Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2011


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Readers' Choice


Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Hike in the Heat
Brown's Cave at Apache Lake

Heat exhaustion is never too far away during summer hikes in the Sonoran Desert, but we're not the type to sit at home for five months out of the year. On most local hikes, the only relief from the oven we call the outdoors comes in a bottle (we're talking ice water, not dehydrating booze). But the trek we're here to tell you about features not only a lake perfect for a post-hike dip, but a Shangri-La-esque waterfall to stand under. The one thing it doesn't have is an actual cave, though (Brown's Cave is just an overhang). There are two ways to get there: Go to Apache Lake, launch a boat, and find the mouth of Alder Creek, on the north shore near the west end of the lake. (Depending on the lake water level, this area also provides a fantastic sandy beach for camping or hanging out.) Hike up the rugged canyon about a half-mile to the waterfall; the overhang is a bit farther. The second option requires knowledge of dirt roads that spur off the Four Peaks turnoff from Highway 87 north of Mesa, which is Forest Road 143. Check the Internet or a hiking guide to find the six-mile-long 4 x 4 road that goes to the Cane Spring Trailhead and Alder Trail. The latter takes you to the "cave," waterfall, and Apache Lake. Splashdown.

State Highway 88 at Forest Road 183, Roosevelt, 85545
Best Secret Garden

Residents of the 40-plus houses in the square formed at Weldon Avenue and Fairmount between 11th and 12th streets in Phoenix are hiding a secret. The subdivision, which opened in 1928, includes a three-acre private park in the square of land concealed by properties. The park originally housed a golf course, artisan well, tennis court, fireplaces, and a swimming pool made from native stone. The pool may be all that's left of the original plan, but the fact that most of Phoenix remains unaware of this hidden gem proves that the garden is still a safe, quiet, and secret place to play.

Best Hidden Spot to Touch History
South Mountain Park

Sitting in a Valley watering hole sipping a few cold ones, it's hard to imagine that human beings not so different from us were here, doing things, hoping for things, dreaming of things long before we were ever around. Occasionally, we must stare history in the face to recognize how far we've come and, perhaps, realize how far we have to go. There's no better place to do this than the Holbert Trail at South Mountain Park. Here, petroglyphs inscribed in the living rock by Hohokam People centuries ago. See abstract depictions of animals and hunters. Many have attested to the petroglyphs' spiritual significance. We don't like to bring religion into things, but it's hard not to feel something (spiritual or otherwise) when one bears witness to evidence of those who came before us.

10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85042
Best Not-So-Secret Garden

Long before urban scavenger hunts and geo-caching became popular, ASU had a built-in mystery search that was a rite of passage for coeds. In its early years, the location of the college's secret garden often remained a mystery until a student accidentally stumbled upon it while looking for a quiet place to study. But with the rumor-mill- slash-verbal-diarrhea-inducer that is the Internet, the secret garden started getting outed and, eventually, arrows indicating its location were spray-painted on sidewalks around the quad at Dixie Gammage Hall and West Hall. (Sorry, secret garden activists, but the jig is already up.) The mystery may be solved, but the grassy area, with its banana trees and passion fruit vines, is still beautiful, despite the now heavily trod lawn. And there still are secrets to be discovered within the garden's confines — for example, the white sapote trees have leaves that smell like fresh popcorn when scratched.

Best Little Mountain

Whether you call it Hayden Butte, Tempe Butte, or "A" Mountain — all valid names, as far as we could tell from our research — this rock pile is sweet for the feet. If you live in Tempe or south Scottsdale, this is the closest you can to an experience that's in the same ballpark as Camelback Mountain or Piestewa Peak, the two most popular Valley mountains for hiking. But beyond the great workout and momentary escape to something akin to nature, hike this one for the scenic view — especially at night. Looking northeast, the bathtub-like Town Lake and vehicle lights on Loop 202 resemble a moving diorama of some futuristic dome-town, like a scene from the 1970s sci-fi movie Logan's Run. Later this year, the antenna and communications equipment at the top will be moved to the soon-to-be-finished West Sixth towers, formerly known as the Centerpoint Towers, which will give the peak a more natural feel. The big "A" will still be there — and still will change color every now and then. This year, not only did University of Arizona students paint the "A" red and blue again, but some folks excited about the death of Osama bin Laden turned the letter a patriotic red, white, and blue.

Best Place to Dig Dinosaurs
Arizona Museum of Natural History

This place is not the American Museum of Natural History — let's get that out of the way up front. Night at the Museum Part Whatever ain't gonna be filmed anywhere in Mesa. But for locals craving a quick trip to the Cretaceous and other dino-filled periods, the Arizona MNH simply roars. In "Dinosaur Hall," the skulls of triceratops' relatives and various skeletons do wonders for our sense of wonder — it's easy to forget these magnificent, strange creatures once lived on this planet. Each time we're there, we take at least half an hour to wander past "Dinosaur Mountain," the three-story dino-rama with a cool waterfall and large, animatronic T.rex, stegosaurus, and other lizard-like creatures, large and small. The kids think this exhibit is even better now that they're older and not scared of it. They still aren't too old for the Paleo Dig Pit, though, a nifty spot in which tykes sift through rocks to "discover" dino eggs and bones. If you want a close encounter with dinosaurs, the Mesa museum delivers everything but the bite marks.

53 N. Macdonald St., Mesa, 85201

Best Hike in the Heat: Brown's Cave at Apache Lake


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