Encircled by America’s volcanic past and ringed by mountains, Paradise Valley in Arizona encompasses a mere 15 square miles, primarily residential. And within this area rest 12 luxury resorts, making it one of the country’s premier tourist destinations.

Perched on Camelback Mountain to the south is the trendsetting, rock-star favorite, Sanctuary resort and spa. While there, don’t miss Elements for spectacular nighttime dining and mountain views. The Royal Palms, a Fred Unger do-over, oozes Old World charm and boasts the nationally acclaimed T. Cook’s restaurant, one of the most romantic restaurants in the U.S. I chose the intimate, boutique hideaway, The Hermosa Inn, another Fred Unger re-do, and fell in love with its tranquility, its dichotomy of native cactus plantings and Crayola-box-colored flower beds, peaceful pool and understated décor punctuated with charming artwork by famed Western artist, Lon Megargee, the original owner and builder of the adobe brick home and studio. Named Lon’s in his honor, the award-winning restaurant employs the freshest produce from its 1-acre organic garden, right outside the kitchen door.

For dining, here are some of the best: Roka Akor, for super char-edged grill and stylish sushi; Vincent on Camelback, combining French and Southwest ingredients; Chelsea’s Kitchen, for brunch; Zinc Bistro, for a Parisian feel; Cowboy Ciao, for quirky Old West ambience and a delicious Stetson chopped salad; La Grande Orange Grocery, for a bustling carryout, quick lunch or unique shopping experience—it has it all; and El Chorro, casual patio dining ‘neath Camelback.

Real estate is the name of the game here, followed closely by art. I never really liked Western art, but after browsing through several galleries including The Legacy Gallery and Trailside Galleries, I realized it was because I’d only seen a lot of bad Western art. A visit to the Heard Museum took care of that—such treasures are at every turn!

Roam through the residential areas. Marvel at the avant-garde architecture placing sprawling estates on the edges of mountains and creating rock dining room walls out of the sides of mountains. Stand in wonder before one of the thousands of saguaros, tree-sized cacti native only to this area. Growing about a foot per year, it takes them 75 years to grow their first ‘arm.’ Don’t be surprised to see what looks like a line of hundreds and hundreds of ants climbing up Camelback Mountain, the latest fitness craze for healthy-kneed, SPF-70 sunscreen-covered masochists.

Plenty of less strenuous activities abound: Barrett-Jackson, the world’s greatest collector car auction; the extraordinary Musical Instrument Museum, a treat for the ears and the eyes; Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Taliesin, a few miles away; Kierland Commons for fabulous mall shopping; hot air ballooning. And golf.

Life in the desert has appealed to various and sundry folks: Muhammad Ali, Hugh Downs, Kurt Warner, Dan Quayle and Barry Goldwater, who donated more than 300 Hopi Kachina dolls to the Heard Museum.

It’s said that one is either an ocean person or a mountain person. I know I’m an ocean person—probably always will be. But a visit to this part of our vast country opened my eyes to the majesty and beauty of the desert mountains, and I hope to return very soon.