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The Good Life

The Boulders, Carefree, Arizona

| By Larry Olmsted | From Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99

Try as you might, you will not be able to get a room at The Boulders, a posh resort near Phoenix. There are no "rooms" at The Boulders, and that is just one of the things that makes this desert oasis so special.

Lodging at The Boulders consists of individual casitas, adobe-style villas that blend wonderfully into the Sonoran desert landscape. Each casita features spacious living quarters with a working fireplace, ceiling fans, a wet bar, a terrace, a dressing room and a luxurious bathroom with an oversized tub and a separate shower. A handful of larger models are available as well. Although already stylish, featuring glazed tiles, terra cotta and Native American artwork, the casitas recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation; each is now outfitted with leather easy chairs and other new furnishings. With room service meals delivered via golf cart, it is easy to hole up indoors. Fight the impulse, because despite the grandeur of the lodging, it is what's outside on the 1,300 acres of The Boulders that makes the place so special.

The resort is all about escapist relaxation, and sits in the aptly named Phoenix suburb of Carefree. Designed to have minimal impact on the desert landscape, the low buildings and walkways are set among the trademark boulders. The buildings and paths are surrounded by thousands of cacti and desert plants, which flower with surprising color, as well as a plethora of desert wildlife. The environmentally sensitive design has earned the resort numerous awards.

Attention to service has also earned many accolades. A large staff provides rides throughout the resort and assists with any guest wishes. For the past 12 years (it was established in 1985), The Boulders has been the top-rated resort in the United States by the readers of the exclusive "Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report," and it has been a recipient of the American Automobile Association's coveted five-diamond status for eight years in a row.

Carved from the desert are two fine golf courses, known simply as North and South, which epitomize desert golf. Teeming with wildlife, the courses are well-maintained architecturally interesting layouts that earn the resort a prized gold medal from Golf Magazine year after year. Golf is the big draw at The Boulders, but with 36 holes and only 160 casitas, plus 40 patio homes, tee times are easy to come by, even in peak season. The clubhouse has first-rate equipment and accessories, as well as a restaurant and a snack bar.

In addition to golf, The Boulders has tennis courts, rock climbing, mountain biking and an extensively equipped fitness center. One unique activity is a nightly guided walk with a naturalist; guests use night-vision goggles to observe the nocturnal stirrings of desert creatures. Set among the rocks are three swimming pools, including one at the main lodge that is open around the clock. Owned by Grand Bay Resorts, The Boulders is home to the renowned Sonoran Spa, soon to be replaced by a branch of the exclusive Golden Door spa, known for its high staff-to-guest ratio and extreme pampering.

Besides the world-class amenities, The Boulders boasts El Pedregal, a shopping, dining and cultural marketplace located within the resort. El Pedregal is a small town of its own, open to the public with a separate entrance but still part of the very private resort. Guests can stroll to El Pedregal or take the shuttle, and visit 36 boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, all with room-charge privileges. The marketplace even features a museum, an annex of Phoenix's Heard Museum, that specializes in Native American culture.

In the main lodge, guests can choose from the Palo Verde or Latilla restaurants. The relaxed Palo Verde was overhauled and reopened in late 1997, and boasts a large exhibition kitchen, which turns out gourmet Southwestern fare such as duck tamales and marinated ostrich. The more formal Latilla features booths carved from the adobe-like surroundings, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the free-form pool, and a waterfall that cascades down the resort's signature boulder pile. The Latilla serves modern American cuisine, such as grilled Atlantic salmon and rack of lamb. The dessert menu also features a wide selection of fine cigars, including Davidoff, Macanudo, Zino, Bahia, La Gloria Cubana, Nat Sherman, Hoyo de Monterrey, Ashton and Avo. Cigar smoking is allowed in the Discovery Lounge, an indoor bar next to Latilla where guests can adjourn for after-dinner drinks, and throughout the grounds of the resort, as well as in the casitas.

Until two years ago, the resort closed for the hot summer season, when the temperature frequently tops 100 degrees, but demand now keeps The Boulders open year-round. Just 30 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, The Boulders is a world away in a desert wonderland of its own.--Larry Olmsted

Larry Olmsted, who frequently writes about travel, golf and outdoor recreation, lives in Vermont.

The Boulders
34631 North Tom Darlington Drive
Phone (800) 553-1717;
Fax (602) 488-4118
Rates Casitas range from $175 in the summer to $545 in the winter


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