The Coast News Group
A 300-year-old saguaro stands near the entry of CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa in Carefree, Arizona, north of Scottsdale. The fully renovated, 22-acre, 174-room resort opened in October and features a large, tranquil central garden. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

Hit the Road: Unique desert flora on display at Scottsdale area resorts

I’m standing near the main entry at CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa in Carefree, Arizona, north of Scottsdale, and trying to comprehend the 300-plus-year-old saguaro growing in the hotel’s garden. One of the arms has attained such enormous size that it has collapsed. Still attached, this huge appendage now snakes along the ground, sporting its own collection of sprouting arms.

Resorts like this in and around Scottsdale can be one of the best places to see the unique flora of the Sonoran Desert. 

CIVANA’s grandfather saguaro is just one of the many captivating plants that call this resort home. Guests here are surrounded by diverse desert flora, both within and outside its confines.  A well-planned, peacefully landscaped greenbelt slices through the property and attracts species such as owls and rare hummingbirds. Guests can walk through the garden or experience the grand view from a bridge that transverses it.

Hang around CIVANA just before sunset and you’ll also have a ring-side seat for the Starling Show. Every evening, thousands of the small, loudly chattering birds fill the sky, swooping and circling, creating constantly morphing patterns that are positively mesmerizing. The birds eventually converge on some distant trees for the night, then return in the morning.

The newly renovated CIVANA, designed with comfort and simplicity in mind, opened in October. The staff employs an extensive pandemic protocol that includes masks for all, social distancing, HEPA air purifiers, reservations to use the gym and spa, and outdoor dining.

South of Carefree, guests at The Phoenician Resort Scottsdale will find the densely planted Cactus Garden, two linear acres featuring 250 types of cactuses and succulents. The artful landscaping provides a cool zone and “was created to divert run-off from Camelback Mountain,” explains Denise Seomin, director of public relations and marketing. “The Cactus Garden was not only a preventative measure, but a means… to showcase the indigenous offerings of the Sonoran Desert.”

Guests are surprised at the diversity of the cactus, Seomin adds “and enjoy the native ‘residents,’ – hummingbirds, quail, rabbits, roadrunners, and chuckwallas, a type of lizard that can often be seen sunning itself on the garden rocks.”

Strategically placed lighting means guests can see the garden at any time.

The bonus in this garden and at various locations around the property are the 11 bronze, marble and limestone sculptures by Native American artist Allan Houser (1914-1994). The works reflect the artist’s Chiricahua Apache culture and the stories of his father. Brochures on the sculptures, plants and garden layout are available.

For high-octane, concentrated doses of desert flora, there is the Desert Botanical Garden, just southwest of Scottsdale’s Old Town.

On a recent, warm October morning, the garden’s parking lot was jammed with cactus/succulent enthusiasts eager to spend their money at the semi-annual plant sale.

As a not-particularly-knowledgeable-but-enthusiastic fan of succulents (to clarify: all cactuses are succulents, but not all succulents are cactuses), I was mesmerized by the ocean of potted plants and trees that spread over the pavement seemingly ad infinitum. Shoppers with sanitized carts happily hauled their finds to their vehicles.  Since we lacked a pickup truck and live six hours away, we had to limit our purchase to a small but interesting Astrophytum capricorne, or goat’s horn cactus.

Turns out we got a lot of bang for our buck.

A week after our return home, our little Astrophytum presented us with a large, lemon-colored, daisy-like blossom. (See photo at

For information about Scottsdale, visit