Carefree: The town that spreads sunshine and joy

Somebody got awfully cute with Carefree.

Somebody got rich too.

Should anyone be wondering what it's like to live like a Rockefeller, set the jalopy on a course for Carefree. And bring money. Only last week Laurance Rockefeller unveiled the West's slickest new resort.

He calls it The Boulders and it's superb.

Never mind that the site was a desert wasteland once. Indeed, once upon a time Carefree--it's 20 miles outside Scottsdale--was about as inviting as Jaipur in July. Or Angola in August.

Then along came a couple of developers, Tom Darlington and K. T. Palmer. This was in the '50s and they'd heard that a natural reservoir runs beneath Carefree. With an unlimited supply of water, Darlington and Palmer transformed desolation into inspiration, desert sand into gold.

Darlington and Palmer lured buyers with man-made waterfalls, a golf course, elegant homes and avenues with storybook names. The upshot of all this is that residents shop on Easy Street and live the good life on Never Mind Trail, Breathless Drive, Leisure Lane and Ho-Hum Drive. The latter, wouldn't you know, splinters into Ho and Hum streets.

Besides all this, one can also take a stroll down the Primrose Path.

I said they got cute with Carefree.

For the developers the effort paid off handsomely. (The town even named its main drag for Tom Darlington.)

Others who've settled in Carefree are doing nicely on Easy Street. Artist Mary Welsh, who operates a studio displaying her own original paintings and the works of nearly a dozen other Arizona artists, smiles cheerfully. "Life's been good to me on Easy Street," she says, shaking her blonde head. "No complaints."

While her shop isn't exactly the Louvre, it draws shoppers in search of oils, pottery and other artworks.

Next door the proprietress at an odds-and-ends shop called the Collector has on sale a reconditioned barber's chair done up in green velvet and tagged at $2,200. And in the same mall--42 Easy St.--Don Young, an ex-printer from Ohio, turns out handsome handmade clocks, including a grandfather with a German movement. Priced at $3,500, it's a treasure.

But I get ahead of myself.

Carefree is abuzz over Laurance Rockefeller's splendid new resort, The Boulders. With nearly 100 adobe-like casitas, it lies in the shadow of an immense rocky pyramid off which pours a man-made waterfall, its mists settling over swimmers paddling in a pool below.

What with the earth tones of the casitas blending with the desert, Rockefeller's newest prize appears for all the world like some Southwestern Indian village that's been saved for posterity.

It is impossible to fault The Boulders. Without argument it is the conversation piece of the season, Arizona's most unusual new resort.

With his penchant for conservation, Laurance Rockefeller lent his name to a development that boasts miles of saguaro trees, brittle brush, ocotillo, sage, palo verdes and acacia, which in turn provide shelter to road runners, cottontails, coyotes, gila monsters, javelina, the cactus wren and vultures. Even a rattlesnake here and there.

With a $200-million purse, the developers of The Boulders created their own lakes and an 18-hole golf course whose carpet of greenery unfolds across desert sands like an oasis in North Africa.

In another year or so an extra 18 holes will make this a championship 36-hole attraction.

From the beginning, Rockefeller's associates went out of their way to spare the natural flora surrounding The Boulders. This isn't the ordinary garden variety type of desert terrain. Instead, a forest of saguaro trees rises and falls with undulating grace over Carefree's breathtaking countryside. Cottontails dart across one's path at dawn and coyotes are heard in concert at night.

It's the Old West with modern touches.

Casitas feature desert earth tones--beige carpets that match the walls and Mexican glazed tiles. And there are baths with his and her vanities, immense tubs and baskets filled with shampoos, lotions and sunscreens. Wet bars and refrigerators provide spirits, juices and soft drinks--and private patios provide choice settings for those spectacular Arizona sunsets. Later, the sky laced with stars, there's the silence of the desert and the comfort of a wood-burning fireplace.

Peace. That's what The Boulders is all about. (Rates are $220 a day for a single, $270 for a double, which includes breakfast and dinner. After April 15 prices will drop to $180/$230.)

Other casitas are nearing completion and more will become condominiums priced from $200,000 to $275,000 apiece. Homes in the development will fetch up to $1 million a copy.

Registration formalities at The Boulders are dispensed before an open fireplace in the main lodge. And it is here that guests gather of an evening in the Discovery Room with its immense Indian lodge pole supporting the ceiling. More than $1 million in artifacts from Rockefeller's private collection grace the walls. (Lest someone be tempted, the management makes no secret of the fact that the place is bugged with burglar alarms.)

Picture windows face a man-made waterfall and diners have the choice of three restaurants. The meals are excellent. How could it be otherwise at a Rockresort? Who could fault chilled apricot and raisin bisque on the rocks or fresh salmon?

Golf Memberships

If one should buy a condominium or villa at The Boulders, golf memberships are available for $10,000. Add another $175 for the monthly dues.

In the pro shop, ladies' cashmere sweaters are tagged at $470, and there are pith helmets with mirrors inside for $23. They go well with a Churka bag priced at $140.

Or if one isn't a golfer, The Boulders offers tennis togs along with a dozen courts. Lighted, of course. There's also fishing and boating at Lake Pleasant. (Could it be named anything else in a place called Carefree?)

Considering the privacy, two meals a day and miles of desert for roaming or riding, The Boulders is a bargain.

Still, there are other choices in Carefree. The Adobe Inn comes to mind at $85 and up for a double, including fresh baked pastries for breakfast. This small inn at the corner of Elbow Bend and Sidewinder roads is immaculate. Its 16 rooms feature wood-burning fireplaces, wet bars, clock radios, refrigerators, private balconies and two telephones to a room (although for the life of me I can't figure why anyone in Carefree would wish to be disturbed).

In case of an emergency, guests at the Adobe Inn need only press buttons at the bedside to alert the police, firemen or even paramedics.

Originally the building contained six international restaurants featuring the cuisine of half a dozen countries. Now it's down to one, La Marmite, whose owner-chef, Roger Lenoir, mesmerized Parisians with his artistry before leaving France. The menu lists veal sauteed in shallots, apple brandy and cream, and there are sweetbreads, pepper steaks, orange duckling and a host of other goodies.

Romantic setting

Bring your love. The setting is styled for romance: fresh flowers at each table, candlelight and background music that swells the heart. Besides, it's ridiculously inexpensive. Shamefully so.

The other choice in town is the 197-room Carefree Inn where rates start at $190 a day for a double and $155 for a single, breakfast and dinner included.

In Carefree, matrons from the East snuggle in mink when the sun melts into twilight. The McDowell Mountains form the backdrop. Spilling before them are those waves of saguaro and sage. Well-heeled residents tool around town in limousines. Dick Van Dyke lived in Carefree once. Hugh Downs still does. And at least one home comes equipped with a man-made waterfall. The owner hits the switch and it flows like a leaky faucet.

Locals and tourists alike hitch up the Bentley and ride off to dinner at Rustler's Roost and Pinnacle Peak.

The Carefree shopping center is worth a detour. That's where Mary Welsh does her act on Easy Street. At Spencer-Zaring, hot items last week included a couple of reconditioned grand pianos. One was a Knabe, the other a Chickering. Both are antiques, one tagged at $29,000, the other at $39,000. The saleslady confessed, "They should be in a Hungarian palace."

At the same time, Spencer-Zaring was closing out a copper disc music box for $8,200.

Downstairs in the same shopping mall the Gourmet Shop turns out marvelous sandwiches and desserts (baklava, cherry strudel and grasshopper cheesecake) as well as 10 different coffees, including chocolate mint, vanilla nut and amaretto almond.

Giraffe for Sale

Meanwhile, up the street at the Spanish Village, a six-foot copper/brass giraffe was on sale for $1,500 at Dos Patos, which stocks items from Mexico, Guatemala and Peru, including a $550 papier-mache owl that stares sullenly from the window. A few doors away the Spanish Galleon serves luncheons and dinners that range from eggs Benedict and oysters Bienville to enchiladas and chili relleno.

Locals tell how Carefree is "where the sun marks time." To impress visitors, a giant sundial casts its shadow dead center of town.

It goes without saying that this is no tank town. Residents amuse themselves counting their money. So do tourists. Some visitors arrive in private airplanes, settling down on a 4,100-foot runway that's paved and lighted. Carefree is growing. The way things are going, the town could get carried away and become another Scottsdale. That'd be a shame.

What would they call it then? Careless, maybe?

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