I pulled off McDowell Road between the Papago Buttes for an evening hike on Christmas.
The holiday hubbub had quieted and visits to friends and family had been completed.
With a flashlight in hand, I walked up to the carved stone steps of the old Papago Park amphitheater beneath the south butte just to take in the view — and maybe also to take some stock in things.
Hewn decades ago out of the buttes’ sedimentary rock, the shell-shaped amphitheater could easily seat 1,000, and was chiefly used for Easter sunrise services. It’s in Phoenix — which owns Papago Park that surrounds the buttes — but the amphitheater faces Scottsdale.
As the Valley grew and McDowell was widened to six lanes, what was once roadside parking space for attendees at these events was eliminated many years ago — and so were the events.
Now pitted and strewn with small boulders either tossed by hikers or tumbled down from the butte above on their own, it faces each sunrise alone.
Fast-paced growth has meant this view of Scottsdale, like most, has changed over time. But it is still quite a view, for residents as well as for outsiders, who mostly see the city’s quirks. Scottsdale is an interesting, vibrant place — and not many are.
The distant McDowell Mountains remain as timeless as when I first took in this view as a boy more than 30 years ago, though today houses dot their foothills.
Just below, the National Guard base is still there as is McDowell’s stretch of car dealerships; of course, today they sell less chrome and more air bags.
Yet just a few miles north, high-rises are going up downtown. Anyone who suggested that when I was a kid might have found himself laughed at — a lot. Not today.
Readers will be seeing this face over this space several days each week. The column beneath will be about Scottsdale, the view from Scottsdale, the view into Scottsdale.
Even after 38 years living here, I don’t want Scottsdale to return to its past. Nor am I enamored with every idea from everyone claiming to have a vision.
Scottsdale is too complicated to define as an either-or, a "do-this-or-do-that," "and-if-you-believe-this-you-must-be-a-that." Life in Scottsdale has never been quite that simple. More enjoyable, more temperate, more opportunistic, yes, but never that simple.
I made my way down from the butte that night realizing that building a community means constantly knowing both its roots and its reach at the same time. There is no such thing as "buildout" for a real community; it is always renewing itself.
If its people believe that, while it may not ever be Christmas every day in Scottsdale, it’ll be pretty close.