By Angela Fairhurst
On the southeast side of Phoenix is the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass set among 372,000 acres of the Gila River Indian Community, the largest Indian reservation near Phoenix and home to the Pima and Maricopa tribes. The two peaceful tribes have different languages, but share the same cultural values based on a sense of community and became farmers developing the land and water systems together.
The scenic property which leads guests to the Native American-owned resort is meticulously landscaped with indigenous plants and trees. At the circular terminus of the drive, friendly staff greet guests with a welcome smile and cold water.
Designed to be an authentic representation of the Gila River Indian Community’s heritage and culture, the architecture, design, art and legends of the Pima and Maricopa tribes are in every detail of the resort.
Upon entering the majestic lobby, one can’t help but notice a circular paneled ceiling in the atrium showing different periods of time, showcasing “The Creation Story” passing on ancient customs and traditions to the next generations.
The reception lobby overlooks two stories of floor-to-ceiling windows for picturesque views, with staircases on both sides leading visitors downstairs to a secondary lobby which includes a waterfall, the Lobby Bar for cocktails and light bites, and Link @ Sheraton Café, a Starbucks®-branded coffee bar. This lobby overlooks one of the resorts’ four pools.
A re-created Gila river, on which guests can take boat rides, runs 2 ½ miles throughout the property, bordered by brooks, streams and mature trees. On the other side of the river is the Whirlwind Golf Club with two 18-hole Troon-managed courses. For the more active traveler, there is tennis and extensive jogging/walking trails.
The 17,000 square foot Aji Spa, meaning “sanctuary” in the Pima language, has 17 treatment rooms, a salon, fitness center, a traditional Native American roundhouse used for meditation and a relaxing watsu adults-only private pool and cafe with a running waterfall. The ancient Pima and Maricopa cultures are also showcased throughout the spa in design elements, artwork, architecture and shared legends starting with enormous sundial mosaic tile display at the entrance. Aji Spa offers a truly authentic Native American spa menu practiced by cultural care takers with highlights including body scrubs and wraps, and eye, hair and scalp treatments.
Tribal touches continue throughout the premises. There are Calendar sticks on display that are notched to record significant occurrences that took place during the time prior to written languages. Otherwise, all Pima and Maricopa historic events and legends were passed on orally. The hotel continues to honor the tribes with beautiful basketry displays from the Pima and red clay pottery from the Maricopa.
All rooms and suites have views of the golf course, Estrella Mountains or the Gila River meandering through the grounds. The rooms showcase natural elements such as cornices made from saguaro ribs and custom artwork from Native American artists. Rooms in the resort are split into two wings, celebrating each tribe’s art forms.
Kai is the only AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five Star award restaurant in Arizona as well as one of Open Table’s 10 Best Restaurants in America for 2015. The fine dining cuisine is influenced by Native American traditions (Kai means “seed” in the Pima language).
Native American and regional comfort food is served at Ko’Sin, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Using locally-sourced produce and proteins, enjoy dining accompanied by views of the Sierra Estrella Mountain Range.
There’s a plethora of things to do for kids, including splashing around the pools with waterfalls and one with a 111-foot waterslide. Horseback riding is available at the Koli Equestrian Center with lessons, trail rides and outdoor events. For younger guests, the hotel has the Sheraton Adventure Club with daily activities including exclusive Native American cultural programming.