Scottsdale, a Cowgirl Feels at Home


The daughter of a rancher has never owned a pair of cowgirl boots. Well, things are about to change. What better place for a western wear shopping expedition than the bustling pueblo of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Sauntering into Saba’s, family owned since 1927, I’m cheerily greeted by Candy, who is helping a gentleman from New York who has just arrived, he’s been informed by his friends that they are taking him to a cowboy party and boots are mandatory.

He looked a bit timid and slightly foolish as a “dimestore cowboy” until effervescent Candy put him at ease. She explained how she retired from a corporate career and recently discovered her true calling; matching boots to personalities, regardless of background, profession and even if you’ve never met a horse!

This country girl preferred her little bicycle to being hoisted atop a smelly beast who had a penchant for flinging little girls off into a field of stickers. But age and time do funny things, and it’s about time I embrace my small town, country roots. By the third pair of boots, Candy nailed it. The minute I pulled on the Caribbean teal blue accentuated beauties, I knew they would transform me to bad-assery. Yep, no one is going to mess with this chica, however the point being; embracing the real you; whether it be sequined stilettos or flip flops, if clothes and shoes can make a girl feel strong, empowered and confident, then grab a pair and rock them! I did manage to depart Saba’s with only one pair, unlike the man from New York who got his inner cowboy on and walked away with two pairs.

Switching to hiking boots, I hit the trails. Starting at McDowell Mountain Regional Park which has 50 miles of trails for feet, mountain bikes and horses, I randomly stumble onto none other than Bootlegger trail! Hardly another human was to be seen on this early morning ramble, just a roadrunner flashing by and a few jackrabbits to keep me company.

Wide expanses of open desert has a similar feeling to being at sea, plenty of breathing room. Working up a thirst is easy in these parts and there is no shortage of watering holes. I’m drawn to the funky vibe of Cave Creek. I spot biker bars, cowboy bars and even one that has live bull riding on weekends, how does one choose? I can’t pass up the Horny Toad.

Cave Creek’s oldest watering hole

I introduce myself to the bartendress Katrina and explain my self-appointed mission: to document character bars worldwide! Katrina pleasantly chatted and told stories, along with a regular patron who enjoyed telling how Dick Van Dyke used to live nearby and the Horny Toad was one of his favorite hangouts.

Katrina the bartendress was a source of amusement, as well as the sign behind her “Alcohol: Because no great story ever started with someone eating a salad”

Established in 1976, the Horny Toad holds the honor of being the oldest drinking establishment in Cave Creek. I enjoyed wandering in this tiny desert outpost that loves unique gathering spots, and many bars still have original hitching posts for patrons arriving on their favorite steed.

A handful of saguaro with five fingers

Locals helped guide me to interesting explorations in and around the Scottsdale area. Cosanti, a gallery and foundry, is known for bronze and ceramic wind bells. Digging a little deeper, one can discover the vision of Cosanti’s creator, the late Paolo Soleri, an Italian born architect and philosopher, who created an urban laboratory in the high desert called Arcosanti, an environmentally accountable prototype of a town in harmony with nature.

Upon entering the Musical Instrument Museum, enchanting piano music draws me in. I look to see who is producing this haunting piece and witness a boy who can’t be more than 8, playing with determination and pure passion! Many talented guests come to play the public piano in this acoustically perfect location. A new exhibit features the birth of electric amplification for guitars. Keith Richard’s quote above one of his guitars on display: “Where would I be without it? Playing awfully quietly for a start.”

An acre’s worth of lovingly restored vintage firefighting apparatus is proudly displayed in the Hall of Flame, America’s largest firefighting museum. Kids get to scramble up on a designated firetruck, and the rest of us learn from many exhibits, including the wildland gallery, near and dear to those living in the western U.S., featuring the history of techniques by ground and aerial firefighters. The National Firefighting Hall of Heroes exhibit is a quiet venue to pay respects to those lost in the line of duty and honor acts of bravery.

Thousands of U.S. and International patches make their way to the Hall of Flame
The nimble Beachcraft Baron Leadplane scouts the drop for the DC-7 tanker (courtesy Hall of Flame wildland firefighting exhibit)

Near the Hall of Flame I came across the Desert Botanical Gardens which bloom with color all seasons and a delightful stroll uncovers raw beauty of desert cacti and wildflowers with emphasis on the Sonoran desert. Serene, contemplative and educational, the Desert Botanical Gardens compels one to walk slowly, stop often and drink in the quiet beauty and wonders of the desert.

An interesting observation by a Pacific Islander woman was to compare this unusual cactus to patterns in a coral reef (the four photos above taken at Desert Botanical Garden)

The search continues for wide open spaces and the natural world that never ceases to capture me, whether on land or sea.

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