One of Arizona’s greatest pleasures is sitting outside in evening and watching the sky transform from a brilliant blue to a Technicolor rainbow of bright yellows, hot pinks, and fiery reds and oranges. These psychedelic sunsets really are unlike any around the world thanks to the unique atmosphere of the desert. Arizona’s arid climate causes airborne particles to scatter the setting sun’s refracting light, producing saturated colors that diffuse and reflect off high clouds.
The effects are stunning. The Sonoran Desert simply glows when “magic hour” bathes the desert floor in the warm tones of sunset. Mountains appear to change colors. Shadows lengthen. Cacti and other desert plants reveal a sculptural beauty. Lucky for residents and visitors, there are plenty of places to enjoy the daily light show—whether your tastes run outdoor adventurer or evening cocktailer. These are just a few of my favorites.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
To see the Sonoran Desert at its most beautiful, visit one of the five trailheads at this 30,000-acre refuge in northern Scottsdale. You’ll be surrounded by pristine desert, with panoramic views of the McDowell Mountains and this ecologically diverse landscape that includes barrel and cholla cacti, green-barked palo verde trees, gila woodpeckers, cottontails and desert reptiles.
Desert Botanical Garden
The beautifully curated Desert Botanical Garden has one of the most impressive plant collections in the world, and the transition from day to night triggers an extraordinary transformation in the garden. The air cools, flowers close and the iconic saguaro cactus becomes a beautifully silhouetted figure against the changing backdrop of colors and light.
Sanctuary Camelback Resort
This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite experiences in Arizona: sitting with a cocktail in hand on the patio of the resort’s Jade Bar and watching the sunset over Camelback and Mummy mountains. The hotel’s clean, modernist design and desert views are the perfect complements to the setting the sun.
“Knight Rise” Skyspace at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
The museum’s highlight: James Turrell’s “Knight Rise,” an outdoor art installation that frames the changing colors of Scottsdal’s sky through an oculus in a concrete dome. The smooth, gray ceiling distorts your perception of sky, focusing your attention on the changing colors, from afternoon’s bright blues to sunset’s deep oranges, crimsons and purples.
Orange Sky at Talking Stick Resort
The name says it all. Orange Sky restaurant was designed with the Arizona’s amber- and saffron-streaked sunsets in mind. Glass elevators whisk guests up the 15th-floor dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows showcase 360-degree views of the desert, mountains and city. Step onto the open-air terrace to enjoy a glass of wine, or reserve a western-facing table inside.