A Wildly Scenic Road Trip through Arizona

Energy vortices, towering cacti, red canyons, manicured cities—Arizona has it all. The land is rich with mystical energy and some of the most dramatic hiking in America. (There’s also an experimental domed city in the desert about an hour outside Phoenix.) The people are warm, and the views are epic. This is all to say that it’s the perfect state to road-trip through.

Ease into the welcoming seclusion of Arizona-by-car by starting in Scottsdale before heading north on I-17. You can zip through this itinerary in three days or creep steadily toward the Utah border over the course of two weeks. Arizona is a choose-your-own kind of adventure.

If you do venture to explore its majesty, please travel responsibly. Follow the scientific and medical community’s mandate for masks, frequent handwashing, and strict social distancing—all of which your car, and the accommodations on this itinerary, are just right for.


Scottsdale is technically the desert…the kind where twentieth-century design powerhouses like Frank Lloyd Wright and Paolo Soleri laid roots. While you’ll have to leave town for the untamed ruggedness associated with northern Arizona, the Sonoran views you spy out of Scottsdale’s windows are still ravishingly beautiful. (Pro tip: Pack the clubs—Scottsdale is a golfer’s paradise.)


Scottsdale’s iteration of the Andaz has the square footage to do this slice of scenery justice. The property comprises 185 private bungalows and suites with individual entryways linked by a series of tree-lined trails. This is an example of smart self-contained design done right. Each bungalow and suite has a pretty patio (get breakfast delivered daily—hello, blue corn pancakes) and is cozily minimalist in the way that only mid-century modern can be. The palm-tree-lined pool is surrounded by private cabanas and breezy double pool beds. As a launchpad for the nearby mountains, golf courses, and wide-open spaces of Arizona, you can’t do better. At the restaurant, the chef’s table sits in its own glass-enclosed kitchen, and the whole experience feels personal and private. 

And thanks to the warm climate, outdoor dining is a daily reality. The entire property feels so thoughtful (locally made ceramics in every room, for example) and the low-slung, unfussy architectural elements allow the landscape to shine. Nothing is superfluous here, and it works.


Architect Frank Lloyd Wright traded wintery Wisconsin for perennially pleasant Scottsdale, where his influence was far-reaching, back in the ’30s. Taliesin West (the counterpoint to Taliesin, back in Wisconsin) is a perfect example of Lloyd Wright’s devotion to organic architecture, function, and linear geometry in domestic spaces. Set in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, Taliesin West was his structural answer to the surrounding landscape: It’s designed to meld in and complement the rugged mountains and rust-colored earth. It was—and still is—the perfect winter escape and makes for a fascinating tour.


For those unfamiliar with the flora native to desert climates, it’s a jolt to see just how much sprouts and blooms without water. A morning spent wandering cacti-laden trails to various botanical gardens is pure pleasure. What’s more, the cactus family is considered an endangered organism and part of the Desert Botanical Garden’s mission is to study and protect these plants while educating the public on their valuable role in the ecosystem.



Disclaimer: Camelback Mountain is a steep hike. There are two trailheads, Echo Canyon and Cholla, and at under two miles, neither is especially long, but the incline is tough in the heat. Start early and hydrate. When you do finally scramble up to the peak, the sun sweeping across the plateaus and splintering off the surrounding canyons justifies the sweat. Afterward, drive ten minutes to the sleek Four Till Four café in Scottsdale for frothy cappuccinos, matcha lattes, and (lots of) water.


With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, Arcosanti’s spaceship-like accommodations are closed to guests. But a drive through the experimental desert city, about seventy miles north of Phoenix, is entirely worth it. The project was conceived by the late Paolo Soleri, a one-time Lloyd Wright apprentice. Soleri was a proponent of “arcology,” a style intended to fuse architecture, ecology, and environmental awareness. The thesis behind the city hinged on sustainability, communal living, and interaction with the surrounding landscape—a Utopian ideal. The project is still unfinished, but a new generation of optimists are working hard to get it done.


For caffeine and something flaky, Maverick Coffee on Scottsdale Road brews Australian-style coffee and bakes great scones. In other words, the best piccolo (a ristretto shot topped with steamed milk) in Scottsdale is here.

For dinner, the Mission marries the spicy, creamy, herby components of guacamole tableside. The slow-cooked pork comes smothered in a sweet-spicy pineapple and habanero glaze. The margaritas are strong and exploding with tangy, citrusy bite…we can keep going. The room is cavernous and airy with beautiful industrial fixtures and spaced-out seating.

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