Wild Horse Resort is a showcase of ancient culture & natural beauty

By Bill Vanderford

Native Lady Near Phoenix-Photo by Bill Vanderford - Photo by Bill Vanderford

To historians, the Phoenix is a mythical, sacred firebird that ignites by the sun at the end of its 500-year lifespan, and emerges from its ashes as a new and stronger creature with immortal powers. While the imagery of the Phoenix’s transformation is rendered in art and literature, today it also represents the resurgence of cultural splendor in the Valley of the Sun around the city that bears its name.

Phoenix is rediscovering the richness of its Indian, Spanish, and Cowboy roots with the tenacity and majesty of a desert flower that rises from barren soils -- and most especially in the re-emergence of the Pima and Maricopa Indians.

Unlike many Native Tribes, these two bands of the Gila River Indian Community have parlayed lucrative proceeds from gaming into an entire infrastructure that restores and shares their indigenous culture. Nowhere is this better seen than at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, located on the reservation a few miles south of Phoenix.

Sheraton Wild Horse Pass is an unrivaled, Native American cultural resort destination that occupies a desert valley between the Sierra Estrella and South. As a showcase of heritage and culture, everything in the resort’s design was pre-approved by the tribal elders to ensure its authenticity whether woven into the resort’s 500 rooms, its event space, riverside pools or cuisine. For example, the phenomenal Kai Restaurant, which means ‘seed’ in the Pima language, incorporates many indigenous and culturally significant ingredients in its menus. And at the Aji Spa, treatments include local healing traditions such as stone massage and a desert sweat-meditation lodge. The resort also has the 36-hole golf course and an equestrian center which offers horseback rides through the 1,000 acres of desert scenery. En route, look for burrowing owls, jack rabbits, lizards and a multitude of birds.

Hiking in the Hills Above Phoenix - Photo by Bill Vanderford

A 2.5-mile replica of the Gila River winds through the resort complex along which boats shuttle guests to and from the gaming and entertainment at the Wild Horse Pass Casino, as well as Rawhide Western Town, a replica of an old west cowboy village, complete with specialty shops and more. Here’s where to try your luck gold panning, or at the shootin’ gallery. There’s a petting ranch for children, as well as burro and camel rides. The best thing in this Western venue, however, is the world-famous Rawhide Steakhouse & Golden Belle Saloon. For nearly forty years, they have served the best mesquite-grilled steaks in the Phoenix area, and their famous Rawhide Rattler and Rocky Mountain Oyster appetizers are certainly worth a try. And then there’s all that toe tappin', boot scootin' live entertainment!

Although the resort provides for a complete desert experience, it’s often nice to ‘go where the locals go. At that’s to South Mountain Park, one of the largest city parks in the world. Covering 17,000 acres, here’s where to find some of the best hiking trails in the Phoenix area.

Sharing Fruit During a Hike Near Phoenix - Photo by Bill Vanderford

The National Trail is the backbone of the South Mountain Park system, stretching 14 miles from the Pima Canyon Trailhead in the east to the San Juan Lookout in the west. Nearly every other trail in the park joins the National Trail at one point or another, giving hikers plenty of options. Hidden Valley Trail is a local favorite, and one that for visitors at least, who are unfamiliar with the terrain, should be tried with guides. Arizona Outback Adventures have the most knowledgeable hiking adventurers for this particular park, not only for the landscape but for the number of plant species it hosts. Just be sure to rise early so hikes can end before the desert heat starts to climb and threatens to ignite your being as it is said to have done the Phoenix.

If you go:
Greater Phoenix Visitors Bureau:
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort: 602/225.0100;
Arizona Outback Adventures: 866/455-1601;

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