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KIMBERLY AND I made the leisurely drive around Camelback Mountain as dusk slowly settled over Paradise Valley. A local Phoenix radio station hummed in the background while we took in the sights, the sounds and, thanks to windows-down autumn weather, the smells of the Sonoran Desert. Giant saguaro cactuses the size of Midwestern oaks gradually came into focus, and a light wind whipped through the paloverde trees and kicked up a small eddy of red dust that accented the distinct dry smell of a 19th-century farming community turned vacationer’s dreamland.

Just then, as if cosmically cued, the radio station broadcasted an ’80s tune that Kimberly and I used to groove to before we were married but hadn’t heard in years. The Cult’s Ian Astbury barked out the lyrics to a yesteryear rock anthem, and I belted them out right along with him. “I know in her you’ll find,” I sang to my rapt audience of one, “sanctuary.” On the refrain, Kimberly assumed the role of composer and changed the words on me: “I know that you can’t find … Sanctuary!”

She was right. We were lost. Or, more accurate still, I was lost.

We were en route to a romantic dinner at Elements, a restaurant inside Sanctuary on Camelback, allegedly the second-most romantic resort on earth; the most romantic resort being L’Auberge de Sedona and its cottages nestled along Oak Creek in red rock country. That’s where we were coming from. But the majestic vistas and panoramic views of central Arizona diverted my attention, which made finding Sanctuary on Camelback’s ecofriendly portico about as easy as finding thorn number 32 on a saguaro.

“The song says I’m supposed to find sanctuary in ‘her,’ ” I said to Kimberly. “That ‘her’ is you. So how about a little stand-by-your-man instead of rubbing it in that we’re lost? Or, more accurate still, that I’m lost.”

“Wow,” she replied, a smile pursing her lips. “That was, well, romantic. And if we’re going to be lost, Scottsdale is where I want it to be, and you are whom I want it to be with.”

Now a smile pursed my lips. That statement was exactly why I chose Arizona as the destination for our romantic long weekend. It’s a destination that I’ve highlighted in this column before. Somewhat of a quasi-Arizona native (my parents have lived there for 15 years), I’ve been coming to Arizona for holidays and long weekends my entire adult life. But most of those trips have involved bringing the entire family. That has always been fine by me, as the Phoenix area has my two daughters’ two favorite vacation activities: the Phoenix Zoo, consistently voted one of the nation’s top five zoos for kids, and the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, which has all sorts of antique-train and carousel rides for the younglings.

And then we got lost. Or, more accurate still, I got lost. A scenic drive around Camelback Mountain can erase the mind and bend the fabric of time. The whole state has a rather enchanting effect on those who live there and on us quasi-natives/tourists as well. Around every curve of the desert road lies something that you can’t find in any other state. I remember a time when I went skiing on Mount Lemmon, outside of Tucson. I stood at the top of the mountain — in the lush, whitewashed pine forest — and gazed out at the red earth and clay in the valley below. The view was quite the paradox, but paradoxes abound in this land.

“Adam, it almost doesn’t matter if we stick to your itinerary or not,” Kimberly said as I made my fourth U-turn on McDonald Drive. “Let’s go get the kids and make this a family vacation.”

So I went to my mother’s house and picked up the family. I canceled our reservation at Elements and made a new one at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which can also be über-romantic, if you want it to be. But we didn’t. We wanted a family-friendly place, and the Fairmont made my children smile about as wide as their faces would let them. Of course, this is the sort of experience you’d expect from Arizona. After all, the state is no stranger to travel writers and feature stories. Our cover story, however, is different. Read it (turn to page 44) and you’ll see why.

Fast-forward two days and ascend 35,000 feet on our return flight. Kimberly sat motionless in her seat, relaxed and rejuvenated, revitalized and recharged. That same smile from the car and the Cult continued to purse her lips, even though she now listened to Sesame Street songs with the children. “Hey, hon,” she said, as she leaned over and grabbed my hand, “you found it.”


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Adam Pitluk