30 classic desert oases.
In a land where Dantes View looks out over Badwater, where Dead Indian Creek runs dry near Hell's Kitchen, and where Skull Mesa looms over Bloody Basin, the desert is the last place you'd expect to find heaven on earth.
Then again, the American desert is about nothing if not extremes, provoking extreme reactions from those who visit it. People either hightail it at the first sign of scrub and saguaro, or they put down roots, finding inspiration rather than dread in the apparent desolation before them.
For such inspired people, the desert has always been the frontier's frontier, a great blank slate with strict natural laws but few cultural constraints. Historically, those who have settled and built here have let their imaginations run to whatever the desert inspires - Moroccan villas, Mexican pueblos, even Mayan temples.
To each his own oasis.
Today, some of the most notable examples of desert architecture are the hotels and inns that opened the terrain to travelers looking for creature comforts where hitherto there had been only creatures. Based on its hellish landscape, the place might have inspired a lot of Motel 666s. Instead, these desert oases were instant classics that set the standard for their time, and continue to do so today.
Korakia Pensione, Palm Springs
An artists' colony recalls old Hollywood and ancient Morocco
Serendipity is a word that pops up a lot in conversation with G. Douglas Smith, owner of the Korakia Pensione in Palm Springs.
It's understandable when you consider how this California kid returned from years of owning a cafe in Greece, landed in Palm Springs, and found a run-down 1924 house built by an expatriate Scottish painter, Gordon Coutts. The house, called Dar Marroc, was designed in the Moroccan style by Coutts to re-create his days in Tangier. He turned Dar Marroc into an artists' colony, hosting such notables as Grant Wood and Rudolph Valentino.
Smith had always dreamed of running a small inn. Dar Marroc seemed perfect for that. Under his ownership it has drawn an assortment of actors, dancers, musicians, and photographers and - past be prologue - become an artists' colony all over again. The business allows this sheltering guy Smith to do the traveling he loves, and to look for the furnishings that help make his 18-room inn unique.
"This is a great thing to do for someone who likes to buy stuff," says Smith.
Call it serendipity. Or, more appropriate to the architecture, kismet. Life ain't bad for Doug Smith. Or for a guest at the Korakia.
Take the upper guest house - it's really a one-bedroom apartment. The kitchen looks out over the pool, past a Moroccan-style fountain, to the boulder-strewn San Jacinto Mountains beyond. The bedroom has French doors that open onto a tiny balcony, while the living room is filled with Smith's finds: an Afghan table, a couch from Greece, a small table with Islamic-style inlay, a camel saddle.
Other rooms have their own collections. Gather them all together in a single compound and you've got a desert classic for the ages.
"I've had people from Yemen say it's just like Yemen, and an Egyptian composer say it's just like Egypt," says Smith. "Then again, old-timers say it's just like old Palm Springs."
Where: 257 S. Patencio Rd.
Rates: From $79 to $239.
FYI: The Korakia has several "Fresno-style" motel rooms adjacent to the main courtyard. If you're looking for a room in the original house, be sure to specify. Also, there's no computerized reservation system here, Smith doesn't take credit cards, and the rooms are free of TVs.
Contact: (619) 864-6411.
Furnace Creek Inn, Death Valley
Where mission-style elegance meets hell on earth
No place, is more extreme than Death Valley. It's hotter, drier, and lower here than anywhere else in the western hemisphere. In spots, the very earth can cut like glass, what little water there is can poison. And yet, nearby, snowcapped 11,000-foot peaks tower above Satan's handiwork, as if to mock those unfortunate enough to find themselves in this purgatory.
From the beginning, it had tourist attraction written all over it.
Even before the turn of the century, promoters were thinking about Death Valley as a destination for vacationers. The hype became a local joke: in 1907 a local newspaper, the Death Valley Chuck-Walla, lampooned promotion efforts with a mock pitch that bragged, "All the advantages of hell without the inconveniences."
When the mission revival-style Furnace Creek Inn opened in 1927, it not only eliminated inconveniences, it brought luxury to Death Valley. Designed by noted Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin, it was conceived by the Pacific Coast Borax Company as a way to keep the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad in Death Valley, since the railroad would soon lose its main customer with the closing of nearby borax mines.
The hotel was an immediate success and quickly expanded, adding more rooms, a golf course, and a spring-fed swimming pool. All of this at a time when local Panamint Shoshone Indians still moved to their mountain hunting villages in the Panamint Range during summer, and many locals still lived in makeshift quarters. From both perspectives, the Furnace Creek Inn meant that the modern world had finally arrived in Death Valley.
Celesta Lowe, a retired University of Nevada librarian, grew up in nearby Shoshone. When she was very young, she lived in a house made of tent material and empty 5-gallon gas cans filled with sand. As a teenager, she made her first visit to the inn.
"I was just overwhelmed," Lowe recalls. "I finally began to see how the rest of the world lived."
Actually, most of the rest of the world wishes it lived like this. Furnace Creek isn't opulent, but after a day of hiking Death Valley's canyons, or even crossing its emptiness in an air-conditioned car, returning to the inviting shade of the inn's palm trees produces a visceral sense of relief.
That mirage-come-to-life quality, along with the inn's Old West mining atmosphere (the Oasis Lounge has a wall embedded with travertine and borax crystals), makes Furnace Creek a uniquely American take on the desert experience. Who would have thought that hell could be so appealing?
FURNACE CREEK INN
Where: Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park.
Rates: From $235 to $275.
FYI: Golf packages are no longer available, but hotel guests pay a greens fee of just $20.
Contact: (619) 786-2345.
Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix
A desert dwelling in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright
Walking into the main lobby of the Arizona Biltmore is like entering a cavern, a grand masterpiece of a cavern. Built of patterned concrete block made of Arizona sand and crowned by a ceiling covered with real gold leaf, the dark lobby is at once serious and sheltering, a response to and a retreat from the heat and light of the desert outside.
With its Mayan overtones and Frank Lloyd Wright pedigree, it might be a stretch to call the Arizona Biltmore indigenous desert architecture. Still, its chief architectural counterpart could very well be a cliff dwelling.
The Wright influence is everywhere, although his exact role remains the subject of debate. The architect of record is Albert Chase McArthur, who had worked as a draftsman for Wright. McArthur brought in his mentor, then on hard times, to supervise construction of the Biltmore's textile-like concrete blocks. In later years Wright always publicly credited McArthur with the Biltmore's design, yet he also wrote to his former student's widow, "But I know better and so should you."
The hotel opened in 1929, a splash of green in the barren foothills of Squaw Peak, 8 miles out of Phoenix (then population 70,000). It blended visionary architecture with a ranch flavor to draw an exclusive crowd, including many Hollywood stars: Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned at the Biltmore, Clark Gable lost his wedding ring on the golf course, and songwriter Irving Berlin dreamed up "White Christmas" here.
Phoenix eventually swallowed up the Biltmore, and the hotel's role shifted from oasis to anchor for one of the city's most exclusive neighborhoods. Through the years the hotel itself changed - from the 1931 addition of the famous Catalina-tile pool during the Wrigley family's ownership to a major renovation after a fire in 1973.
Vernon Swaback, who studied under Wright, designed the Biltmore's most recent changes, a $50 million renovation completed last year. Not surprisingly, Swaback believes that his new Biltmore "is totally compatible with Wright's work. There are things that aren't his, but the unmistakable imprint of Frank Lloyd Wright is here."
The result? In addition to a new meeting facility and new luxury villas, the Arizona Biltmore is now the only hotel in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced water slide.
"It's very much an idea of Wright's to take something that might be perceived as an intrusion and turn it into an architectural element," says Swaback. "Rather than hide it, you turn it into a design feature."
Where: 24th St. and Missouri Ave.
Rates: Rooms start at $330, dropping to $230 on May 10 and $130 on June 20 through summer. Various packages are also available.
FYI: To experience two of the hotel's greatest spaces, take a dip in the Catalina-tile pool and have dinner at Wright's.
Contact: (800) 950-0086.
Arizona Inn, Tucson
Form follows furniture at this 1930s hideaway
Early morning out on the patio, a hummingbird dodges between vigas, the buzzing beat of its wings the only sound to break the stillness. Room service has brought fresh fruit and a plateful of blue-corn pancakes with prickly-pear syrup, the same breakfast ordered the morning before. Two newspapers sit on a table, unread. Absolutely nothing is happening, and there's so much to take in.
The quintessential Arizona Inn moment has always been like this - private. Hotel founder Isabella Greenway wanted it that way. Working with architect M. H. Starkweather, Greenway created an inn that was a home away from home. For many of the inn's early guests, who would stay here weeks at a time, that's exactly what it was.
Actually, it was Greenway's love of building and design that spawned the inn. By 1929, she had built half a dozen houses (now all part of the inn) adjacent to her home 2 1/2 miles out of Tucson. They were places for relatives and friends to winter in the desert. Her final inspiration for the Arizona Inn came when she had to figure out what to do with a huge surplus of furniture, products of her company, Arizona Hut.
Greenway set the tone for the Arizona Inn from the beginning - literally. In his brief history of the inn, writer Blake Brophy relates the story of how Greenway stood against a plastered wall in bright sunlight, pointed to her forehead, and told a contractor, "This is the color I want."
The Arizona Inn opened in December 1930 and has remained in family hands ever since. For Bill Dillon, the inn's director of design, that continuity has helped the hotel balance modernization and tradition. "The history is here, it doesn't have to be made up," he says. "We can see pieces in old pictures and still find them in the stock-room."
Where: 2200 E. Elm St.
Rates: From $180 (lower in late spring and summer).
FYI: The notoriously prickly Frank Lloyd Wright loved the inn's lounge. Contact: (520) 325-1541.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Warm winter retreats
The Southwest's deserts are the greatest producers of our most precious winter commodity - heat. Here's where to soak it up
Did Bing Crosby really sleep here? That's what they say at the Estrella. Indeed, the lush setting and '30s feel make it the perfect setting for a Road to Palm Springs picture.
Where: 415 S. Belardo Rd.,
Rates: Regular rooms from $150, bungalows from $250; two-night minimum on weekends.
FYI: Ask about AAA or AARP discounts, offered Sundays through Wednesdays, depending on room availability, even in high season.
Contact: (800) 237-3687.
LA CASA DEL ZORRO
What Furnace Creek Inn is to Death Valley, La Casa del Zorro is to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Where: 3845 Yaqui Pass Rd., Borrego Springs.
Rates: From $95 midweek, $115 on weekends.
FYI: To find out when the peak of the wildflower season in the park will be, call (619) 767-4684. Contact: (800) 824-1884.
LA QUINTA RESORT & CLUB
Built in 1926, La Quinta is still the most legendary hideaway in the Coachella Valley.
Where: 49-499 Eisenhower Dr., La Quinta.
Rates: From $250 midweek for a casita in the garden area. Rooms with fireplaces start at $300.
FYI: A golf package for two runs $590 a night and includes a deluxe room, breakfast, use of a golf cart, and 18 holes for both players on their choice of three tournament courses.
Contact: (800) 598-3828.
PALMS AT INDIAN HEAD
This 10-room gem in Borrego Springs now boasts its own restaurant and bar. Where: 2220 Hoberg Rd., Borrego Springs.
Rates: From $90.
FYI: Like Casa del Zorro, a good choice for hikers bound for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Contact: (800) 519-2624.
29 PALMS INN
Why the palms? The San Andreas Fault runs beneath the cabins and adobe bungalows, allowing water to reach the surface and feed the palms.
Where: 73950 Inn Ave., Twentynine Palms.
Rates: From $65 midweek, $95 weekends and holidays.
FYI: This is a great place to stay if you are planning to visit Joshua Tree National Park.
Contact: (619) 367-3505.
TWO BUNCH PALMS
This oasis has enough mystique and attitude to satisfy its very Hollywood-oriented clientele.
Where: 67-425 Two Bunch Palms Trail, Desert Hot Springs.
Rates: Villas by the mineral-water hot pools run $135 to $255.
FYI: A midweek spa package for two costs $978 and includes two nights, all meals, and a one-hour spa treatment.
Contact: (800) 472-4334.
Once the desert home of Marion Davies, it's now an elegantly restored eight-room inn near the Palm Springs Desert Museum.
Where: 412 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs.
Rates: From $250. Albert Einstein's garden room runs $450.
FYI: This is one of the nicest spots we can think of for a romantic retreat. Contact: (619) 320-0771.
The service is much more than fine at this pricey enclave, but the nighttime sound of coyotes howling in the desert is the real draw.
Where: 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree.
Rates: From $525.
FYI: A women-only golf package, including three nights, two 90-minute lessons and a four-hole playing lesson, a one-hour spa treatment, and breakfast and dinner daily, starts at $2,161 for one golfer, $2,486 for two.
Contact: (800) 553-1717.
Very New Age, with hot tubs tucked away in the surrounding desert hills.
Where: 2000 Westcourt Way, Tempe.
Rates: From $265.
FYI: At $340, the romance package includes one night in a king-size bed, champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, roses, breakfast in bed, and late checkout.
Contact: (800) 843-1986.
The former home and studio of '30s cowboy artist Lon Megargee has 35 casitas, none alike.
Where: 5532 N. Palo Cristi Rd., Paradise Valley.
Rates: From $235.
FYI: Lon's restaurant is a favorite of Phoenicians and inn guests alike. Contact: (800) 241-1210.
REGAL McCORMICK RANCH RESORT
It's more bustling resort than ranch, but this is a good family bet.
Where: 7401 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale.
Rates: From $229.
FYI: A three-night package costing $439 per person includes a four-wheel-drive desert tour and a horseback ride.
Contact: (800) 243-1332.
The newest member of the Phoenix resort scene could be open by the end of this month. It is built around the winter mansion of a former Cunard Steamship executive.
Where: 5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix.
Rates: 120 rooms, starting at $195.
FYI: If you like the food at the Royal Palms' restaurant, take home a copy of its gorgeous cookbook by chef Michael DeMaria.
Contact: (602) 840-3610.
This sports mecca in the Sonoran Desert has two championship golf courses run by the Tournament Players Club.
Where: 7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale.
Rates: From $320.
FYI: The tennis package costs $527 per person and includes two nights, unlimited court time, one hour of instruction each day, a stroke-analysis videotape, an hour a day on the ball machine, and use of the spa and fitness center.
Contact: (800) 344-4758.
The somewhat politically incorrect name doesn't do justice to this sprawling, homey resort.
Where: 300 Indian School Rd., Litchfield Park.
Rates: Old-time casitas start at $296, newer courtyard rooms at $356.
FYI: The golf package costs $660 per couple per night, with a three-night minimum, and includes guaranteed tee times, breakfast and dinner, a premier room, full use of tennis courts and the fitness center, and all tips.
Contact: (800) 327-0396.
LAZY K BAR RANCH
The small Western ranch is tucked in the Tucson Mountains.
Where: 8401 N. Scenic Dr.
Rates: From $120 per person.
FYI: Includes all meals and twice-daily horseback rides (except Sundays).
Contact: (800) 321-7018.
LODGE ON THE DESERT
This Mexican hacienda offers adobe-style casitas and cool ocotillo-shaded verandas.
Where: 306 N. Alvernon Way.
Rates: Large rooms with mesquite-burning fireplaces start at $118.
FYI: Kids will like the outdoor pool and lawn games, including croquet.
Contact: (800) 456-5634.
LOEWS VENTANA CANYON RESORT
If you feel like spoiling yourself, this is the place.
Where: 7000 N. Resort Dr.
Rates: From $295.
FYI: The resort's spa recently doubled in size. Services range from aromatherapy to algae dips.
Contact: (800) 234-5117.
PEPPERTREES BED & BREAKFAST INN
The peppertrees came down in a storm two years ago, but the antique-filled 1905 house, restored into a gracious inn with three rooms and two guest houses, is still inviting.
Where: 724 E. University Blvd.
Rates: Rooms cost $108, guest houses for four $175.
FYI: It's within walking distance of the University of Arizona campus.
Contact: (520) 622-7167.
This small and quiet inn has only four rooms, each named for and decorated after a room in one of the world's great hotels, like the Regent in Hong Kong.
Where: 105 N. Avenida Javalina.
Rates: From $140 to $165.
FYI: Walk out your front door and hike into the Saguaro National Monument.
Contact: (520) 885-0883.
TANQUE VERDE RANCH
No glitz, no glitter, just a renowned dude ranch that has been saddling up families since the 1920s.
Where: 14301 E. Speedway Blvd.
Rates: From $280 per day per couple.
FYI: Stay in the spacious lodge or in a room in one of the cabins. Rates include meals, horseback riding, tennis, and all other ranch activities.
Contact: (520) 296-6275.
WESTIN LA PALOMA
Surrounded by giant saguaro cactus and other native succulents, this lush high-desert resort sits at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Where: 3800 E. Sunrise Dr.
Rates: From $325.
FYI: If you ask for the Westin Weekend package, the same room costs $275 and you get breakfast for two and a free movie rental.
Contact: (520) 742-6000.
WESTWARD LOOK RESORT
The recently refurbished rooms in this tasteful, midsize resort are clustered in several Southwestern-style buildings, the oldest from 1912.
Where: 245 E. Ina Rd.
Rates: From $199 midweek, $229 weekends and holidays.
FYI: Sundays through Thursdays, Sunset readers get a 20 percent discount, which means rooms start at $159. Ask about AAA and AARP discounts.
Contact: (520) 297-1151.
FLYING E RANCH
Miles of wide-open spaces and an emphasis on equestrian activities have given the family-style resort in a town known for its winter dude ranches the nickname "riding ranch."
Where: 2801 W. Wickenburg Way.
Rates: From $195 for two, including three meals and all ranch activities except horseback riding.
FYI: Don't miss the "Dudeos" in March, when the Flying E, Kay El Bar, and Rancho de Los Caballeros engage in a bit of friendly competitive horseplay for guests from all three ranches.
Contact: (520) 684-2690.
KAY EL BAR RANCH
The adobe buildings in this family operation close to the Hassayampa River are shaded by huge salt cedar trees.
Where: Rincon Rd.
Rates: Rooms in the lodge cost $225 for two, including all meals, horseback rides, and other ranch activities.
FYI: Only 20 guests at a time get to stay at this ranch, established in 1926 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Contact: (520) 684-7593.
RANCHO DE LOS CABALLEROS
In addition to horseback riding, Los Caballeros offers its guests tee times on a highly rated golf course.
Where: 1551 S. Vulture Mine Rd.
Rates: The four-day, three-night package costs $498 per person in a double room and includes meals, trail rides or golf, tennis, and all other classic ranch activities.
FYI: A free children's program is one reason why this place generally fills up after mid-February, so book early.
Contact: (520) 684-5484.
The owner may be Merv Griffin, but the wranglers are anything but Hollywood.
Where: 34801 N. State Highway 89.
Rates: Lodge rooms start at $295 per couple, including all meals, rides, spa, and other ranch activities.
FYI: Four-hour cattle drives are offered three times a week for an extra $100 per person, including a trail lunch.
Contact: (800) 942-5362.
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|Title Annotation:||hotels and inns in Arizona and Southern California|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1997|
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