Sooner fans will find plenty to do in desert

By Michael Kinney

Transcript Sports Writer

Oklahoma will play in the Fiesta Bowl for the third time in the program's history Jan. 1. The previous two trips came in 1976 and 1983, before the advent of the Bowl Championship Series.

Luckily for Sooner fans who will make the 1,000-mile trek to Scottsdale, Ariz., the area has changed considerably since then. And with the creation of the BCS, so have the activities surrounding bowl games.

According to Brent DeRaad, vice president of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, OU has already sold its 16,000 allotted Fiesta Bowl tickets. And he is expecting many more to visit the city during the coming weeks.

"We are excited to finally get the Big 12 champion here," DeRaad said. "With Oklahoma usually playing in the championship game, we have not had them here before. It's long overdue. In bowl vernacular Oklahoma travels well and we are excited to see evidence of that."

But instead of just the warm weather and sightseeing, cities such as Scottsdale and Phoenix offer an abundance of events, hotels and restaurants for visitors to take advantage of during their stay.

"Things have grown," said Jackie Mieler, communication director for the Arizona Office of Tourism. "Phoenix is now the fifth largest city in the U.S. They will see a bustling and growing downtown area whether they are in Phoenix or Scottsdale."

The first thing Oklahoma fans will take notice of upon arriving in Arizona is the weather. The average temperature during December and January is 65 degrees with guaranteed sunshine.

"Warm days and cool evenings provide the perfect backdrop for watching some incredible football and exploring one of the most exciting destinations in the U.S.," Mieler said. "Unlike in Oklahoma, they will be able to spend time outside."

Those who plan to spend much of their visit outside will have an opportunity improve their golf game. In the Scottsdale area alone there are 29 different golf courses, including Grayhawk Golf Club, The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain, TPC Scottsdale and Troon North Golf Club. All received four stars by Golf Digest, which ranked Scottsdale No. 8 on its 50 Top Golf Destinations.

While golf enthusiasts are on the links, others can enjoy a relaxing day at any one of the city's day spas and resorts. They include The Lamar Everyday Spa, Mandala Tearoom and Alvadora Spa at Royal Palms.

"From traditional Native American healing treatments to innovative Asian practices, Arizona spas run the gamut when it comes to pampering," Mieler said.

The Sonora Desert, which covers 120,000 square miles in Southwest Arizona and Southeastern California, is home to many of the country's best landscapes. The Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Lake Havasu State Park, Kartchner Caverns State Park and Picacho Peak State Park offers outdoor sightseers a feast for the eyes.

To get up close and personal with the Sonora landscape, 360 Adventures and ABC/Desert Biking Adventures offer guided rock climbing trips, mountain biking excursions, canyoneering adventures and hiking as part of their special packages.

For those who want a more scenic view, All out Aerial, Westwind Air Service, Adventures Out West and A Balloon Experience can take visitors on air tours.

"If you had only one thing to do, it would be a have to see the Grand Canyon," Mieler said. "It's Arizona's signature landspot."

However, once the Sonora sun sets, Scottsdale's nightlife awakens. But a long night of club hopping can't be experienced on an empty stomach.

That is where culinary hot spots such as Marquesa at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and Mary Elaine's come into play. Both have received the American Automobile Association's Five Diamond Award. Other eateries such as Kon Grill, Ruth's Chris Steak House, The Counter and First Watch Restaurant may provide Oklahoma residents a true taste of Arizona.

"The restaurants have go hand in hand with Scottsdale," DeRaad. "We have several different chefs that have won awards. Everything from French Cuisine, Mexican food to more cowboy fare, it's pretty eclectic. There are more than 600 restaurants, so there will be no shortage of places to eat for Oklahoma fans."

Scottsdale after dark offers residents and visitors a unique experience. From sports bars such as Casino Arizona and Upper Deck Sports Grill to dance clubs like Dos Gringos, Myst and Jillians, a distinct Southwest flavor can be felt and tasted.

A quick drive to Phoenix and can produce a blend of night clubs, jazz bars and art galleries.

"Scottsdale has a wonderful nightlife," DeRaad said. "We have a wide diversity of high energy clubs, sports bars and jazz clubs. Scottsdale has grown and evolved. It compares to L.A. and other places."

When schools accept invitations to play in a bowl game, more than football has to go into the fan's preparation. For some it can be their only vacation of the year, so they want to make sure they get their money's worth.

The people in Arizona charged with this task know this and plan to make sure a good time is had by all.

"What we are excited about if that Oklahoma fans will have a lot to do," DeRaad said. "They will have a chance to explore Arizona. It would allow Oklahoma fans to get a feel for the size and scope of what Arizona is about."

Michael Kinney 366-3527 mkinney@normantranscript.com

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