Monday, November 9, 2015

Key West Comes Home

Something about Key West stays with you long after the sounds of ocean waves and

rollicking tiki bars dissipate into everyday hustle and bustle.

It’s a feeling, a state of mind that you absorb like rays of sunshine – osmosis for the soul.

If you’re lucky it dawdles deep into post-vacation, which is appropriate because nothing

and no one in Key West moves quickly.

The lingering effects of the Conch Republic are also tangible. I don’t mean souvenirs,

although I’ve brought home some extraordinary tropic wines from the Key West Winery,

white vintages from the Keys flavored with pineapple and mango. I mean the kind of

thing you look at every day, or invite people to enjoy with you so that they, too, can

indulge in the relaxation and rejuvenation that come so readily in the Florida Keys.

My love of Key West began in 2006 when my then-girlfriend (now wife) Danielle and I

made our first visit. We didn’t know what to expect, other than the stories from friends

who swore by the romance and fun that awaited us at the end of Route 1.

Falling in love was easy. We both were infatuated from the start. It began with our hotel,

Southernmost, which sits at the southern end of Duval Street, Key West’s main drag. The

opposite end of Duval Street, packed with bars and bands, can get rowdy and loud, but

Southernmost was far enough away with a private beach and tiki bar, to let the relaxation

seep in; but close enough that a quick walk put you mid-excitement.

On that first trip we explored the island tip to tail: we ate conch fritters and key lime pie;

absorbed the famous sunsets; drank with Captain Tony, God rest his ebullient soul; and

held hands atop the Key West Lighthouse, my single favorite spot in the world.

Key West became a part of us, a part of our relationship, which I later galvanized.

In 2008, we made a return trip, joined by my cousin, Ryan and his then-girlfriend (now

wife), Amanda. I had more than vacation in mind that weekend, and only Amanda and

Ryan were in on the secret – after all, I needed someone to carry the engagement ring so

Danielle didn’t find it in my suitcase.

My cousin took his job seriously, but it is worth noting that one should always ensure

they’re following TSA guidelines while carrying an engagement ring. He was stopped

and his bags searched because he had an oversized bottle of mouthwash in his carry on. I

give him credit, he talked his way out of that one by whispering that he had an

engagement ring, but it was close.

Our first day was a Saturday, and only in the background did we hear the warnings about

Tropical Storm Fay bearing down on the region.

That evening we were going to walk to the far end of Duval Street to our favorite

restaurant, Hot Tin Roof. Ryan and Amanda, per previous arrangement, ran late so

Danielle and I conveniently had to kill time by taking a stroll.

We accidentally-on-purpose happened by the Key West Lighthouse, which was closing

for the evening. Bob the lighthouse keeper was sweeping up at the front gate. In the

months prior, I had worked with The Key West Historical Society, proprietor of the Key

West Lighthouse, to set a secret plan in motion, complete with a secret code word.

Bob very nicely explained that the lighthouse was closed, but he’d let us take a walk up

while he finished cleaning.

I trembled climbing the stairs. Danielle was ahead of me and burst out onto the

observation deck before me.

At the top of the lighthouse, as the whole island sunk into a deep red sunset, I knelt and

asked her to marry me (she said yes).

Ryan and Amanda arrived shortly thereafter and joined us atop the lighthouse to soak in

the unforgettable view.

The next morning, with Tropical Storm Fay biting at our heels, we evacuated the Keys

after an abbreviated stay. But Key West, and the special memories we shared, have

remained with all of us since. Sharing a life milestone with family made Danielle and I’s

engagement that much more poignant, and the four of us frequently talk about a return


Return has not yet materialized, but I know the flavor of Key West took deep root in

Ryan and Amanda. Ryan’s love for the Keys has manifested in a building project. Over

the summer he began renovating his family’s backyard shed, turning it from lawn mower

storage into Key West tiki bar. His vision, he says, is straight out of the Conch Republic.

Once it’s finished, the story of our trip to Key West and Tropical Storm Fay will

undoubtedly be recounted numerous times.

In his song, “Magic” musician Kenny Chesney sings, “I believe there is magic here.”

Key West’s allure is otherworldly. It is intoxicating and everlasting. Once you’re there,

you never really leave. It could only be supernatural.

My wife and I made sure “Magic” was played during our wedding reception.


Peru: Much more the Machu

Appeared in Destinations Travel Magazine and Wicked Local weekly papers

A trip to Peru is a learning experience. Just ask Kelly Cheeseman, whose expectations of the

country started and ended with what we all envision when we think of the South American

country: Machu Pichu. But after nine days traversing the country, from its jungle rivers to its

tallest mountains, Cheeseman learned that Peru can be so much more the Machu – and she took away a few other lessons, too.

Visitors from around the globe travel to Peru to experience Machu Pichu, the lost and found

Incan city that hovers high among the clouds amidst the tallest peaks in the Andes Mountains.

Up there, breathtaking panoramas and dazzling sights abound in every direction. But despite the

draw of this legendary site, and its rightful place among the world’s pantheon of iconic

landmarks, the surrounding region is bursting with unforgettable experiences.

As Cheeseman explained, “the most shocking part of my nine day Peruvian adventure wasn’t the

beauty of Machu Pichu. It was how amazing the less-travelled parts of Peru were.”

Cheeseman, a twenty-something avid traveler who has lived in cities across America, from

Dallas to Chicago to Seattle, began her Peruvian adventure in that country’s main city: Lima.

Visitors to Peru vary in their affection for Lima, many viewing it as a temporary launching pad

to the real start of their trip further up in the jungles and mountains.

This bustling, business-like city is home to more than two-thirds of Peru’s population. The heavy

Catholic influence equates to a stunning array of beautiful churches strewn throughout squares

and neighborhoods, their elegance rivaling anything one would find in Europe. Eclectic food,

drink and ceremony also make Lima worth more than just a jumping off point.

For example, no visit would be complete without a pisco sour, a potent beverage made with

Peruvian pisco liquor, lime or lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters. For

her money, Cheeseman recommends finding a balcony, perhaps at the Hotel Bolivar located just

off the Plaza San Martin, and indulging in a few cocktails.

Other highlights in Lima include dinner along the coast in the Barrancas neighborhood, and

witnessing the extravagant changing of the guard in the city’s main square

Cheeseman and her friends left Lima, as so many other visitors do, and embarked on the journey

to Machu Pichu. But she glazes over the llamas, the mountain trek, and the iconic vistas in order

to quickly arrive at what she considers the best part of her time in Peru: three days and two

nights in the jungle.

“As four ladies who had conquered the concrete jungles of New York and Chicago, we were

ready to try our hand at the real thing. And to convince ourselves that we could still be

outdoorsy,” Cheeseman said.

Outdoorsy is an understatement, as modern civilization fell away quickly underneath the small

plane that brought them from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado. At the Puerto Maldonado airport, the

single runway became the last bit of pavement they would see for days. Warning sings for

malaria were posted in several places.

After a 40-minute bus ride along dirt roads, they arrived riverside to board the vessel to their

lodge, Posada Amazonas, which was only accessible by boat. Forty-five minutes and one lunch

served in a banana leaf later, they arrived at what they were told was the lodge.

“It wasn’t until we reached the ‘lobby’ of our lodge that I realized how far away we were from

what I considered civilization,” Cheeseman said. “The entire lodge was open air.”

Their rooms were also missing a key feature: a fourth wall. Each room was open to the jungle,

equipped with whistles in the event a guest encountered a wild animal. Electricity was scarce,

portioned out for a few hours in the morning and evening, relinquishing nighttime to candles and

flashlights while the eerily beautiful sounds of the jungle echoed beyond.

“Not having power ended up being the best thing for all of us,” Cheeseman said. “We really got

to know the other travelers at the lodge. Any free time was spent in the lounge area drinking

way-too-strong drinks and telling travel stories by candlelight.”

Their days were filled with the usual activities – usual for jungle life, that is. They fished for

piranha, hiked the jungle, jumped into the Rio Madre de Dios and visited the shaman.

“Drink what the shaman gives you,” Cheeseman advised. “I don’t know what was in the three

shots I drank, but I do know that my life has been pretty awesome since then.”

Cheeseman and her friends left South America with a renewed appreciation for embracing the

unexpected. She cited lost luggage, extreme temperature swings, odd toilet etiquette and the lack

of power and reliable showers – but she touted the new cultural experiences, a few acquired

survival skills, and an understanding of strengths she didn’t know she had.

“If you can’t roll with the punches,” she said, “you won’t enjoy this awesome country.”


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Rare books and even rarer moments

Rare books and even rarer moments

By Michael Hartigan

The gargoyle next to me atop Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral bared a permanent, toothy grin. I smiled along with him, as we both gazed out at the gift spread before us: a Parisian panorama chock full of the things that embody the City of Light. There were elegant Parisian rooftops; the Eiffel Tower piercing the sky in the distance; the glistening River Seine ducking around towers, museums and teapot domes. And unassuming amongst the surrounding grandeur, was a little bookshop over on the Left Bank.

Perhaps it was due to the gargoyle next to me, or the signs I had just read about Victor Hugo, but seeing the Shakespeare & Company bookstore gave the moment an immediate air of the literary.

I had been in the bookshop earlier. The old paper musk that filled the Shakespeare & Company bookstore lingered, in a good way, much like the ghosts of famous writers that had frequented the shop. That old bookstore was graced by the likes of Walt Whitman and countless other renowned authors over the years. On the upper level, a small bed, desk, sink and typewriter still sit, free of charge for any upstart or struggling writer to utilize.

Shakespeare & Company is still visited by all kinds – from writers and book lovers, to the average tourist stopping in for a look around the tattered copies. And there are plenty, with old books stacked around the store just waiting to be thumbed through.

I heard a woman say out loud that she should purchase something for her son who liked William Shakespeare. His favorite was, “that one that starts with an ‘O.’” She must have missed the copy of Othello right in front of her, but I didn’t. To this day, few purchases I’ve ever made have given me the same amount of chills as the 100-year-old copy of Othello I snatched up that day.

A good bookstore, like Paris’ Shakespeare & Company, does so much more than sell books. A good bookstore is a meeting place, a library, a study hall and experimental laboratory for writers past, present and future. A good bookstore is an icon of a bygone era when the musty smell of old paper and leather bindings was revered.

A good bookstore is the city in which it resides.

Shakespeare & Company may be named after a British literary legend, but you know you’re in Paris when you peruse its shelves. The tomes are stacked and strewn in such a way that at first feels cluttered but upon second glance, is supremely beautiful. The antique feeling of the place is museum-like, in a way that is distinctly Parisian. Like the city itself, the shop is well-trodden and imbued with historical significance, but still distinctly intimate.  
So many local bookshops around the globe play a similar role in their own communities. They offer a glimpse into the people and history of a place through their aesthetic and ambiance, through the traditions they uphold and through the local authors they cherish.

For example, in Quebec City, Canada hockey paraphernalia filled the floor to ceiling windows of a bookstore, revealing the owner’s unsurprising love of a professional hockey team long-since moved to a warmer climate. But it revealed the city’s staunch devotion to the game, the region’s tradition and stubborn refusal to allow the memory of their team to fade.

Conversely, in Vienna, Austria a bookstore on a main pedestrian thoroughfare displayed items and books that did not shy away from history’s darker moments. Sitting in the front window, an old children’s book depicted cartoon stereotypes and offensive slurs, challenging all to confront the shadows of the region’s past while acknowledging that full progress remains a goal not yet achieved. 

A book fair in the picturesque town of St. Andrews, Scotland sprawled out across a central square, with carts and bins filled with books. I got lost among them only to find myself down a side road, standing in front of a tiny bookstore. I could barely maneuver inside with my backpack on, afraid to knock over the piles of old books. I lost track of time shuffling through the innumerable copies of old, antique books written by local Scottish writers – some well-known and some not at all.

Perhaps the bookstore that fits most perfectly into its surrounding neighborhood is San Francisco’s eclectic City Lights Bookstore. This beat poet hangout is a hip confluence of varying styles resulting from a collision of cultures, demographics and neighborhoods. I strolled around this iconic hotspot expecting Alan Ginsberg to walk in. The bookstore embodies San Francisco itself, blending history with myriad traditions in a unique, well-crafted and unforgettable concoction.

Travel and literature have been inextricably linked since the dawn of language, from Homer’s epics to Twain’s river excursions to Conrad’s journey into the heart of Africa. My own novel, Stone Angels, is in many ways a journey story: embracing the power of travel in the form of a road trip, escaping from one’s comfort zone, shrugging off the warm sweater that is our daily lives, and arriving at a new perspective. Thematically, travel is one of literature’s greatest tropes.

So it is fitting that a bookstore – more specifically, a local brick and mortar bookstore – is one of the most unique and powerful stops on any traveler’s itinerary.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Daydream about dream destinations

By Michael Hartigan
Article appeared in the Wicked Local papers in May, 2015

There are hotels and then there are hotel destinations. Maybe you stay at one on your honeymoon
or you walk through one on vacation (but you're staying at the economy chain hotel down the
street). Maybe you just stumbled upon it online while booking your next trip but almost choked
on your keyboard when you saw the cost per night. However you know about it, there is a
resort/hotel out there that you'd visit without delay if money were no object.
With summer vacation season upon us, it can’t hurt to daydream about these dream destinations.
Castles, for example, have always been at the top of my list.
I was fortunate enough to get a small taste of medieval living (albeit with every modern luxury
possible) when I spent two nights at the 7,000 acre Banfi vineyard estate in Italy. At its center
soars Castello Poggio alle Mura, or Castello Banfi. The castle’s 8th century charm and whimsy
remain after intelligent renovation transformed it into a 14-room hotel of the most lavish sort.
The Tuscan countryside sprawls in every direction like a massive green patchwork quilt dotted
with ponds and forests.
But the castle itself is the temporary home to so few guests that it is impossible not to feel at least
some of the communal camaraderie that the 8th century inhabitants must have felt – minus the
plague, of course.
On my castle to-do list, however, remains Ashford Castle in Country Mayo, Ireland. It checks all
the boxes: a castle in the majestic Irish countryside, surrounded by historic and archaeological
spots with individually designed guestrooms, dripping with the comforts required for no one less
than royalty. Oh, and they have falconry. Yes, falconry. In the shadows of the ancient castle, you
can learn how to launch a bird of prey from your arm.
If castles aren’t your thing, perhaps Remote Island living is. I’ve had friends rave about over-
water huts in Bora Bora, French Polynesia, at places like the Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort.
Imagine waking up to the soft sound of water lapping against the side of a paddle as your
breakfast is delivered by outrigger canoe. As you sit to eat your breakfast, you look around at the
crystal blue surrounding you on all sides; the sky melting into the azure waters of a quiet lagoon.
The rooms, luxurious and opulent, wade offshore in a horseshoe, proudly beckoning to travelers
seeking the ultimate in relaxation and indulgence.
Not remote enough? Check out Explora, Rapa Nui, Easter Island. Five hours off the coast of
Chile, the luxurious facility is built with rounded architecture, mimicking the curves of the island
and emphasizing the already mystifying aura of Rapa Nui. The famous Easter Island statues may
be the impetus for most travelers’ trek to this secluded Pacific rock, but staying at Explora comes
with your choice of adventure or relaxation.
The top spot on my list of dream hotels gives me chills, literally. But that is a good thing atop the
world at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden. This structure’s eponymous building material
transports its lucky patrons to a world far beyond anything we encounter in our daily hullabaloo.
It is the stuff of fantasy, myth and Nordic legend. The building is completely made of ice,
including your room, the furniture, the art – you name it, it’ll freeze your tongue if you lick it.
There are warm accommodations but what’s the point in that?  If I’m traveling 200 km above the
Arctic Circle, I better sleep on a bed made of ice. And if you time your trip right, the shimmering
green and purple waves of Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) haunt the outline of the snow
palace. Ice Hotel is the ultimate in dream hotels because at the end of each season, it’s gone
These are just a few of my dream destinations and I encourage everyone to pull together their
own list. If nothing else, searching around for the world’s creative, unique lodgings can inspire
creative and unique travel ideas, and give us somewhere to aspire to.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Starry Night at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum

By Michael Hartigan
Article ran in Wicked Local papers in March, 2015

During the evening an artistic air wafts over Amsterdam’s museum-studded park Museumplein.
The magnificent Rijksmuseum, recently restored and renovated, is warehouse of historic
masterpieces, and the exterior’s sweeping grandeur, spotlighted from the surrounding gardens, is
a work of art in itself. Tourists and locals play and pose amongst the oversized, recognizable, “I
amsterdam” letters, which take on ethereal form from nighttime mood lighting. The entire scene
shimmers and distorts in an elongated reflecting pool. And at the far corner of the park, past the
gardens, café and outdoor art exhibits, the Van Gogh museum inhales the artistic air and
transports visitors to the world of a virtuoso. 
Vincent Van Gogh had the rare ability to capture viewers with his paintings; leaving them
somewhere between genius and madness, flush with vivid colors, distinctive techniques and deep
emotion. Fittingly, his museum works from that same palette.
The Van Gogh Museum weaves the artist’s trademark individuality and layered emotions into its
exhibition space. And like many of Van Gogh’s paintings, a quick glance does not do the
museum justice. Luckily, the museum offers late hours until 10:00pm on Friday nights, complete
with cocktails, moody music and interactive activities. The result, much like a Van Gogh
painting, is a multidimensional and somewhat hazy experience that reveals the deeper stories
behind the artist and his works.
The building itself is not filled to the brim, as you might expect from a museum dedicated to one
person, and some famous pieces like The Starry Night are not located here. Regardless, the
museum houses the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh works, including well-known
masterpieces such as the vibrant Sunflowers and The Bedroom, and the colorful but mournful
Wheatfield with Crows, one of his last paintings.
Large portions of the works are grouped chronologically, while other sections focus on
comparing pieces and highlighting specific aspects of his work. The collection ranges from early
works to his final masterpieces, and also displays sketches and writings. Taken all at once, the
collection demonstrates his artistic evolution and personal devolution.
The Potato Eaters from 1885, for example, is a dark, intricately detailed scene where Van Gogh
plays with light and shadow. But by 1889, Undergrowth portrays Van Gogh’s trademark heavy
brush strokes and use of color; varying shades of green, yellow and blue are pulled from the
underbrush up the twisting trees, adding a fluid, wave-like motion to a dense forest landscape.
The contrast of Van Gogh’s own works is, in many instances, stark and shocking – bright colors
versus stormy landscapes, detailed sketches versus harsh brush strokes. The range of paintings
shows the range of Van Gogh’s skill, as well as his cutting-edge use of novel techniques, and
how his own emotions so vividly play out in color on a canvas stage.
The Van Gogh Museum tells the story of the artist’s tormented history through his artwork, and
also pays special attention to his influences. As a complement, they include paintings by
contemporaries and friends of Van Gogh, and in some cases written correspondences. In many
instances, works from friends like Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin are placed in sequence next
to Van Gogh’s own interpretations. The same is done with the international cultures that
influenced him, from France to Japan. The result on many walls is a seamless transition that
explains, without words, a surprising array of inspirations.
Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom, for example, painted in 1890 as a gift for his newborn nephew,
displays very clear Japanese influences, with delicate, wispy branches set against a vivid color
As an artist Van Gogh evolved, and true to form, his museum also has not been content to remain
static in its aesthetics. The main building opened in 1973 but renovations updated and
modernized the structure with a new exhibition wing in the late 1990s. Mobile apps, classes and
special events were developed for a more inclusive experience. A new glass entrance building is
slated to open in the summer of 2015.
So while his painting by the same name is brilliant and beautiful, spending an actual starry night
in Amsterdam is a much more fitting way to experience Vincent Van Gogh.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Don't pity the gargoyles

Dusk atop the Notre Dame bell tower and the river Seine makes her presence known. On the horizon she begins the charge, a silver glimmer ducking around towers and teapot domes, hidden at one curve, brazenly obvious around another.
From this vantage point, the river’s importance is obvious. It has been Paris' greatest soldier and liberating cleanser. It has been a demarcation line between left and right, Bourgeoisie and Bohemian, and a friendly landmark for many a wandering visitor. Its current is near impossible to judge, ebbing and flowing in modern times with tourism barges and Gendarmerie police boats.
In so many ways, the river is the source of the City of Light. All walks of life gather near it, over it, on it and all Parisian monuments sit back at a respectable distance. Its proletariat power is unmatched in the city limits.
And yet the Seine, filled to the banks with history, splits in deference to the island housing Paris’ most enigmatic, manmade creation – the cathedral of Notre Dame.
High atop the majestic cathedral, I stepped to the wall to gaze upon the river and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. All of Paris was spread out before me. At every angle the nooks and notches of this famous place of worship held a mysterious vibe, quirky and gothic all at once. It took me a moment to realize that the bit of macabre whimsy was emanating from the motionless figures perched out over oblivion.
The gargoyle hanging out next to me had a permanent, toothy smirk and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was laughing at how great his view was, or perhaps that the great river Seine had to bow to him and his brethren, a bunch of water-gurgling stone monkeys. I assumed it was probably a bit of both.
There was no denying that Quasimodo and his immobile buddies had themselves a prime piece of Parisian real estate. Atop the bell tower at Notre Dame, there is a jaw-dropping panorama in all directions. No matter which way you look, there exists a place, a person, or an experience that leaves you in awe.
I began to think of the string of unforgettable moments I had during my time in Paris. There were, of course, the landmarks: Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Arc du Triomph, the list goes on.
There was, of course, the food. To this day, there has been no taste quite like munching on a fresh crepe sucre or crepe Nutella that was made in front of me by a street vendor.
And there was, of course, the history. The old paper musk that filled the Shakespeare & Company bookstore lingered, in a good way. That old bookstore was graced by the likes of Walt Whitman and countless other writers over the years. There’s even a small bed, desk, sink and typewrite upstairs free for any upstart/struggling writer to utilize. Few purchases in my life have given me the same amount of chills as the book I bought there – a copy of Shakespeare’s “Othello & Cymbeline” from the year 1900.
But for my money, nothing in Paris tops Notre Dame. 
The previous day, I went into the cathedral and toured its depths while the priest conducted a Mass in French. His voice, echoing through the hollow stone, brought such warmth that he made this massive structure feel intimate. In my gratitude, I lit a prayer candle and became part of the congregation in my own tiny, flickering way.
But it wasn’t until I spent 30 minutes in line to climb 300 stairs that I truly appreciated Notre Dame and by extension, Paris.
At the top, the best moment came when my camera battery ran out. All I could do was enjoy the view through my own eyes – unimpeded by a lens.
Victor Hugo might have wanted us to pity his humble hunchback, but me, I envy him. Not just because of the view, but because he’ll forever be in the pages of Paris. I had to leave the City of Lights six hours later on a high-speed train.
But you won’t hear any complaints out of me. I've heard the squawking paparazzi around the Mona Lisa; I’ve eaten escargot at a street café; I've smelled fresh-baked baguettes; I’ve read a book on the lawn under the Eiffel Tower.
Up on top of the Notre Dame bell tower, I've seen a gargoyle smile at the setting sun. And if it’s good enough for the gargoyles, it’s good enough for me.

How the West is Wed

Cowboy boots with your couture gown, cacti in the centerpieces; barbecues instead of ballrooms and bordellos instead of bridal suites – this is how the West is wed.

From elegant services set against stunning sunsets to non-traditional, cowboy-themed pageantry, the American Southwest offers unique options for tying the knot. Scottsdale, Arizona and the surrounding region, in particular, utilizes its reputation as a well-known vacation destination as an impetus for destination weddings. 

When Brian Hartigan and fiancée Kristine McDonough sought to venture far from their Massachusetts home for their big day, they honed in on Arizona as their desired destination, for the unparalleled scenery, long list of things for their guests to do, and almost guaranteed good weather.

The couple visited multiple venues around the greater Scottsdale region and was enamored with almost every one, citing the endless supply of beauty mixed with a rustic charm unknown to other parts of the country. Ultimately, however, it was a resort tucked into the saguaro cactuses and scorched mountains of a town named Fountain Hills that won over the couple and, accordingly, the hundred guests who attended their wedding.

Like an oasis along a mountain ridge, CopperWynd Resort boasts an extraordinary panoramic view of the surrounding Sonoran desert and rugged mountain range amidst lush native vegetation and flowers. Onsite accommodations include luxury hotel rooms overlooking the valley below, as well as an entire neighborhood of large family villas. As the desert sun sets over the adjacent mountain ridge, the best view is typically from a room or villa balcony, where a glass of wine and a lounge chair make for the single best tourist attraction in Arizona.

But the resort’s wedding venue, set atop an emerald green bluff overlooking the endless desert-scape, brings CopperWynd from a must-see to a must-marry.

Days before the Hartigan/McDonough wedding, staff bustled around the grounds planting new flowers to take advantage of the recent, rare rains. The result was a mesmerizing contrast as the bride’s white gown flowed into view around the traditional Southwestern sandy building, past small explosions of color, across the green lawn to the altar. To further add to this surreal setting, the couple worked with local vendors to add local touches, like cacti, sun-bleached tree branches to frame the altar, and mason jars filled with candles hanging from an adjacent tree.

Planners also ensured the timing of the ceremony synced with the resort’s most attractive feature: the sunset. At the most poignant moment of the nuptials, the couple and the desert backdrop were bathed in a romantic orange glow.

For those looking to get hitched in a more nostalgic and creative place, couples need not travel very far from Scottsdale to find another venue that captures the imagination and revels in the traditions of the Old West. Goldfield Ghost Town, located near Apache Junction along the historic Apache Trail, is the place for a cowboy-inspired Old West wedding, set amongst an old time 19th century village.

Goldfield brings a bit of hokey tourism to the party, which in this case is a good thing. You’d look out of place without boots, spurs and Stetsons.

The town sits on a hill in the shadow of the impressive and imposing Superstition Mountains, which themselves are worth a ride out to this remote location. They loom in a beautiful and mysterious way over this small town, which consists of a main street with a few offshoots, an old mine, a perimeter railroad, shops, a saloon, a bordello and a chapel at the very top of the bluff.

The Church at the Mount performs multiple styles of wedding ceremonies, from traditional to themed. Ceremonies can take place in period costume, feature carriage and horseback rides for the couple, or even a staged stick up. It’s an easy stroll, albeit through dusty town roads, to an indoor or outdoor reception at the Mammoth Saloon and Steakhouse. And it’s an even easier time at Lulu’s Bordello suite, where they will gladly put up the happy couple. 

Scottsdale’s matrimonial venues are not simply for the nuptial blessings. With so many golf courses, attractions, ranches and National Parks, the region provides for a comprehensive wedding experience. 
Greasewood Flat, located in the dusty outskirts of Scottsdale, is an outdoor cowboy playground. From horseshoe pits and open-air barbecue to whiskey bar stalls and a dance floor under the stars, this local watering hole hosts groups large and small to enjoy a rustic gathering. The setting is perfect for a pre-wedding party that welcomes out-of-town guests and introduces them to some local cuisine and culture.

The Hartigan/McDonough wedding, for example, brought their guests to Greasewood Flat for their rehearsal dinner, renting out a large section of the grounds filled with picnic tables and covered by a wooden lean-to. Staff barbecued hamburgers, chicken and pulled pork while guests played horseshoes and listened to the live band rattle off traditional country songs. The couple’s family and friends perused the scenery, animal stalls and saloon and mingled with the other patrons who had settled into the venue’s main area.

Strings of lights wove through the trees and along the ramshackle buildings throughout the venue. But if one was to step just a few feet away the desert sky was just as well lit from innumerable stars.
It was under those stars that the bride and groom were called out by the band to perform the two-step. Brian and Kristine kicked off just as the band struck up the first note of a slow, romantic cowboy ballad. At the center of the dance floor was a wagon-wheel-topped lamppost; they whirled around it, the spinning like the spokes while the music hummed along. The only thing brighter than the stars and strings of lights was the bride’s smile. When the song ended the lead singer congratulated the couple and led an applause that rumbled from family and friends all the way through the hundred other locals sipping whiskey at Greasewood Flat.

Traditional or non-traditional, elegant or rustic, Southwestern venues offer a variety of fun, unique options set against some of the most striking natural scenery in America. And one thing is as certain as the Arizona heat: in the Old West, a couple can mosey down the aisle in style.