Best Of :: Fun & Games
Outside of his amazing wife and wonderful family, Rob Locker's true passion in life is skateboarding. A lifelong rider of the concrete wave, Locker founded AZPX Skateboards in 2002, and since that time has pushed local skateboarding along more than anyone in the community. Whether it has been releasing somewhere around 10,000 skateboards, sponsoring the (now-disbanded) AZPX skateboarding team, or just encouraging young and old skaters to get out and skate more and have fun, Locker's advocacy of one of the Valley's favorite sports is invaluable. Locker has also ventured into the music world over the years with AZPX Records, which promotes the music of skate rock bands. Often at his own expense, Locker has set up skateboard contests and demonstrations at local skate parks, and worked tirelessly to promote not only his companies, but also the art and skateboarding talent of countless people in the skateboard community. A true original, Locker will surely continue to be a vocal advocate of the skateboard community for years to come.
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.
An independently owned bowling alley is a rare thing, but it's even rarer for one to be as cool as Let It Roll Bowl in Sunnyslope. You get everything you're looking for in an alley — cosmic bowling specials, funky shoe rentals, and league nights — but you also get a slightly retro, totally charming vibe, with a modern bar and midcentury-inspired decor that evokes the '60s, when the bowling alley was originally built. There's pizza, too, and cheap pitchers, which come in handy for those nights when your game's off and you need some help easing in to those strikes.
Tires screaming around corners. Cars slamming into sidewalls. The agony of defeat as you see you came in ninth behind a bunch of high-school freshmen. Yeah, that's Octane. First – the check-in with the enthusiastic and friendly young staff. You sign your life away, and that of your children, if you have any. If it's crowded, you get to hang out in the lounge, which isn't too bad. They even serve beer. At the appointed time, you step into the cavernous track room and pick out a helmet. Soon, the staff will have you strapped into your mini-Indy car, and the session begins. Adult sessions are 14 laps, while the slightly slower kids' cars go for 10 laps. It's actually a race, and you can see your time and place among the other racers in your set in a printout afterward. (See above note about defeat.) It's an addictive experience, despite the roughly $20-per-race charge, not to the mention the battering drivers take from the g-forces in the curves. We usually find a bruise or two after Octane. It's a good pain.
June 21 is Go Skateboarding Day, and nobody celebrates it quite like Cowtown Skateboards. The local company has four Valley locations and goes all out on Go Skateboarding Day to give back to the local skateboard community. The yearly events are typically held at one of the many Valley skate parks, although 2015 saw the shindig take place at downtown uber-venue The Pressroom. Hundreds of Phoenix-area skateboarders across every age range show up to celebrate with Cowtown, eat pizza, and either watch or take part in different skateboard trick contests every year. In addition to providing the grub, which you may imagine goes quickly with a group of active skateboarders, Cowtown also does a ridiculously huge merchandise giveaway every year, providing skateboards, wheels, trucks, clothing, and accessories galore.
Some of us don't know what the winter Olympic sport of curling is, exactly, and some of us know all too well. Either way, there's a way to get it all sorted with the Coyotes Curling Club in Tempe. Billed as the "only curling club in Arizona," the CCC was established in 2003, and features annual bonspiel events, a variety of leagues, and public "Learn to Curl" classes. Classes are $30, and start off with a 45- to 60-minute ice tutorial, followed by roughly two hours of on-ice instruction and a half-game. These guys have more than 100 years of combined experience in curling, so it's safe to say you're in good gloves.
Sometimes all you want to do is ride your bike; if so, you're in luck. Established in spring 2015, the Phoenix Downtempo Ride is a community organization offering free weekly bike rides where just about anyone is welcome. The Phoenix Downtempo Ride meets at 7 p.m. at spots like Encanto Park's Amp Island, Steele Indian School Park, Margaret T. Hance Park, and Coronado Park. The ride averages eight miles per hour, and lasts for approximately an hour, arriving usually at a restaurant or 21-and-over bar. Ending spots have included Pomeroy's, Rosie McCaffrey's Irish Pub, and Café Tranquilo at the Clarendon Hotel. Participants are only asked to bring a bike in good working order, though if a flat happens or if a chain busts, you won't be left behind. Bring water, spare tubes and pumps if you have them, and even music if it's not too disruptive to the other riders. The Phoenix Downtempo Ride people also host special themed Monday night rides, including PHX Pool Poppin, Fondue in the Park, and the Linger Longer Pedal Party.
The Phoenix metro area has many excellent hiking trails, but the king of them all is Siphon Draw in Lost Dutchman State Park. Go outside and look east —see the sheer-cut mass of rock jutting from the earth like the desert version of the Wall in Game of Thrones? That's your destination. The hike will be slightly more than four miles round trip, but it's so steep it'll feel like twice that. Take water and some snacks for refueling on the way — yes, it's that strenuous. You think Camelback Mountain is tough? Siphon Draw has nearly twice the elevation gain. And the trail's not just steep and rugged like Camelback — it's very steep and very rugged, slippery with gravel in places. At least one section will require one or both hands to surmount. Even the flatter parts of the trail are rocky and will give your ankles a workout.
What do you get for all of this pain and suffering? Only the chance to stroll next to the largest cliffs in the Phoenix area. The huge spires and walls of the west flanks of the Superstition Mountains make a dramatic backdrop for half the hike. In the high, sloping boulder fields just north, you might catch sight of a javelina — or a herd of them. Towering in the distance is the Flatiron, a monumental formation that dominates the upper landscape. That's where Siphon Draw goes. The trail takes a turn for the vertical, when you can find the trail. Keep a lookout for the white paint splotches that take you up the most efficient way. The top of Flatiron is flat and a great place for a picnic, and the magnificent view of Phoenix is the other main reason you came. Hikers with energy left can jog upward and eastward for another 20 minutes to a higher perch. But save some juice for the slog down.