Franciscan Renewal Center
As a rule, we snicker at anything resembling a religious experience -- particularly one that's being used as the center of a friend's birthday celebration. But when another guest insisted, "Oh, be a good sport," we rolled our eyes and went to the unusual fete -- at a labyrinth located behind the Franciscan Renewal Center.

It wasn't so bad. Peaceful, actually. Not that walking a labyrinth will change your life -- at least not in our book. Still, we did find it invigorating, in spite of our cynical selves. The act of walking a labyrinth is an ancient one, practiced by people for centuries. It is not a maze; there is no way to get lost. The journey of twists and turns through the labyrinth is thought to represent the journey through life. Some people say they find their god; others believe the act can heal.

This particular labyrinth, located in a quiet patch of desert at the foot of Mummy Mountain, is constructed of river rocks; it is roughly the size of a small residential swimming pool. Each of the nine guests in our party took turns slowly walking between the rocks, winding around and around and ending up in the middle, where folks have left trinkets and notes scrawled on scraps of paper and business cards, à la Jerusalem's Wailing Wall. Then back again.

Maybe it was the beautiful, almost-spring day, maybe the company, maybe the labyrinth itself, but we felt happy and peaceful upon completing our short journey, which lasted no more than five minutes, round-trip. We didn't snicker once.

Around the outside of the labyrinth, people have used rocks to leave their own messages: "Love" -- "Peace" -- "Why not?"

Why not, indeed.

Even if you're not impressed by gunshot saguaros and sweeping desert vistas, surely you have to be impressed by a 7,000-pound sport utility vehicle, right?

Jesse Wade hopes so. Wade has been giving off-road tours of Tonto National Forest for 10 years and finds that Grand Canyon-eschewing tourists are mighty impressed with his Hummer-handling ability. His four-hour tours cost $90 per person and include Wade's sometimes manic yet highly educational narration on desert plants, desert animals and the Valley's ongoing environmental crisis.

We completely understand why our dog loves to ride in the car with his head out the window. Ears a-flappin', tongue a-lollin', nose a-sniffin'.

While the helmet law keeps our ears from flapping, nothing lets us experience all the sounds, textures and smells of our Sonoran landscape better than a motorcycle ride along a desert road.

And nothing brings the earth closer to us than a ride that takes us north on Pima Road, where we head east on Cave Creek Road and then out to Bartlett Dam. Sometimes we see mule deer, bald eagles, javelinas and coyotes. We also see a splendid array of indigenous desert plants -- majestic saguaro, mesquite trees and blooming ocotillo. At the lake, we preside over more than 2,815 acres of sparkling blue water. And if we time it just right, we head back west just as the sun soaks into the mountains of Cave Creek, capping our adventure with shimmering watercolors.

A pool and your money are soon parted at this luxury resort, where non-paying guests will sigh contentedly as your stress and cash quietly drain away under the swaying palms. Spy tanning celebrities, cut in front of children waiting for the 92-foot water slide, or swim up to the bar for an $8 pia colada -- the choice is yours.

Oh, did we mention you must rent a $105 to $150-per-day pool cabana for admission? "Ay, Cabana!" is right. But you can also bring along four friends and play in your private lounge area, and surely those Billmore (or is it Bilkmore?) fogies don't keep track of every towel.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of