Last Updated on November 28, 2023
By Ellen Albanese
In the kiva at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, triangles are everywhere – in the artwork, objects, even in the shadows the lamps throw on the walls. That is, they look like triangles until you gaze out a window and realize they are not triangles at all. They are the mountains that surround this desert landscape.
Wright, of course, was famous for incorporating the landscape into his buildings. But all of Scottsdale seems to know how to bring the outside in. And what an outside it is.
Wright was 70 when he designed Taliesin West, which we learned on a 90-minute guided tour. Our guide explained that Wright had refined his tenets of organic architecture: buildings must respect the landscape, materials must be honest and used authentically, and everyone shares the work. In addition to guided tours of this beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona dwelling, a 60-minute audio tour is also available, which requires a smartphone and your own headphones.
Local rock and sandstone are used in walls throughout the property and tunnels take advantage of naturally occurring breezes. A view over a rocky landscape suggests an undersea world with scrubby cactus and stones evoking coral and a seabed. Even the trusses on the dwelling’s roof replicate the lines of “washes” running down the mountains behind.
On select days from October 1 to December 31, the site also offers a 60-minute Nightfall Guided Tour that includes dusk views and explores the outdoor spaces of Taliesin West’s core. Tours frequently sell out, so advance registrations are strongly recommended.
The Beautiful Desert Botanical Garden
We spent far more time than planned at the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden. “Look, there’s another one!” became our refrain as we spotted yet another variety of cactus. We counted at least 10 types of cholla – the cactus that sticks to animals and clothing, making us all potential transporters of the species – including teddy bear, red teddy bear, devil, staghorn, Christmas, jumping, silver.
We were awed by the monumental saguaro with their Gumby-like look. Did you know a saguaro doesn’t grow “arms” until it’s 100 years old? Short, easy loop trails off the garden’s main pathway showcase wildflowers, night-blooming desert plants, and stories of people who made the desert their home.
Docent tours, available from October through mid-May, are included with admission. The garden also features rotating special exhibits. Paintings, drawings, and monumental sculptures celebrating the visionary Colombian artist Fernando Botero are on display through March 31, 2024.
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, a Smithsonian affiliate, brings the outside in by focusing on the artists who trained their eyes on the land and the people of the Southwest. In this wonderful Scottsdale, Arizona museum a special exhibit showcases the work of women artists who captured the desert landscape on canvas in the early 1900s.
In “Women of the West,” colors of sand and stone and angular, almost cubist shapes echo the world outside. A more extensive exhibit by women artists, drawn from the Elliott Collection, is scheduled to go on display at Western Spirit in 2024.
“Dazzling Array: The Richard A. Gates Collection of Native American Jewelry” is an elaborate collection of necklaces, cuffs, and more made by artists such as Larry Golsh, Charles Loloma, and Jesse Monongya, among others.
“Canvas of Clay: Hopi Pottery Masterworks from The Allan and Judith Cooke Collection” showcases more than 65 of the finest examples of Hopi pottery from the Cooke Collection. A gift to the museum, this exhibition celebrates six centuries of the Hopi people and culture, whose tribal land lies in northern Arizona.
An interactive kiosk video shows how Hopi pottery is created, with a special segment on the Cookes and what inspired them to amass such a world-class collection. Among the historic and contemporary masterworks are 18 ceramics by Nampeyo of Hano, the most famous of the Hopi potters, as well as works by 22 additional master potters, including Nampeyo’s daughters and other descendants. Photographs by Edward Curtis, bronzes by John Coleman, and an outdoor sculpture garden create a distinct sense of place here.
About Those Tacos
One way to sample tacos in Scottsdale, Arizona is with Taste It Tours, which offers several downtown food tours and includes at least one taco stop.
The popular Taco Tour was sold out, so we took the Old Town Scottsdale Tour, sampling foods like pizza and Cornish pasties. We thought Cornish pasties seemed an odd choice until Kyle, our tour guide, pointed out that the “hand pies” Cornish miners took to work are much like empanadas.
We gave thumbs up to the impossibly thin-crust pizza and Arizona-brewed beers at Craft 64, frozen margaritas and shredded beef tacos at Cien Agaves, and the salted whisky gelato at Red Canyon Cafe. And everywhere we ate, the tacos were top shelf.
The walking tours depart from the Museum of the West and run for two to three hours.
Old Town Scottsdale
Along with far too much food, we also got a good tour of Old Town Scottsdale, moving through the arts district to the historic district. There are several large-scale outdoor sculptures, such as the 8-foot “Jack Knife,” depicting a rider astride a bucking horse, at the downtown rotary.
Most of these portray scenes from the Wild West. Maybe that’s why the “LOVE” sculpture by Robert Indiana at Civic Center Park, one of only 50 such installations worldwide, is such a pleasant surprise.
Another pleasant surprise takes place every Thursday evening, a vibrant community of working artists invites visitors into their studios in the historic Old Town, where you’ll find high-end Native American crafts sharing the landscape with tchotchke shops and restaurants.
The historic district’s architecture changes to brick and wood buildings dating from the 1800s. As we passed the Rusty Spur Saloon, country music spilled onto the sidewalk, where a white-haired couple danced with considerable panache. The 72-year-old bar is all about country music, seven days and nights a week.
Looking for something from Scottsdale to take home? High-end Native American and Mexican crafts shops, such as the Native Art Market, sit alongside vendors selling wallet-friendly souvenirs, offering a little Old Town magic for all budgets.