x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Land of cowboys and movie stars

Into the wild Home to the Grand Canyon, the rocky spires of Monument Valley and the ubiquitous fork-pronged saguaro cactus, Arizona epitomises the American West.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve offers superb cycling.
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve offers superb cycling.

It's home to the Grand Canyon, the rocky spires of Monument Valley and the ubiquitous fork-pronged saguaro cactus that is as much an icon of the state as George Washington is to the US dollar. Arizona is a state that epitomises the American West. This beautiful wilderness is not the only reason Hollywood's celebrities have been coming here for half a century. They come for another reason - for the luxury, shopping, spas and 200 golf courses to be found in Scottsdale, a city on the outskirts of state capital Phoenix, about 300 miles east of Los Angeles. In the last few years the city has been transformed by a $3.3 billion investment boom. Old and tired hotels have been given the modern makeover, from the 1950s retro feel found at the Valley Ho to the uber-cool Mondrian popular with stars such as George Clooney and Will Ferrell. It is themed on the Garden of Eden: it's all about temptation, apparently. New waterside developments have been created out of the ancient canal system first built by native Americans. Downtown abounds with new bars and restaurants that have led to the city being talked up as the new South Beach. But the great thing about Scottsdale, once a small town surrounded by cotton fields and citrus tree farms, is that you never feel like you're in a city, even though it stretches for 30 miles by seven. One of the reasons is that there are no skyscrapers. The other is that it lies in a basin and is surrounded by mountains. That outdoor lifestyle is one of the reasons it's populated by so many outsiders. That sense of wilderness is even attainable on the doorstep in the form of Camelback mountain, which dominates the city. A pre-dawn ascent of the 2,704ft peak forms an integral part of city life for many commuters seeking an alternative to the treadmill. The trail to the top is just over a mile long and climbs 1,300ft. The reward, if you time it right, is a stunning sunrise that bathes the rock in a stunning copper-red hue - and a 360-degree view from the top for miles across the desert. Everywhere are the cactus, standing proud, casting their long shadows across the dusty earth. Further afield (but only a 30- minute drive) in the 16,000 acre McDonwell Sonoran preserve are awesome mountain bike and hiking trails that weave between piles of huge granite boulders unique to the area. "Up here we're surrounded by open space, away from the crowds. I love it," my guide, Rico Riley tells me. He takes me to some caves where the Hohokam tribe left their mark in the fifteenth century, hollowed out scoops in the granite where they ground grain. Those who prefer horse power will not have a problem here in Arizona - this after all, is the land of the cowboy. And if you're after serious horse power, there's always a tour in a 200hp Hummer. Further afield the wilderness options are limitless. To the south lies Tombstone - scene of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral - and up north on the border with Utah is the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.

For further information on Scottsdale, visit www.go-arizona.com.