The New Rules of the West
By Renée Morrison
Photos by Chris Hinkle
“The Code of the West was a gentleman’s agreement to certain rules of conduct. It was never written into the statutes, but it was respected everywhere on the range.” — Ramon Adams, western author and historian
Long before Arizona joined the United States in 1912, it was a rugged land that some of history’s most famous outlaws, lawmen and cowboys called home. It wasn’t all saloons and showdowns, though: The hard-working cowboys of the 19th century helped pioneer the frontier with advancements in farming and ranching. And although some notoriously disregarded the law, the legendary cattle-herders lived by an unwritten ethics code that set the guidelines for society. Today, what was once the Wild West is a much more refined destination where high heels and spurred boots, upscale spas and rugged ranches, celebrity-chef restaurants and rustic saloons exist side by side. A case in point is Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a home base that’s stylish and contemporary but still proudly Western – apparent from the moment a cowboy-hat-clad doorman welcomes guests in. It’s proof that even the modern cowboys (and cowgirls) of Arizona haven’t forgotten the values their culture was built on. In Scottsdale, a city that calls itself “the World’s Most Western Town,” here are five updated rules for life.
1. “When in doubt, let your horse do the thinkin’.” — Old West proverb
It’s only been a short 30 minutes since my departure from Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, but already the scenery has changed from landscaped lawns to what Arizona evokes in most people’s minds: dirt roads, cacti and nothing but raw desert for as far as the eye can see.
When I step out of the car, a hefty black pig walks over and begins sniffing at my ankles. “Myron likes to greet our guests,” says Lori Bridwell, who runs the Arizona Cowboy College, an equestrian center where I’ve come to learn the ropes of ranching. She pulls out a granola bar and Myron eats it up, digging his snout into her hand. His reception job is well paid.
We’re joined by head instructor Rocco Wachman, who begins the school day with a lesson on horse psychology. He stands in the middle of a ring, a brown and white mare at his side.
“Watch how she bolts when I come straight toward her from front or behind. I need to approach her from an angle and make my body language more vulnerable.” In a Cesar Millan-esque demonstration, Wachman tips his head down and moves diagonally toward the anxious horse. She quickly stills and lets him make contact.
2.“Always finish what you start.” — James P. Owen, Cowboy Ethics
When my alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m., I silently curse myself for agreeing to hike Camelback Mountain, whose elevation surpasses the Empire State Building, at such an ungodly hour. Half asleep, I lace up my running shoes and pack my supplies. Trail mix? Check. Coffee to go? Check.
The Echo Canyon trail I embark on is challenging, and each step feels like nature’s StairMaster. A couple of especially steep sections have rails to hold onto. The morning air is cool – the goal was to beat the heat with an early trek – but I’m already sweating. I spot prickly pear cacti along the mountainside and, off in the distance, the 100-foot-tall Praying Monk rock formation (which looks just as its name suggests).
Over an hour later, as I finally reach the top, I step up onto a boulder overlooking grids of homes and far-off mountains visible from every angle. Camelback’s copper-toned cliffs, named because they look like the humps of a kneeling camel from a distance, are their own reward: a stunning, postcard-worthy contrast to the pink light of the morning sun.
Next up, ranch manager Elaine Pawlowski shows us how to brush, saddle and mount our horse for the day. I’m pointed toward Que, a silky black male gelding that I’ll be practicing my skills on. I’m nervous as I approach him, remembering Wachman’s tip about staying very close to the horse’s body (“Your instinct will be to stand far back, but that just gives the horse more room to kick!”) as I switch from grooming one side to the other. The process isn’t just to primp the horse, but to get acquainted with each other, and soon enough Que lowers his head – a sign that he’s getting comfortable, according to Wachman. Once my horse is saddled up, I hop up and take him for a ride around the pen (with a little help from my guide), practicing my whoas and giddy-ups.
Our final lesson is lassoing. Bridwell expertly swings the stiff rope in circles above her head, throws it toward a plastic cow figure, and secures the loop around it. I try to follow her lead, waving my rope around me, when I hear a few snickers from behind me. “That’s closer to ribbon dancing,” she says, “but you get an A for effort.”
3. “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” — Will Rogers, American cowboy and newspaper columnist
A dozen years ago, Ken Singh’s lot was just a piece of dry desert, but that’s hard to imagine now as I follow the real-estate-developer-turned-farmer through his 20-acre ranch, shaded by a lush canopy of mesquite trees, rows of greens poking through soil patches at every corner.
“When I met the Native American community here and decided to settle down, I said, ‘Give me a piece of land that isn’t productive.’ Then I leased this place, cried and said, ‘Can I have a different piece?’”
After leaving the family business in Vancouver, Canada, Singh rolled up his sleeves and dug in, relying on all of his agricultural know-how to bring his acres of Sonoran Desert to life.
“My dad had taught me all about composting, so I got to work, adding microbes. As they die, they create humus, and humus nourishes the crops,” he says, describing the complex composting process that he used to make Singh Farms fertile.
These days, hundreds of locals show up to his weekly Saturday morning market to buy fresh produce, bread, eggs, homemade dips and honey. Through his chemical-free farm, Singh is determined to pass on the importance of natural agriculture – not only for the sake of nourishment, but also for the sustainability of the land.
“We’ve started holding yoga classes here,” he says, leaning down and placing his hand on the earth. “I’ve had a few students tell me that it’s the perfect spot for it because the earth is so happy, it resonates.”
We gather around a fire pit, and an on-site chef hands me a plate of frittata made with eggs and vegetables gathered from the farm. It’s perfect: savory and hearty, but not heavy. For dessert, I help myself to a massive carrot, roots still attached, from a pile of fresh vegetables that Singh has laid out. Unlike the earth, my belly is no longer resonating, and it’s very happy.
4. “A strong, healthy body is a precious gift.” — Clarence E. Mulford, Hopalong Cassidy’s Creed for American Boys and Girls
Back at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, I’m admittedly relieved to take a break from Western duties to visit Well & Being Spa. With its rooftop pool and bright fitness studio with a glass ceiling, it’s a chic reminder of what the new Scottsdale is all about: an appreciation for rigorous work, but also for indulging in some well-deserved R&R. Aside from its diverse menu of massages, facials and body treatments, the spa also specializes in exercise and nutrition programs aimed at total lifestyle overhauls so guests can achieve that same balance.
“Smell these, and choose whichever one you’re most drawn to – that’s what your body needs today,” says my treatment therapist at Well & Being, handing me two bottles of essential oils to sniff.
With a few strategically placed dabs of Deep Peace, a blend of clary sage, patchouli, vetiver and sweet orange, I can feel my breath slowing down.
As part of the Hacienda Retreat treatment, she polishes my body with a scrub made of yellow corn and lime, and all evidence of having been subjected to a North American winter is sloughed away. After a rinse, my sore muscles are treated to a massage with mojito butter. I’m in heaven – and just a few ingredients short of a Mexican fiesta.
5. “Fill your glass to the brim.” — Zane Grey, The Code of the West
After sunset, the fire pits at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess are buzzing with couples clinking glasses and corporate retreat attendees loosening their ties. When I stroll up to La Hacienda, the in-house Mexican restaurant, it’s bumping. A model-like brunette leads us to our table and gives a knowing nod when my host, public relations director Valerie Lee, says, “Snake Bite, please.”
“That’s Katie, our new tequila goddess,” says Lee. “She just got her tequila sommelier certification in Mexico.”
Lobster tacos, shrimp and halibut ceviche, queso fundido and a guacamole sampler (with bacon, pomegranate and spicy crab varieties) arrive at the table. They’re quickly followed by three tasting glasses filled with tequila, mescal and sotol on a plate adorned with a taxidermied snake. The goddess has arrived with my Snake Bite flight.
“Let the tequila sit under your tongue a little bit to take the edge off,” she suggests. I do as she says, and it really works, but it’s still fiery going down.
Then I spot actual fire: A waiter is tableside preparing flaming coffee, the house specialty. Mine is ignited with a generous dose of Patrón XO Café and topped with whipped cream – but I haven’t yet finished the margarita I ordered with dinner, and two-thirds of my venomous trio are waiting for me. Maybe the West still has a wild side.
3 COWBOY HOT SPOTS
1. Scottsdale’s oldest saloon, The Rusty Spur is now a registered landmark. It was once the Farmers Bank of Scottsdale, but as the owners proudly declare, “the vault’s now filled with liquor.”
2. In Tombstone, the O.K. Corral is the notorious spot of the 30-second cowboy gunfight that took place in 1881. Experience it for yourself with daily reenactments of the battle.
3. From sheriff badges to saddles and art depicting life in the Old West, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is a must-visit for cowboy enthusiasts.
With a landscape of saguaro cacti, palm trees and the expansive Sonoran Desert, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is an ideal home base for exploring Arizona. Guests can book corporate parties and weddings at the hotel’s Copper Canyon, a replica of an 1880s Western town complete with saloons, a blacksmith shop, jail, stage and dance floor, for the ultimate Wild West experience.
Enjoy al fresco cocktails and light fare at The Plaza Bar, where lounge seating and fire pits are a popular pre- or post-dinner gathering spot. Of the hotel’s four restaurants, celebrity chef Richard Sandoval helms two: La Hacienda, one of Scottsdale’s top-rated Mexican eateries, and Toro Latin Restaurant & Rum Bar, where sushi and ceviche are menu favorites.
Find a desert oasis in the hotel’s Well & Being Spa, which offers a rooftop adults-only pool with private cabanas, as well as saunas, steam rooms and a fitness studio with group classes. Several spa treatments feature local ingredients, like Sedona clay, desert salt and prickly pear.
Ask Fairmont Scottsdale Princess’s golf concierge to arrange your tee time at the adjacent TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course, an 18-hole golf course that proudly hosts the annual WM Phoenix Open PGA Tour. tpc.com/scottsdale