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In Phoenix, a weekend trip filled with prickly pear margaritas and super-sized saguaro cactuses

In Phoenix, a weekend trip filled with prickly pear margaritas and super-sized saguaro cactuses
The slow growing saguaro cactus that dot the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix thrive in the city’s hot, dry conditions. (Adam Rodriguez)

The saguaro, with towering trunks and branches studded with spines, is synonymous with the American Southwest. The majestic cactus flourishes primarily in the southern two-thirds of Arizona, putting Phoenix in the middle of its turf. The tab for two, excluding transportation: $289 for a room at the aptly named Saguaro hotel, $100 for dinner and prickly pear margaritas at Chelsea’s Kitchen and $98 for a trail ride through the desert.

The colorfully painted Saguaro hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., is ideally situated steps from the heart of the city's Old Town retail district.
The colorfully painted Saguaro hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., is ideally situated steps from the heart of the city's Old Town retail district. (Jay Jones / Jay Jones)

THE BED

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The Saguaro, painted in the hues of a Sonoran Desert sunset, is prized for its location. Even walking slowly, I made it to the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, with its wealth of galleries and restaurants, in five minutes. Prices at most hotels here are highest during the cooler months (weekend rates in spring from $289) and cheaper (from $119) during the scorching summer. That’s when the resort’s two pools, one with a refreshing waterfall, are most welcome.

The prickly pear margarita at Chelsea's Kitchen in Phoenix gets its pink color from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which is infused into blanco tequila in-house. (Jay Jones)
The prickly pear margarita at Chelsea's Kitchen in Phoenix gets its pink color from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which is infused into blanco tequila in-house. (Jay Jones) (Jay Jones)

THE MEAL

I enjoyed the convivial atmosphere at Chelsea’s Kitchen, which is popular with locals. There’s seating inside the adobe building or outside beside the Arizona Canal, which stretches east of Scottsdale through Phoenix. Deviled eggs ($8) paired well with roasted tomato soup ($9) and a prickly pear margarita ($11). My server told me the blanco tequila is infused on-site with the sweet-tasting cactus fruit. Dishes such as a grilled swordfish taco platter ($21) and Dixie pan-fried chicken with colcannon potatoes ($24) are available for hungrier patrons.

THE FIND

Cactus gardens abound in greater Phoenix, but I learned that it’s possible to see super-sized saguaro — some can grow to 60 feet tall — and other succulents in their natural surroundings while on horseback. You can hoof it through the desert at Cave Creek Trail Rides in Cave Creek, Ariz., the site of a 19th century gold mining community. The one-hour rides start at $49, from November through the first week of May. (In summer, the 50 horses head to Idaho to escape the heat.)

THE LESSON LEARNED

White-and-yellow flowers adorn the saguaro in spring — making it the ideal time to visit — before maturing into the red fruit that has been harvested by Native Americans for centuries. Remember — don’t pick the blooms.

Saguaro, 4000 N. Drinkwater Blvd., Scottsdale, Ariz.; (480) 308-1100. Wheelchair accessible.

Chelsea’s Kitchen, 5040 N. 40th St., Phoenix; (602) 957-2555. Wheelchair accessible.

Cave Creek Trail Rides, 37019 N. 32nd St., Cave Creek, Ariz.; (623) 742-6700.

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