Cavalliere Park, Scottsdale, AZ: Corten, gabions, and towering saguaros

The Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden wasn't the only remarkable public space I visited in Scottsdale, AZ last December. Located in north Scottsdale, George "Doc" Cavalliere Park is a 34-acre gem seamlessly integrated into the rugged desert terrain. Corten steel and gabions are liberally used to create architectural features that are both sustainable and attractive. While a public project like this encompasses a much larger scale and has a significantly higher budget than a residential landscape, it can be a valuable source of inspiration.

Completed in February 2012 with a budget of $4.3 million, Cavalliere Park was a national pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) program and the first SITES-certified project in Arizona.

The press release for the SITES certification goes on to say:
A nationally recognized model of sustainability, the design of Cavalliere Park uses 100 percent native plants and all existing native trees. Cacti and plant communities were preserved in place or salvaged and re-used onsite to restore desert upland and riparian plant communities.
Other sustainable features include on-site storm water management, reuse of materials salvaged on site, permeable paving in parking areas and driveways, and incorporation of sustainable technologies such as photovoltaic panels and LED lighting. In fact, its 24 kilowatt photovoltaic system allows the park to attain net-zero energy.

The design uses 4,000 gabion baskets for everything from retaining walls to stairs. They play a significant role in stormwater prevention since they slow down runoff and allow the water to percolate into the soil. And as far as I'm concerned, they look super cool. 

Corten steel is another widely used material. You'll see it in many photos below. The raised bed above was in the parking lot. Take a look at the corner detail below. This is not cheap to do!

Agve bovicornuta

The walls of the restroom building consist of stacked gabion baskets:

Below is the men's restroom. I don't think I've ever seen a more attractive public restroom!

The sink and top are concrete, the floor and wall panels Corten.

Gabion retaining wall:

Gabion seating wall:

Corten recycle and trash bins:

Gabion walls and concrete table and benches:

The Corten panels with rectangular windows you see in the next set of photos were my favorite feature in the park. They look fantastic next to this trio of soaptree yuccas (Yucca elata):

These panels have no functional purpose, but they set the visual tone for the entire park design.

In the next photo you can see that the back side (facing northeast from what I remember) has rusted far less than the front.

Gabion stairs lead to the top of the hill behind the developed section of the park:

Neighborhood to the north of the park

On the trail, I got up close and personal with the local residents:

Ferocactus cylindraceus

Saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea) stand guard on the hillside:

Walking among these giants in a light mist that muffled all sound was unforgettable. It was one of the highlights of my trip.

I was able to walk right up to the saguaros:

Adolescent saguaro, probably 30 years old

The hillsides beyond Cavalliere Park are dotted with sprawling houses:

Even the shade ramadas looked great:

As you can see from the sign below, eight Corteen sculptures by Jeff Zischke are installed throughout the park. They are the artist's interpretation of seedpods from native plants growing in the park.

I photographed two of them:

Near the shade ramada you saw above, I stepped outside the park and walked up to this gated driveway, attracted by the agave sculptures on top of the fence pillars:

From a distance I had thought that the "flowers" on the flower stalks might actually be lights, but it turned out there were rock. Still, this is a awesome way to decorate the entrance to what must be a sprawling piece of property.

The residents of north Scottsdale are very lucky to have this wonderful space at their disposal. It's uplifting to see that there are cities that care enough to invest in public facilities that benefit their citizens and preserve nature at the same time.



  1. Wow! I'd love to visit the desert on a misty day! Seems like a rather novel experience.

    1. I'd never experienced it quite like that before. It was awesome.

  2. Love this, except...gabion stairs? That just seems horribly dangerous and uncomfortable.

    1. Actually, not bad. The wire cages are very sturdy. Wearing sneakers, I didn't find it uncomfortable walking on them. High heels is another thing...

  3. You find the coolest places, Gerhard. How do you do that? There are probably cool places in my area you know about and I don't.

    The gabion stairs, yeah, might be better with a slab topper? How was it to walk on them? Probably not a whole lot of vistors wearing high heels.

    Be cool to have a Cor-ten Stonehenge (Cor-tenge?).

    1. I keep a list of places of interest, and I add to it as I read blog posts, magazine articles, etc. I came across Cavalliere Park on Pam Penick's blog:

      The gabion stairs were fine--very sturdy wire. But I wasn't wearing heels :-).

      Cor-tenge! Sounds like something that might get built at Burning Man!

  4. I'm laughing over Jane's definitive "Ugh" in the first comment -- ha! No, the desert is not for everyone, but I really like this place. In fact I covet all that wonderful Corten artwork and window panels. I'm a little iffy on the gabion steps too, but otherwise the gabion walls are terrific. This can't have been very affordable to build, but it should last forever!

    1. As you said, the gabions and Corten should last for a long, long time--no maintenance required. Much better than wood, I would think.

  5. Gabions galore! Love the Corten windows.

    1. Gotta find a find to incorporate gabions into my own garden--on a very small scale since I don't have much room.

  6. The seed pods are way cool. This would be a great place to visit but, thanks to your warning, I won't wear high heels. Good for Scottsdale for doing it up right!

  7. Normally I would say "meh" to more cor-ten / gabion in Arizona, and all the copies beyond. But that and the gentle use of native plants blends so seamlessly, I gotta like this! I'd visit it when 110, as it works so well visually / ecologically. Except the raised parking planters seem to be an obstacle to car doors...though worth it if those saved the tree.



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