LAST DAY IN ARIZONA — Meet Lance, Bailey and Sonora

Native American dance at the Scottsdale Hyatt

DAY SIX (April 4, 2009) — Lance is a Hawk, Bailey a turkey vulture and Sonora a two year-old Bald Eagle.

The kids’ eyes are huge. Lance, Bailey and Sonora were all injured and nursed back to health by Liberty Wildlife, which for 25 years has been rehabilitating wildlife and teaching kids about these wonderful creatures-over 50,000 animals in the last25 years. (www.libertywildlife.org)

What’s even more amazing than seeing these creatures “up close,” as the kids say, is where we are seeing them — on the lawn at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort at Gainey Ranch. (www.hyatt.com)
This resort, like others in the Hyatt group, is committed to introducing its guests — of all ages — to the culture and wildlife of the region. We’re in Arizona so we are meeting Arizona birds.

We’re also treated to Native American dancing. “A lot of people have stereotypes about Native People,” says Derrick Suwaima Davis, who we learn is a champion hoop dance that celebrates the circle of life. “We are the children’s role models.”

There is also a first rate Native American educational center in the resort lobby, where the kids had a chance to try their hand at making pottery. There are 14 tribes in Arizona, explains Forrest Chimerica, the Learning Center’s cultural interpreter. “Kids get to experience a different culture here. We want them to learn our ways of life.”

Chimerica led the kids in playing Hopi games (one involves throwing corn cob darts through woven circles); later today there will be a basket-weaving demonstration.

“Absolutely this resort makes it so easy to teach the kids about a new culture,” says Theresa Halpern, whose eight year old daughter was busy making pottery the other afternoon.

I really like all the planned activities,” agreed Courtney Witter, the mom of two young boys from Seattle, adding that her five year old son declared this is his favorite vacation — better than Disney.

There is a sandy area ideal for young kids and an adult-only area that teens like, said Rachel Perlman, who had been vacationing here with her husband and three teenage daughters. “It’s nice when teens are afforded the ability to use the facilities as young adults and not treated like children,” she said.

The girls — 14 year old twins and a 15 year old — also gave thumbs up to Scottsdale with its shopping and restaurants. “It wasn’t cheap,” said Perlman, “But it was fantastic.”

And that counts for a lot.

We venture about a half hour from the Hyatt to Fort McDowell Adventures, set on 25,000 of Sonoran Desert that is on Native American land. On Friday nights, families are invited to “Friday Night Franks” named in honor of Frank Harrison, a Fort McDowell tribal member who in 1948 successfully fought the government to win the right to vote for Arizona Native Americans. We roast brats and hotdogs on sticks over an open fire as cowboy singers entertain us. We play horseshoes, take a wagon ride under the stars and listen to Raphael Bear, a former president of the tribe, tell the kids a story around a fire pit about how the Coyote and other animals helped to bring fire to people who needed it from the beings who were hoarding it on a mountain top. The kids listened to every word. They made s’mores over the fire for desert and danced a Native American dance to drum music.

This is a new venture, Rick Cibik, the general manager told me, and I think it’s great. It’s cheap — all we pay for are a few bucks for the hot dogs and s’mores and the beers for us grownups. The landscape is decidedly different for kids who come from anywhere but the Southwest — they can’t believe the giant cactuses — 200 years old, we’re told!

And even though it’s unusually windy and chilly, everyone has a great time. The kids — four year old Hannah and six year old Ethan — are asleep in the minivan before we even get back to the hotel.

Of course they are up early the next morning — our last in Arizona. They want to get to the pool in time for the Big Splash Contest. They’re convinced they’ll win with their dad on their team.

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