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The Valley of the Sun is a Perfect Mixture of Natural Beauty and Ancient Culture

Wild Mustangs in the Arizona Desert-Photo by Bill Vanderford
Wild Mustangs in the Arizona Desert-Photo by Bill Vanderford
Bill Vanderford

To historians, the Phoenix is a mythical, sacred firebird that is ignited by the sunlight at the end of its 500-year life span, but soon emerges from the ashes as a new and stronger creature with immortal powers. Therefore, it is no surprise that in recent times, this multi-colored bird of artistic and literary symbolism has once again risen with all of its beauty and cultural splendor in the “Valley of the Sun” around the city that bears its name!

Phoenix, Arizona has rediscovered the richness of its past Indian, Spanish and Cowboy roots with the tenacity and majesty of a desert flower that bursts forth in colorful brilliance from barren soil each spring. The Spanish influence is evident in much of the personal and commercial architecture, the cowboy flavor is often seen in the attire of many local inhabitants, but the largest change in recent years is the reemergence of the Pima and Maricopa Indian Tribes.

Unlike many Native Tribes, these two bands of the Gila River Indian Community have taken the proceeds from the gaming tables and used them to provide services and restore their culture for all to share. Nowhere is this more noticeable than at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, which is located on the reservation near the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona.

Wild Horse Pass is an unrivaled, Indian cultural resort destination that occupies a desert valley between the Sierra Estrella and South Mountains a few miles south of Phoenix. Everything in the design of this picturesque area had to be approved by the tribal elders so that it would showcase a tapestry of the long and rich heritage of these proud people. Woven into this masterpiece of the Indian Tribes is the exceptional art, legends, and a more than 2,000 year history of survival in the Gila River Valley.

The resort alone offers 500 culturally themed rooms, over 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event and meeting space and spectacular riverside pools. The phenomenal Kai, which means ‘seed’ in the Pima language, offers inside or outside dining that features a menu rich in creativity, history and Indian culture. The atmosphere, panoramic view of the mountains and the desert at dusk, and impeccable service are unforgettable!

No journey to this part of Arizona would be complete without some type of excursion into the outdoors to take in the subtle magnificence of the desert. This can be easily accomplished by taking a hot air balloon ride or through Wild Horse with the Koli Equestrian Center. They offer trips to suit each guest through miles of breathtaking desert scenery along horseback riding trails that allows everyone to spread out much more than on other trail rides. One soon learns that the desert is alive with flora and fauna that include burrowing owls, jack rabbits, lizards and a multitude of birds.

Another way to become part of the desert is to hike one of the many available, well-marked trails. The best and most accessible trail in the Phoenix area is South Mountain Park, which at 17,000 acres, is said to be the largest city park in the world. The National Trail is the backbone of the South Mountain Park system, stretching 14 miles from the Pima Canyon Trailhead in the east to the San Juan Lookout in the west. The breathtaking vistas, huge cactus and other desert plants in this park are quite gorgeous.

I discovered a colorful mixture of unexpected beauty that blends perfectly with a fast-growing urban community. Like the mythical bird for which Phoenix is named, this delightful place in the “Valley of the Sun” has risen from the shifting sands of the desert to become a magnificent picture of harmony in a place of natural and historical splendor!

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