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A Winter Visit to the Valley of the Sun

2/22/10 - Phoenix & Scottsdale, AZ

Exploring down-to-earth Phoenix and doing the requisite Scottsdale (& Tempe) shopping...in the rain

It's been a long winter here in the Sandia Foothills of Albuquerque.  Unlike the lower elevation areas in town, we've been pounded with snow (relatively speaking, of course) up here.  Our window and door installation has been dragging on, hindered by measuring mistakes, weather delays and illness, and our installer decided he wanted to work on finishing the drywall windowsills and staining the newly installed doors and windows all weekend.  We needed to get out of here!  We'd been talking about going to Phoenix to enjoy some warmer weather and to look at some new dining chairs at Ikea that will give a more updated look to our old wood table.  We also had our eye on a couple different martini glasses (we've become really into Hendrick's martinis lately) on-line at Crate & Barrel and wanted to see them in person in order to make a decision.  Even though the forecast for the weekend was for disappointingly chilly temps and rain, we decided to go anyway and let our workers take over the house for the weekend, hoping for the best on both fronts.  We booked a room at the hip & trendy Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix and hit the road at 2pm on Friday afternoon.  It was smooth sailing and we arrived before 9pm, in time for a pleasant stroll around the Roosevelt Row/downtown and sports arena area of Phoenix.  It was temperate and dry...for now, at least. 


After our initial exploration, we checked into the Clarendon, a '60s-era motel-style property that had been recently renovated with hipster aspirations and that has received very mixed reviews from other travelers.  Now I know why.  They have a great concept; they've created a kind of pool area/roof-top deck lounge scene and you can order at the bar inside and bring your drinks outdoors to enjoy.  It's a pleasantly casual and relaxed system.  The pool area is nicely outfitted with plenty of stylish chaise lounges, tables and chairs and also giant lounge-y beds with fun striped cushions.  Hip lounge music plays throughout.  Near the giant hot tub,  there is a 'waterfall wall' on one whole side of the pool area that offers privacy for the first floor rooms.  Quite clever and very cool.  It 's got a good vibe - hip but not pretentious.  The focus is definitely on the pool area, unsurprisingly, and they've done a great job there.  Unfortunately, the overall feeling is that the hotel is going broke.  Even though it was very dark, the furnishings on the roof-top deck appeared quite worse for the wear, lacking any small resemblance to the beautiful photos on their website.  The lighting was poor (non-existent, in fact).  Of course it didn't help that it was too cold to sit up there so it was almost deserted on a Friday night.  The rooms had the same oops-ran-out-of-money vibe and also just seemed poorly managed.  Upon entry, our room had that old motel smell, aptly described as "dank" by a previous guest in a review Caroline had read.  Our room was extremely spacious, feeling cavernous even with a king-size bed, but it had very little additional furniture.  The only seating besides the bed was an upholstered desk chair, although all of the other rooms we peeked in each had a stylish wood Nelson platform bench at the foot of the bed (hummpphh).  While the color scheme was very pleasing - a red accent wall and suede-like upholstery, espresso-color wood furniture, white bedding with chocolate brown accents - the bedskirt was torn and had a stain, the furniture was chipped, the desk lamp was missing the light bulb and the room was set up for only one person - coffee supplies and cup for one, 2 bath towels and one washcloth (no hand towels???), etc.  To their credit, the towels they did supply us with were quite nice, new and of high quality.  We also had to request robes for the hot tub (which was drained and out of service upon our arrival and usable but barely lukewarm on our second and final night), which the website clearly states are included in every room.  It was just a shame that the hotel wasn't better run because it really had huge potential.  It was just the kind of place we would conceive of, if we were to open a hotel of our own (only we would hopefully be able to manage it better!).


We awoke in our comfortable bed to rain on Saturday morning and this would prove to be a continuing theme of the weekend.  But no time to waste, let's drive around (it's kind of what you do in Phoenix, right?)!  After bagels from Safeway and a visit to Crate & Barrel (in Scottsdale) we had plenty of time to see some parts of Phoenix, which had previously been a mystery to us as we typically find ourselves in Scottsdale (and Ikea) when in the area.  Upon leaving the decidedly upscale Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall with 6 new martini glasses, we toured the lobbies of the well-known Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced Arizona Biltmore hotel and also the super cool, recently renovated mid-century Hotel Valley Ho as we began our unofficial architecture tour of Phoenix.  As we continued on our drive around town, we meandered through the Marlen Grove neighborhood, which is comprised of a few blocks of gorgeously renovated mid-century homes and also through the Historic Roosevelt neighborhood, with its older but charming and well-kept homes conveniently located close to downtown.  In addition to cool neighborhoods, Phoenix also has an impressive collection of parks and outdoor spaces and at the south end of town, we checked out the expansive views from the summit of South Mountain Park.  The rain even stopped long enough for a short hike on one of the parks many desert trails. 


After that welcome chance to stretch our legs, we returned to the hotel for a quick change of clothes, and then it was back to the Valley Ho for happy hour at Trader Vic's, the famous Tiki-themed restaurant there.  Happy hour, first on their great patio and then in the bar when it started to rain (again), turned into a fabulous dinner, as we sampled nearly every small but delicious dish on the happy hour appetizer menu!  With a few drinks in our systems, we were ready to face Ikea, where we bought 6 dining chairs and a small shelf as planned, before returning to the Clarendon to climb into bed (after a dip in the aforementioned lukewarm hot tub, of course) after a rewardingly full day.


Sunday morning was reserved for a tour at Taliesen West, Frank Lloyd Wright's famous architecture school.  We chose the hour-long 'Panorama' tour (the most cost-effective tour but still pricey at $24 per person).  Even in the light rain it was an enjoyable hour of walking the property, taking in the gorgeous desert landscapes and views, observing the rustic architecture and learning a little about the history of the school and of Frank Lloyd Wright himself.  Sadly, we felt it prudent to leave the camera in the car due to the wet weather and so there are no pictures of our visit to Taliesen.  After the tour, it was time to think about getting back home to the Land of Enchantment, but not before a little more shopping at the Container Store, where we bought a door-mount spice rack for the pantry...

Dobbin's overlook in South Mountain Park - note the puddles in the foreground from all the rain!

Dobbin's overlook in Phoenix's South Mountain Park - yes, it was cold enough for gloves!


We had just enough blue sky to take a short hike in South Mountain Park


Scott sets off on one of the many trails in South Mountain Park


 Scott humors his photographer, agreeing to pose like a felled saguaro off the trail


Hot tub (with prisma-colored mosaic tile divider/bridge)!


The snippet of blue sky we saw -  better luck next time...





The Clarendon Hotel's room numbers are faux Arizona license plates on zesty red doors!

Our room at the Clarendon, with sliding, original artwork in place of a curtain


The pool at the Clarendon, complete with drained, broken hot tub


Dobbin's overlook in Phoenix's South Mountain Park


The view from Dobbin's overlook in Phoenix's South Mountain Park


Dobbin's overlook in South Mountain Park


Phoenix skyline from Dobbin's overlook in South Mountain Park


The ocotillo in the park and all around Phoenix were lush and green from all the rain of the past month


Hiking one of the many trails in South Mountain Park


Hiking one of the many trails in South Mountain Park


Hiking one of the many trails in South Mountain Park


The pool area, now with functioning, if lukewarm, hot tub


The cool waterfall wall at the Clarendon