Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2014


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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Team Owner

Don't believe the hype that Robert Sarver's a tightwad owner loath to spend big bucks on top talent. It's not true. The Phoenix Suns' head man, he of the giant foam finger in the team's heady playoff days, has had a wide-open wallet since he's owned the team, and it's only going to get more so when he and his staff finish working out star point guard Eric Bledsoe's contract. Hell, Sarver & Co. were ready to do whatever it took to land LeBron James if the star just would just have aligned (sigh . . . King James decided to go home to Cleveland) — so set was Sarver on returning a playoff contender to the Valley of the Sun.

In addition, Sarver has demonstrated his commitment to floor a contender at US Airways Center by making the genius move of hiring the most dynamic coach/general manager combo in the NBA today, Jeff Hornacek and Ryan McDonough. Hornacek's the legendary Suns player who was moved to Philadelphia in the Charles Barkley trade and was an assistant coach for the Utah Jazz before coming here. He's an even more astute coach than he was a player. Smart combined with smart always works, and McDonough, who labored for 10 years in the Boston Celtics organization, lastly as assistant general manager to former Suns coach and Celtics great Danny Ainge, is a basketball genius.

McDonough, just 34, and Hornacek, 51, combined to put together a gritty team that played, well, smart. The result was a 48-34 record, a 23-win improvement over the season before, sans the presence of a superstar. McDonough was runner-up for NBA executive of the year after last season. But it really was Sarver's doing that the Suns struck fear in the hearts of even their staunchest opponents. The irony was that competition was so tough in the NBA's Western Conference that they didn't make the playoffs. Much more to come this season; we're certain of it.

Best Path

Whether you're out for a friendly stroll or training for a half-marathon, this in-town trail is the perfect place to get off the pavement for a change. You'll find families riding bikes, friends out for a power walk, cheerful joggers, and athletes prepping for the next big race. Right in the middle of Phoenix, this great-for-all-ages path accommodates bikers and hikers alike, and what's more, shade from olive and mesquite trees makes this stretch about 10 degrees cooler than the rest of town, even on the hottest day. Running from just south of Dunlap Road to well past Bethany Home Road, this popular city trail backs onto cozy residential neighborhoods and often intersects with the canal. Cool!

Best Comeback Trail
Echo Canyon, Camelback Mountain

After a year of waiting, Camelback lovers returned in force on January 15 to the renovated Echo Canyon Trail. The short, conveniently located adventure hike, accessed near Tatum Boulevard and McDonald Drive, is one of the most visited attractions in Phoenix and a weekly, or even daily, routine for many locals. Now it's more popular than ever. Although the number of parking spaces has doubled to 135 as part of the $4.5 million project, the spaces still fill quickly each day as jubilant hikers flock to see what the city has done. Except for the parking situation, which eased as the seasonal heat arrived, the renovation generally has been seen as a success. Porta-potties were replaced by real toilets. The summit-bound trail grew slightly to 1.5 miles, with the first section receiving the most redevelopment. The path winds through scenic Echo Canyon before connecting with the old trail, most of which was untouched. Better-protected from erosion, the new trail's ready for years of monsoons and millions of footsteps — some of which could be yours.

5950 N. Echo Canyon Parkway, Paradise Valley, 85253
Best Hiking Trail

If you've ever wanted to visit the moon, the landscape of the McDowell Mountains near the rock-skyscraper Tom's Thumb formation might just satisfy the craving — rolling, sparsely vegetated hills, boulders large and small. But first you have to get up there. We usually take Dynamite Boulevard, turn right on 128th Street, and head south until reaching the parking lot. Don't be fooled by the posh, resort-style entranceway at the trailhead — this is Scottsdale, yes, but it's not all easy living on the Tom's Thumb Trail. You'll ascend nearly the height of the Empire State Building over more than two miles of steep trail with switchbacks. Opened just two years ago, the new trail is smooth and mostly free of ankle-twisting rocks. It's tough, but you'll see people of all ages taking it on. Take more water than you think you'll need if the air temperature is anything close to warm, and be sure to save some energy to explore the otherworldly summit ridge for a while.

104th St. S. of McDowell Mountain Ranch Rd., Scottsdale, 85259
5950 N. Echo Canyon Parkway, Paradise Valley, 85253
Best Hiking Guide

First published more than a decade ago, this hiking and biking guide will inspire even the least-outdoorsy among us to hit the trail. Expert and frequently updated trail descriptions are categorized by difficulty, length, and popularity among hikers, and the book's topographical maps make this book a must-have for any hiker. Step-by-step directions and some really great photography help both the novice and the seasoned hiker choose which trail to take. The "History and Legends" essays, published as part of each hike description, really sets this book apart from other guides covering the National Forest Wilderness of Arizona.

Best Bouldering
South Mountain Park/Preserve

Bouldering in the Pima Canyon wash, near the east end of Phoenix's vast South Mountain Park/Preserve, requires extreme skill, not just because of the difficult routes, which are rated V0 (equivalent to about 5.10 at local rock-climbing gyms — not a beginner rating) to an insane V7, but also because of the scary landings. Bouldering typically involves rock climbing with rock shoes but no rope on routes low enough to fall off without serious injury. In this "developed" climbing area (the short climbing routes are detailed in a pamphlet published by local climber Marty Karabin and found in area outdoors shops), the routes go too high, and have wicked-angled boulders to fall on if you miss a handhold.

So why do we love it? Fact is, we've enjoyed the place many times without finishing a route — that is, we climb up only a few feet, and leave the top-outs for stronger, nuttier athletes. No shame in that — it's bouldering. The idea is to get a good pump. And that we do. The rock quality here is passable, considered "granitic" but not granite. Its boulders often have a veneer of desert varnish, which feels great to grip. Good cracks rise up high enough to practice fist jams and foot placement.

You've got to watch for the inevitable crumbly hand- and footholds. But the expansive, fun-to-explore area of dry waterfalls, varnished boulders, and arroyo sand is worth several hours of your life on a nice day. Often, you'll see some of the local hardmen and women who spend hours a day — every day — on the rock and maybe some of the overconfident klutzes who'll make you want to get your phone ready to call 911. If you spot someone staying safe and low but still having fun, that might be us.

10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85042

Best Team Owner: Robert Sarver


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