing temps. Cars can overheat, asphalt streets get soft, you can singe your hands and legs on hot steering wheels and seats in intensely hot temps.

But my family and I have found August is a very enjoyable time of year to be in the desert. The pool temperatures are absolutely perfect. The heat of the sun, and the overnight warm temps, keep the pool at a comfortable 90 degrees – naturally – no heater needed. Just cool enough for an overheated body. Floating on a partially submerged floatie, with a cool-beverage in hand, and life is pretty darn good. Take a quick dip to cool down the whole body, and if a little breeze comes over the pool you can actually feel chilled in 115 degree temps.

The boys bake in the August Arizona sun, while the girls chill at the pool bar wondering where that Cabana boy is.

The boys bake in the August Arizona sun, while the girls chill at the pool bar wondering where that Cabana boy is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the pups need to stay cool!

Even the pups need to stay cool!

Or stand tall and get a free body scrub compliments of a summertime haboob!

Or you can stand tall and get a free body scrub compliments of a summertime haboob!

Because there are not enough hardy souls that head to the southwest in the dead of summer it’s a great time to take advantage of  empty golf courses at greatly reduced prices. A foursome who doesn’t dawdle too much can easily finish in well under 4 hours. With a beverage cart driving by every few holes and a cooler on the cart with multiple ice-cold bottles of water as well as towels doused in ice-cold water to wrap around your neck, playing golf can be a very enjoyable activity in the heat of the summer.

But if weathering the great outdoors is just too much to ask, then jump in your air-conditioned car and head to one of the many air-conditioned malls – i.e. Fashion Square, Scottsdale Quarter, Kierland Commons, Desert Ridge, Tempe Marketplace. Or to one of the many movie theaters with stadium seating, comfy leather reclining seats, bar and food service – i.e. iPic Theaters, Studio Movie Grill, Ultra Cinemas. Or how about the interesting and interactive Musical Instrument Museum.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and have extra time on your hands, rent a fun little sports car and hit the road. A four-hour drive will have you in Vegas – make a quick pit stop at the Hoover Dam. Spend several hours in the mega air-conditioned casinos, take in a show, or feast at some of the best restaurants in the country.

Road trip to Vegas, pit stop at the Hoover Dam

Road trip to Vegas, pit stop at the Hoover Dam

Or make the 2 1/2 drive to Williams, AZ, just west of Flagstaff, to jump on an air-conditioned train into the Grand Canyon. A 2 1/2 train ride in; several hours to wander around the canyon; and a 2 1/2 hour train ride back.

After you have worked up a good appetite, it’s time to settle into one of the many great eating experiences in the valley. No matter where you are staying, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills, Mesa…there are multiple options for great food within a very short drive. Mexican is obviously a favorite food in the southwest, but the demands of even the most picky tastebuds will be fully satisfied. Some of our favorites include:

Los Dos Molinos – authentic Mexican eats; try any of the pork dishes, slow roasted all day long. Very spicy. $$ South Phoenix

My friend Vicki enjoying her pork dish at Los Dos Molinos

My friend enjoying her pork dish at Los Dos Molinos

Mastro’s Steakhouse – fine dining w/live music; best steaks in town (in my family’s humble opinion). $$$$ N. Scottsdale

Father and son...

Father and son and…

the fellas enjoying surf and turf at Mastro's Steakhouse

the fellas enjoying surf and turf at Mastro’s Steakhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn –  fine dining – great outdoor seating; a little bit of everything food wise. $$$$ Paradise Valley

True Food Kitchen – good food that’s good for you. $$ Scottsdale

Sofrita – spanish tapas $$Alchemy – contemporary American $$$$Sapori or Arrivederci – Italian $$$. Fountain Hills

Blue Adobe Grill – American Mexican; great flavors. $$$ Mesa & Scottsdale

Casa Mia – authentic Italian with homemade pastas. $$$ Scottsdale

T. Cooks at Royal Palms – fine, dining – fresh and flavorful American cuisine. $$$ Phoenix

Pure Sushi – fresh sushi and flavorful Asian dishes. $$$ N. Scottsdale

 

Phoenix Arizona: from the rims of the surrounding mountains to the valley below

I grew up in the midwest, but spent enough time in Arizona to call it my second home. Like millions of other snowbirds that swoop down from the northern states or the frozen tundra and mountains of Canada during the winter months, my husband and I will eventually make our Arizona vacation home our permanent home upon retirement.

Why Arizona? I am often asked – mainly by people who have never been there. Understandably a good question when Arizona finds itself in the news because: of haboobs (dust storms) that can be 50 miles wide and 5,000+ feet high; high temperatures that reach 110+ for weeks on end in the summer; critters that include rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions; and cactus that have thorns sharp enough to pierce car tires.

Showing the size of the fast moving haboobs.

Showing the size of the fast-moving haboobs.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Over the years I traveled to other warm weather destinations across the country, but I always found myself being drawn back to Arizona. Coming from the hot humid summers of Minnesota, the dry arid weather of Arizona is a welcome relief. August has become my favorite time of year to be in Arizona. When temperatures rise into the triple digits, the pool becomes perfectly heated by the warm air and works as a natural cooling element for the body, allowing you to spend hours outside in those kind of temps.

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

And then there’s the golf. There are a multitude of golf meccas across the country – but generally isolated to a resort or small concentrated area of golf courses. Not many states can call themselves a golf mecca – Arizona can. I have been going to Arizona for almost 40 years, and am an avid golfer, but I have only played a small percentage of all the amazing courses available. The public courses rival some of the better private clubs in other states. The topography varies from a dry naturalized desert course to pine tree-lined mountain courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

The views from some of these courses are un-matchable. Looking back across the flat valley of Phoenix and Scottsdale, you can see for miles to the mountains across the valley. And the views on these courses are like walking through your own private zoo. On any given day I have been up close and personal with: bobcats, deer, coyotes, javelina (looks like a wild boar but is actually a large rodent) and rattlesnakes. If you respect their space, they will respect you. The only time you hear of a run in with any one of these critters is when someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, like reaching into a blind area.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

And then there’s the food and the shopping and the dine-in movie theaters – which by the way all have great air conditioning to escape to during those hot summer days. Mastro’s Steakhouse has become a family favorite and a tradition. Fashion Square Mall can compete with some of the best shopping in the country being anchored by Barney’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s and Macys. And who could resist being served wine and dinner while kicking back in a reclining leather chair, blanket and pillow provided, to watch their favorite new release at iPic Theaters.

But it is the sunrise and the sunset that really showcase the beauty of Phoenix. The hiking in the Valley of the Sun is plentiful, giving you ample options to climb peaks allowing you vistas rarely replicated anywhere in the country or the world. Enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise over Four Peaks east of Fountain Hills is tough to beat. But sipping an Arizona wine while watching the sun set over Camelback Mountain, a mountain in the shape of a sleeping camel with a praying monk perched on the camel’s nose, is matched only by the brilliant red earth tones lit up by the setting sun on the appropriately named Red Mountain at the east end of the valley.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

 

What to do: Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s western abode, Taliesan West. Check out the Desert Botantical Garden, especially when the Chihuly Exhibit is there. Sports lovers are covered: besides golf, check out any one of the professional teams or high level ASU sporting events. Hiking: Camelback Mountain for a good workout and a test of climbing skills or Pinnacle Peak for a well trodden path for an easy to moderate hike.

Where to eat: For the steak lover, a perfectly seasoned steak served on a 400 degree plate at of three Mastro’s Steakhouses ($$$$) is a solid choice. For great appetizers Wild Fish and Sapporo have a tantalizing selection ($$$). For an outdoor fine dining experience Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn is a unique and flavorful experience ($$$$).

Check out extra pictures in the Global Gallery: Arizona