Indulge in Desert Luxury at Camelback Inn Resort & Spa

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Indulge in Desert Luxury at Camelback Inn Resort & Spa

When I go to the desert I want to be in the desert. I want plants to have spikes on them. I want everything to be a shade of brown. I want to see dusty little critters I’d never see back home, Back East, in the old green America, with all its history and life. I want to feel like I’m in a movie old men would watch. I want to hang out at a place like the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, as it’s officially known, sprawls out over 100 acres at the feet of both Camelback and Mummy Mountains, and unlike a lot of what you’ll find in Arizona, it’s got a history. When it opened in 1936 it was one of the first resorts in the area to style itself after the region’s indigenous culture, with individual casitas built out of adobe bricks. It quickly became popular with Hollywood celebrities and the moneyed elite, and today photos of stars and other famous guests adorn the hallways of the resort’s main building. Want to see Jimmy Stewart lined up for a good ol’ chuck wagon BBQ? Walk these halls. Marriott purchased the property in 1968, and has preserved its Southwestern charm; with its pueblo-inspired structures, Camelback Inn feels like a natural extension of its environment, and unlike so many other hotels and resorts that try to impress with size and glitz. 

Camelback Inn

Camelback isn’t one of those hotels that tries to feel like a nightclub. If you told me it looked just the same today as it did in 1936, I would believe you; it is exactly the type of resort I picture when I think of the Southwest, a glamorous retreat from the real world but with a rugged exterior befitting the region’s rich cultural heritage. With its stunning views of mountains and the desert landscape, and the sense of solitude provided by all that space, it feels like a remote outpost on the edge of human civilization, and yet it’s just a few minutes away from stores, restaurants, and everything Scottsdale has to offer. 

The first thing you’ll notice when you drive up to Camelback Inn is that it doesn’t have the kind of tower you might expect from a hotel. There’s no high-rise building blocking the view of the mountains; instead it’s a complex of low-slung, one-to-two story casitas with a handful of guest rooms each, clustered around the lobby and a central lawn, and surrounded by both the mountains and a golf course. The spacious rooms have ample space and their own private balconies or verandas; our ground floor room opened out onto the lawn, where a wedding took place during our stay. It doesn’t really feel like any other hotel I’ve ever stayed at—it has the air of a Western film set of an old Mexican village. Because you don’t necessarily have other people staying in rooms on either side and above and below you, it feels more private than most hotels, even when a few hundred people are sitting 30 feet outside for a wedding.

The Old West ambiance starts when you check in. Southwestern art can be found throughout the lobby, from figurines adorned in indigenous dress, to paintings of wagons and horses beneath a blue desert sky. Modern amenities, including a Starbuck’s and a gift shop, can be found at one end of the main lobby building, whereas the resort’s two main restaurants sit at the opposite end. Lincoln Steakhouse & Bar is the tonier of the two, with a smart casual dress code and a classic steakhouse menu with mouth-watering cuts, rich sides, and a deep and impressive wine list. It’s also hard to beat the view from the patio seating. Rita’s Cantina & Bar is the move, though; with a menu full of Mexican favorites and fantastic margaritas, it offers top-notch takes on what you expect to eat in Arizona. (Definitely finish with the churros.) You can also grab breakfast or lunch at Tavern 37 if you’re hitting the links, or eat healthy fare at Sprouts at the Spa if you’re booked yourself a spa day. (Which, obviously, is always a good idea.)

Camelback Inn

If you think it might be a little lazy for some Southern yokel to keep comparing a pueblo-style Arizona resort to Westerns and other old movies, well, lay off, already. Camelback Inn absolutely invites the comparisons, especially with its Mummy Mountain Western Town. Yep, not far from the resort, at the base of the awesomely named Mummy Mountain, you’ll find a reconstruction of a stereotypical 1800s Western town. It explicitly looks like it’s plucked straight from a Hollywood backlot, making it a fantastic place to take photos and also immerse yourself in the fiction that the rest of Camelback Inn already evokes. From the pictures of old Hollywood stars in the lobby, to the facade of an Old West town on its outskirts, Camelback Inn purposefully highlights the make-believe that has long defined the west in the public imagination. It doesn’t blur the lines between the real and the artificial so much as reinforce them with deep, dark pen strokes.

Camelback Inn brought me to the real desert I longed to see, while also playfully recreating the cinematic desert that has informed most of what I know about the Southwest. The plants had spikes, everything beneath the sky was khaki, and there was an honest-to-God movie-style Old West town to hang out in. It presents its beauty and luxury with a little wink, and the total package is almost impossibly charming.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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