Glass experiences a taste of the American West in Scottsdale, Arizona

“I REALLY hope you don’t drive like that,” drawls the check-shirted instructor, Lori, as my horse, Beau, picks up speed and veers to the right – the result, apparently, of my errant oversteering.

I’m two hours into a crash course in horsemanship at the Arizona Cowboy College, and having groomed and saddled my steed, Beau and I become better acquainted in the paddock before I’m schooled in the art of lassoing.

I leave dusty and exhausted, and while a career change is looking unlikely, my afternoon has provided a life-affirming glimpse of cowboy culture – a way of life that continues to define Arizona to this day.

Part of the charm is its spectacular setting. The college sits to the northeast of Scottsdale, which – nicknamed The West’s Most Western Town – is the gateway to some of Arizona’s most memorable landscapes.

In all directions are the red-brown shades of the Sonoran desert, where the tall saguaro cactus extends skyward above scrubby ocotillo and granite boulders, with the McDowell and Superstition mountain ranges providing a constant, wind-whipped backdrop. 

Hermosa Inn

These same views have drawn outsiders to Scottsdale for generations. In the early 20th century, renowned artist Lon Megargee caught the cowboy bug and swapped Pennsylvania for the desert, where he built his sprawling adobe-walled hacienda and studio close to the Camelback mountain, inspired by the low-slung homes of the region’s Mexican population.

While the ownership has changed in the decades since, Megargee’s artwork remains, and today, the rustic yet refined Hermosa Inn features 43 rooms dotted across grounds fringed by vivid floral displays and a pool lined with smart, striped loungers.

Its terrace restaurant attracts well-heeled locals, while the Last Drop bar takes its name from the artist’s most famous work, which depicts a cowboy kneeling to give his horse water from his upturned hat – an image also used in designs for Stetson’s iconic hats.

Hermosa Inn

A trip to Scottsdale’s charming Old Town reveals further details from the town’s past. At the Museum of the West, contemporary exhibitions jostle for space with artefacts that tell the tale of Arizona’s indigenous peoples and how the region’s history was shaped by the trappers and traders who sought their fortunes transporting cattle along Midwestern trails towards the Pacific coast.

Scottsdale’s Mexican lineage can also be traced at locations throughout the Old Town, whether at the stark-white Old Adobe Mission church, built by hand by Mexican settlers, or at the Mission restaurant, where I feast upon excellent tacos showcasing regional recipes from south of the border.

Cowboy College

Another influential newcomer was pioneering modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who fell in love with Arizona’s desert plants. During a tour at Taliesin West, the winter home and desert “laboratory” he built in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in 1959 and now a Unesco World Heritage Site, I discover how this angular, imaginative series of spaces has been completely integrated within the desert landscape.

Beyond the boulevard named in his honour and scores of modernist-inspired homes that now dot the Arizona desert, Lloyd Wright also inspired an impressive local architectural lineage. 

His former student Paulo Soleri became a star in his own right, establishing his ecology-inspired practice Cosanti in Paradise Valley and creating the striking Soleri Bridge and Plaza on the Scottsdale Waterfront. Later, one of Soleri’s own apprentices, Will Bruder, would design Scottsdale’s minimalist contemporary art museum.


Yet, for all those who have shaped Scottsdale over the years, some things never change. Whether evident at the rodeos of Cave Creek, along the hiking trails that lead into the mountains or as observed from horseback, Arizona’s intrepid spirit is written into its wild landscapes and – while more welcoming lodgings exist today than in the time of the Midwestern pioneers – the promise of adventure endures under its endless skies.

by Ben Olsen

For more information visit Experience Scottsdale: