We all have long-held biases of places. Opinions we formed when we were less open-minded or on family road trips driving through desert territory without air conditioning.  Most of my ignorant perceptions of my neighboring state of Arizona were forged under these conditions.  I’m old enough to have experienced a family car (a Ford Pinto, no less!) that was not equipped with the luxury of modern climate controls.  So, my perceptions of the cities of Arizona were mostly what us state-snobbified Southern Californians passed through on the way to the Grand Canyon, Colorado or Utah, stopping for a tank of gas or a gawk at a towering cactus.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” Mark Twain


Have Pinto. Will travel. You didn't believe me, did you?

I do so love having my impressions shattered.  The culprits in this case were a posh posse of pamperingness that included a team of truly delightful hosts from the Greater Phoenix CVB, gracious hostesses, chefs and staff at both the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass and the Four Seasons at Troon North.  And splinter they did, into myriad pieces of pottery and colored glass, sun-baked stucco and starshine, stirrups and smiles, music and musem musings, out of which I created a mosaic of memories.


Stucco steps and Saguaro, Four Seasons, Scottsdale


Happy cowgirl gang. From left: Debra Cincioni, me (Gina Stark) Liliana Baldassari, Chuck, Annie Fitzsimmons, Alyce Flynn, and Elizabeth Thorpe

Memories of horse-back riding, nature walks and hikes, native American culture, history and girl talk, outdoor yoga, Greasewood Flat, pool lounging, delectable dining, magical warm evenings, dancing, Saguaros, and of course the serenity of steam rooms and spa treatments.


Purple cactus on the nature trail, Wild Horse Pass, Phoenix

The natural surroundings were bold and beautiful and we were treated to the occasional jack rabbit bolting or lizard lounging…


Lounging lizard. Pinnacle Peak trail, Scottsdale, AZ

..and on a nature walk around the grounds of Wild Horse Pass, Liliana and I encountered a mother Mallard and her ducklings. We were really quite lucky ;)


Mama Mallard with ducklings, nature trail, Wild Horse Pass

One of my favorite memories is of the dependable display of night hawks silently swooping overhead in their ongoing evening pursuit of fine flying cuisine while we humans happily devoured our own marvelous meals.


An enchanted evening at Talavera, Four Seasons, Scottsdale, AZ

And yet, no matter how much I travel, it’s so often the people one meets and shares with who enhance a trip.  I am ever grateful for our hosts and hostesses for bringing together such a dynamic and amenable group of fellow wanderlusters and Twitter Goddesses who were all game for so many varied activities but knew when to sit by the pool and chill or focus studiously on Tequila and margaritas.


Tequila 101 at the Four Seasons

The Sheraton graciously invited us to sit entranced as Belen Stoneman, Pima Cultural Caretaker at Aji spa, shared her warrior wisdom with us and her own story of being a reluctant healer.


Belen Stoneman, sharing her "Warrior Wisdom" and plain girl talk with us in her sacred space

The Four Seasons gave us Chris Brunell, of Team Tequila.  He wowed us with his knowledge of tequila and the different variations, with his talent at mixing a marvelous prickly pear margarita, and of course with his charm.


Chris, of Team Tequila. He knows how to get a party started.

We stopped for swanky and kitchy (can these two even combine?) cocktails at the classis Durant’s in downtown Phoenix where we shared what can only be described as ‘Strawberry TALL cake’.



Special thanks to Trish and Scott who bravely accompanied this industrially enthusiastic belly dancer and her dear salsa dancing friend Debra while we shamelessly shimmied across the dance floor at Chars, a local club for music and dance enthusiasts alike.  I knew we were somewhere good and gritty when I spied this home-made chopper in the parking lot and sure enough upon entry, a live band was cranking out Motown and funk grooves that one would be hard-pressed to not boogie to. Yes. I DID employ that word: boogie. Whatcha gonna do about it?


The crowd inside Chars was just as cool and eclectic as this bike.

Spaaahhhhing. At Sheraton’s Wild Horse Pass Aji Spa,  I indulged an 80-minute  deep tissue massage from Christopher.  Note to Sheraton staff: Can you TRY not to hire gorgeous blue-eyes professionals? It’s distracting. (Watch, now he’ll be double booked by my readers).


Spa style at Aji. Relaxed and ready to go!

At Four Seasons, we were pampered in a different way with morning sunshine yoga followed by an outdoor “Twitter” brunch and their specialty “Spa Tapas”.  A light and lovely outdoor menu of foot scrubs, manicures and/or chair massage, allowing you to sample and savor numerous treatments.  My chair is now thoroughly relaxed and happy, thank you.  My personal curators of calm were Meghan, Linda and Art and once again it’s the people who bring the frosting to the calming cupcake.


Twitter treats and spa tapas


Pool lounging (and prickly pear margarita sipping) was taken to new heights and lows…of pedicured toes…at the golden hour. (See cover photo) and of course food! Glorious food!


Me and this little tart had a passionate relationship. But it didn't last long. Kai Restaurant, Wild Horse Pass.


Delectable dessert at Kai Restaurant, Wild Horse Pass

Unbridled Bliss

Our girl gang donned our jeans and boots and went for a guided ride through the wild brush of the flatlands, fettering out lizards, jackrabbits, a coyote and the piece de resistance, a sighting of a wild – and unbridled – mustang heard.  They let us approach fairly close even though they were proudly protecting a new foal from this spring.


Wild mustangs, Wild Horse Pass, Phoenix

Our seasoned cowboy is a real wrangler. He drives his own herd of cattle and even invites guests on round-ups. I gotta go back!  I loved breaking through his gritty cowboy exterior and eliciting a head-thrown-back laugh out of him. Thank you, Chuck, for a mahvelous morning!


Our smiling (not singing) cowboy, Chuck. A great guide.


Posh posse, from left: Debra, Annie, Liliana, Elizabeth, Alyce, me (Gina)

You can see by the smile on my face I’ve been happily converted to the pleasures to be found here – both active and lazily passive.  I look forward to returning to ride horses and do some hip bumps (dancing!) with new phriends in Phoenix and Scottsdale.  Thank you again to all of the big-dreaming people who brought together and created such a fun group for this desert delight!


Saguar sentinal. Phoenix

Photos by Gina Stark except for the ones I’m in (and the Ford Pinto, taken by my nomadic mom)

To view more photos, visit my Facebook albums:

Formidable Fun at Four Seasons at Troon Scottsdale

Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona

Wonderful Wild Horse Pass, Phoenix, Arizona


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

@adamsconsulting May 5, 2012 at 7:55 am

Gina, this is such a wonderful article! The pictures are amazing!! These are such great experiences. I'm so glad I saw this today. It made my day. :) I'm going to tweet it right now. I'm thinking about pinning that picture of your toes. Hahahaha


Gina SuuperG Stark May 5, 2012 at 8:04 am

Haha Diana my toes started wriggling when I imagined you pinning them! Be gentle ;) That's an iPhone pic – I love that dang contraption! Thank you so much, lovely one, for reading me. It was a great adventure and with a great group. I look forward to the day I can finally meet YOU in person! Any chance you'll be at the NYC #140conf? Hmmm? BIG love to you and happy pinning – ouch! ;)) xo Gina


irina rachow May 5, 2012 at 8:32 am

I can’t believe you have a photo of the Pinto! I laughed out loud so hard – especially the caption ;) Great blog, as usual, incredible photos and verbal deliverance! XOXO Sis


@MomsofAmerica May 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Fantabulous article and it was equally great spending time with you my friend!!! We must do it again soon! How about #WorldJourneys!! xoxo


Gina SuuperG Stark May 10, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Thanks Mamacita! Was SO fun to enjoy Arizona with you and to giggle and dance and ride horses! You are the BEST! I DO hope I get to see you on my way back via NYC xo I LOVE the idea of #WorldJourneys!!! Woot! XOXO Gina


@ellies58 May 7, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Tho I followed all You ladies on Your trip, it was still Fabulous to see all the pics, and for You to Share with Everyone else! It sure seemed like You All had a most Amazing time! Hope You have as good a time…No, BETTER; in Italy and Croatia! Keep Us in the loop Hunny with Fab pics and Posts! *HUUGS*


Gina SuuperG Stark May 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Hi Sweetie pie! Thank you for your suuper support and cheerleading! xoxo I PROMISE to do my very diligent best to enjoy myself in Italy and Croatia (a daunting task, I'm sure! ;) ) and will inflict many more photos that you can stomach! Happy summer darlin'!! I'll look for you here xoxo Gina


@livinlime May 8, 2012 at 7:29 am

Great post! Love the pictures! :)


Gina SuuperG Stark May 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Thank you! I love taking them :)


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