A high-season refresher course in the Arizona desert

When the going gets tough, the tough get going to Scottsdale, Ariz., for a rejuvenating splurge

After a trying few months, I announced to my family that I was taking us somewhere to lift our spirits. My wife and our two boys guessed Florida. Nope, we weren't risking rain. I planned two nights in Scottsdale, Ariz. After a flight delay wrecked the first day, I doubled down and made it four days. Airfares were on points; we spent $2,500 on the rest, including $450 a night at the FireSky Resort & Spa, about $135 on golf and $150 at the Mission, one of Scottsdale's hottest restaurants. A splurge to be sure, but you can do it for less if you don't do it in high season as we did.

The bed

FireSky Resort & Spa (4925 N. Scottsdale Road; [480] 945-7666, http://www.fireskyresort.com) is a 204-room boutique hotel with a gorgeous, high-ceilinged lobby and a lounge wrapped around an oasis of lagoon-like pools and fire pits. An adequate double-queen room with French doors opened to a pair of five-star-quality pools, one with a kid-friendly beach. We loved the free wine hour and s'mores kits. The boys guzzled the free prickly pear lemonade. We chose one of the more expensive times to go; rooms were $200 a night earlier in March.

The meal

We hit the Mission in Old Town Scottsdale (3815 N. Brown Ave.; [480] 636-5005, http://www.themissionaz.com), which is next door to an old adobe mission built by Mexican settlers in the 1910s. We felt lucky to get a reservation more than a week out for 8:15 p.m. on a Wednesday. It was gloriously loud and too dark to read the menu; we shouldn't have brought the kids. Pork shoulder tacos for two ($32) were presented as a solid chunk of pig smoked and slow-braised for half a day, served with a pineapple habanero glaze and 10 handmade corn tortillas on a hot salt brick. Sublime.

The find

Take a night tour of Taliesin West (12345 N. Taliesin Drive; [480] 627-5340, www.lat.ms/1GgEE8A. Evening tours offered February-May, September and October, December), architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home/academy from 1937 until his death in 1959 at age 91. Try to imagine the long-ago debauchery the guide doesn't tell you about. You can just feel it.

Lesson learned

You could spend the entire trip golfing, tanning and swilling lemonade like lotus eaters in Scottsdale, but the red canyons of Sedona are less than a two-hour drive north. Make yourself go. We spent our last day speeding across changing desert landscapes to tackle a memorable hike up the Mars-like landscape of Bell Rock.



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