Best Of :: Fun & Games
The parking lot of the Tom's Thumb trailhead in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve is less than an hour's drive from central Phoenix, but it feels like another planet. The main sign of urbanity is the parking lot — which, though large, fills up with vehicles on good-weather days like there's a Black Friday sale going on. This hill of granite and cactus has a lot to offer for rock climbers, especially at the tallest formation in the area, Gardener's Wall. Our favorite climb there is Hanging Gardens, a moderate route that will get you noticeably nearer to the clouds. It's rated a 5.5 for technical difficulty — sounds easy, but with outdoor climbing, everything's more intense. There will be fear. It begins on a wonderful, gray-granite knife-edge that turns into a vertical crack system. Halfway up is a tiny belay ledge — this is no place for acrophobes. The leader brings the second climber up to that point before proceeding up a perfect hand-crack. Beginning outdoor climbers will gain new confidence on Hanging Gardens and learn the pleasures of multi-pitch climbing. It's best to bring two ropes for the long rappel back to the ground.
Sedona Red was cool and all, and frankly, we're glad it's not gone completely, but the best resurrection of a color has to go to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sure, they're not doing as well as everyone would have hoped this season, especially after shelling out more than $200 million to Zack Greinke and making one of the worst trades in baseball history to acquire Shelby Miller, but damn if those boys don't look good in teal again. In fact, whether you love them or hate them, the D-backs have the most interesting uniforms in all of baseball since the mid-'70s Houston Astros, and if we can't get past the San Francisco Giants or the Chicago Cubs this year, we might as well look better than they do. Classic, shmassic. Teal for the win, baby.
Go ahead and call it the wedding cake. The three-tiered Tovrea Castle, visible from the Loop 202, is a Phoenix icon that beckons like a desert mirage with an outer defense of saguaro cactuses. The castle's gardens and grounds are equally exotic, filled with more than 100 species of unique desert flora, including over 5,000 cactuses.
Completed in 1930, Tovrea Castle was the vision of Alessio Carraro, who oversaw the building of the structure and its gardens. It was intended to be a resort hotel surrounded by a deluxe housing subdivision called Carraro Heights. However, Carraro's dream didn't last. He sold the castle to Edward Ambrose Tovrea to use as a private residence.
Early on, Carraro was approached by designer M. Moktatchev, who planted more than 500 species of cactus from the Southwest as well as from Australia, Central America, South America, and Africa. Across 44 acres of grounds, the original grandeur is still apparent. Though many of the original plants did not survive, in 1998, the city of Phoenix began garden restorations. Archival photographs of the property and grounds were studied to verify which plants had been used in the original plans. Four hundred saguaros and 1,000 smaller cactuses have been planted as part of the restoration.
The Tovrea Carraro Society relies on volunteers to lead tours of the castle and gardens. There is no walking around the grounds without a tour guide. Tours must be booked in advance, are approximately two hours long, and include visiting the castle's main floor, extensive grounds, and cactus gardens. There are no tours in July or August. Admission is $15.
Depending on your deal, Tempe Town Lake is a recreational haven, or a waste of resources, or possibly the butt of a joke. In any case, the 225-acre manmade reservoir in downtown Tempe beneath Mill Avenue was closed on February 10, and drained to replace the Town Lake Western Dam. Don't worry, representatives from the Arizona Game and Fish Department were out there casting some nets and reining in as many fish as possible. If you happened to have visited Tempe Beach Park or the North Bank Path during this window, you would have noticed a rare sight: a vast marshland dotted with beer bottles, parking cones, canopy frames from various events, and only the maker knows what else. Refilling the lake began about two weeks later, at about a foot a day until it reached 900 million gallons, restoring itself yet again on April 30 as the spot for under-bridge fishermen, standup paddleboarders, and those in rented kayaks.
If you've got a couple of hours, a steady hand, and a vehicle with high clearance, a great way to enjoy the Superstition Mountain Wilderness is the long, winding Apache Trail, which leads from Apache Junction into the mountains and to bodies of water such as Apache Lake, Canyon Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. The route's paved for a bit, but really gets fun once you're on dirt roads, which twist around high cliffs as you descend toward Fish Creek, which can range from a trickle to a slightly bigger trickle. On your way out, don't pass up the chance to stop into the saloon at Tortilla Flat to have a burger and a beer and reflect on your time on the historical trail, used by the Apaches to travel the mountains and later stagecoach drivers making supply runs.
Recent years have seen an explosion of the popularity of hangouts that mix drinks and arcade games, and while there have been plenty of cool ones to open in Phoenix in the last year, none have quite matched the vibe of Cobra, located in downtown Phoenix. The selection of games is excellent (and constantly rotating, which means you get new games on the regular), the vibe is sleek and modern — with garage door-style windows that can be opened when the weather's cooperating — and the drinks, appropriately named for video-game characters like the Crazy Kong and the Ryuken, are well-mixed and inventive, providing top-notch liquid accompaniment for a few rounds of Street Fighter 2.