This past reading week, I left the cold winter weather of Kingston to spend quality time with my family in the massive desert that is Arizona. We were fortunate enough to set up base at Mountain Shadows Resort, a beautiful hotel located in Paradise Valley, in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. 


The Hotel

Mountain Shadows, Paradise Valley

In a landscape that has been sucked dry, Mountain Shadows Resort stands as a shining beacon of culture, luxury, and life. Between complimentary valet, a breathtaking view of Camelback mountain at the reception desk, and an art gallery right inside the hotel, your first impression of Mountain Shadows is nothing short of amazing. As a celebrity hub in the 1950s and 60s, this hotel has been serving the most sophisticated guests for decades. However, after years of use, they decided to rebuild the resort and expand the property to house condos as well as the hotel. The official grand opening was in fall of 2017, and the grounds and facilities still present themselves as brand new. 


The hotel is only two stories high and is outfitted with a masterful Art Deco aesthetic. From the pool to the golf course to the divine Hearth 61 Restaurant, this hotel is any design fan's dream desert getaway. 



the food

& my desperate attempt to eat healthy in the land of burgers

When I travel, I prioritize a healthy diet. The first stop is always a grocery store - partly to see what kinds of unique foods are being sold, partly as a way to understand the location's culture, and partly to collect healthy snacks so I don't get too hangry while exploring the city, and I don't succumb to the temptations of burgers and fries that decorate every menu.

I was impressed with the selections of healthy meals at the hotel restaurant, Hearth 61. Not only do they offer a poolside fresh pressed juice bar, but the menu is full of seasonal vegetables and lean proteins. The first night, I opted for the squash and grain bowl with a side of broccoli and brussel sprouts to share with the table. It was heavenly. A consistency of a risotto, this pot of gold was filled to the brim with roasted vegetables under a blanket of rich, creamy butternut squash blended into quinoa. Every bite was bursting with flavour, one I had never experienced before. It was a risky menu choice for me, as I always gravitate towards plain salads and fish that I can guarantee are low calorie and vegetable heavy. However, I am so glad I made this selection as I was blown away how tasty this vegetable creation was. 

Other highlights were the Kale Salad (pictured above), Steel Cut Oats, and Smoked Salmon plate. Thank you to the staff for being so accommodating with all my menu requests. I also tried an RXBAR for the very first time. A big hit with the fitness bloggers on Instagram, these bars have finally made their way north of the border and are now sold at Whole Foods, Summerhill Market and other various grocery stores across the country. Their ingredient list is simple, and nutrition facts respectable, but I wasn't impressed with the bars themselves. They were dry and sticky, and all three flavours I purchased tasted the same. If you know a great snack bar that is as clean as the RX, but has better nutrition, taste and digestive abilities, please let me know! I love the idea of having the bar, but Lara, RX, Quest and others similar are too dense for my digestive system.





from Phoenix and the surrounding areas

My only experience in the desert was a short business trip last summer to Las Vegas. Vegas had its own unique landscape - tall hotel towers, flashing lights, and mountains in the distance every direction you looked. Paradise Valley was vastly different. Residential areas were all hidden behind the walls of gated communities, some houses visible by being nestled in the rocky hills and each no more than two stories high. Arizona is a state of beige bungalows. I'm not sure whether this is because of building regulations, the hot summers or a mix of both, but there weren't any tall buildings in sight. When venturing into downtown Phoenix and Scottsdale, the town was broken up into strip mall-esq blocks with office buildings that may reach four floors. This was quite the culture shock coming from Toronto, where the CN Tower is now being swallowed in a sea of skyscraping condos and offices growing from all ends of the rapidly developing city. 

A few hours away from Paradise Valley is the area of Sedona. It was significant;y cooler, in both senses of the words. The red rocks rose in the distance as we traveled along the flat highway until we were curving around the beautiful mountains the colour of blood. Perhaps it was a sign of the battle between the indigenous groups and the colonizing cowboys, as the area is still dominated by the two clashing cultures. The town of Sedona was tired and touristy, the two main blocks packed with tourists and shops selling "Indian Goods" and cowboys with gun holsters serving massive racks of ribs. However, the landscapes and hiking in the area is too beautiful to miss.

If you are interested in visiting the area, I would strongly recommend doing some research. The towns and cities themselves seem sleepy, as not many people were walking on the streets, and locals seemed hard to come by. However, there were endless opportunities to be active - whether it is hiking, swimming, horseback riding or rock climbing. Grab a car, find a trail, and set off to explore. This is so unique to the area; the trails are difficult, but reaching the peak is rewarding and will alter your perspective on the world completely. 



Other "must-sees" included the art installations throughout downtown Scottsdale and Frank Loyd Wright's house. Both gave a deeper understanding into the creative community of the west, and proved to wildly educational in the realm of organic design and sustainability.

If you're interested in seeing more of my trip, head over to my Instagram page and view my "Arizona" saved story. All photos taken on my iPhone SE.