The captivating setting of The Boulders Resort, among the 12-million-year-old granite boulders for which it’s named, is one compelling reason to visit. And, the iconic Arizona resort, now in its 30th year, offers championship golf, a state-of-the-art spa, tennis, pools, hiking, biking and rock climbing on its 1,300-acre property, all easily accessible.

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On a brief wintertime getaway, my daughters and I had chosen the luxurious hideaway in the Sonoran Desert foothills of Carefree, just north of Scottsdale, for its splendid desert scenery and the wide choice of activities, options that would more than satisfy our adventure-minded threesome.

The Boulders is about a 45-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, so it’s best to have a rental car, but once there, you can park and forget it.  Golf cart shuttles are available, and activities and amenities are within walking distance, including several dining choices, boutique shopping and galleries at el Pedregal Center.

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Resort guests can choose to stay in patio homes or one of 160 smaller casitas, each in a Southwestern motif with hand-hewn, wood-beamed ceilings and wood-burning fireplaces. On the sunny, 70-degree day that we arrived, admiring the panoramic views from the porch of our casita, we never imagined that the temperature would cool enough each evening and early morning to enjoy a fire in our fireplace. But it turned out that with newspaper delivered at our door, we could think of no better way to greet the sunrise than with morning coffee by the fire, the aromatic scent of juniper wood wafting through the crisp dawn air.

Nature was at our doorstep as we explored meandering paths through towering saguaro cacti and gigantic boulders, where the native chuckwalla lizards can sometimes be seen warming themselves on the rocks. We discovered several loop trails for walking and biking and found amazing views on the Boulders Trail, a short uphill hike to a perfect vantage point for watching the sunset.

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The resort offers guided interpretative hikes both on property and at nearby recreational areas, but we opted to explore on our own. A short drive away, we found exquisite 360-degree views on the Pinnacle Peak Trail and an abundance of desert plants including prickly pear, jojoba and agave, from which tequila is made. Another day, we hiked a beautiful five-mile loop on the Go John Trail at Cave Creek Regional Park, where we found endless opportunities to photograph the desert flora including my favorite for the camera lens – the iconic saguaro cactus.

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Though we didn’t play golf, The Boulders is well known for its two 18-hole championship courses and its signature #5 hole on the South course – characterized by a dramatic rock outcropping with unmatched vistas of the resort and surrounding Sonoran Desert.

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We did, however, get a unique view of the golf course scenery via the cart paths on a Moonlight Bike Ride, offered as a resort activity. The evening we chose to go, there happened to be a full moon and a wildlife viewing opportunity. After meeting our guide, Rico Riley, from Black Mountain Adventures, and being outfitted with bike, helmet and handlebar light, we set out in darkness on a 1.5-hour ride on the winding and slightly hilly cart paths. We stopped a few times along the way as Rico pointed out the geologic wonders and local flora. We spotted a herd of javelina, a grey horned owl and a shooting star. Halfway through the ride, we heard a pack of coyotes howling nearby, and soon after, the full moon rose above the horizon.

The Waldorf Astoria Spa is a prime focus of The Boulders Resort experience. The 33,000 sq ft. facility and multiple lounge areas invite one to spend the day, and with the mammoth boulder mounds as a backdrop, we enjoyed pool time and yoga, meditation in the labyrinth, and a stroll in the organic herb garden where guests are invited to snip fresh herbs.

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Through the vast menu of spa treatment options, guests get a taste of the unique essence and calming Zen of desert living. Each treatment features aromatic scents and organic ingredients with therapeutic intention. The three of us tried different massages featuring local herbs: the Arnica Therapeutic, a deep tissue massage with sage and arnica-infused oil for muscle soreness and inflammation; the Abhyanga, a traditional Indian oleation massage for nourishing skin and calming the nervous system, followed by an Ayurvedic herbal wrap; and the Silent Stone Massage with ancient basalt stones and blue cypress and vetiver oil blend.

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Although the Phoenix/Scottsdale area boasts a growing foodie culture and lively restaurant scene, from contemporary Southwestern flavors to sophisticated comfort food and farm-to-table fare, we sought out healthy regional dishes at or near the resort. The Spa Café tempted us the first morning with a healthy version of Eggs Benedict made with grilled turkey, avocado and yellow pepper hollandaise. We followed the Southwestern/Mexican influence at Palo Verde and The Spotted Donkey Cantina in Carefree, and on our last night, we ventured out to The Herb Box in Old Town Scottsdale to enjoy their impressive small plates, including our favorite, the Korean fried cauliflower.

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Complementing the Southwestern food flavors, we enjoyed sampling the signature margaritas found on many menus and made with desert inspired ingredients such as prickly pear juice, organic Tres Agaves Blanco tequila, blue agave nectar and lime juice. One called the “Skinny Senorita” seemed the perfect drink for a girls’ getaway, and along with the warm sunshine and inspired scenery,  our desert Zen was easy to find.

To learn more http://www.theboulders.com/