Readers' Choices 2001 | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix
Best City Hiking Trail
Squaw Peak Park
2701 East Squaw Peak Drive

Best Golf Course
Papago Golf Course
5595 East Moreland

Courtesy of The Farm
The first brisk days of the year here come after so many torturous, white-hot months that they're truly cause for celebration. But where? Sipping hot cocoa poolside hardly evokes the spirit of the season, and those damned palm trees can really spoil an autumnal mood. The Farm is the place. Order lunch -- any of its hot soups is always a good choice -- on a picnic bench in a beautiful pecan grove. The trees provide all the atmosphere you need, with their leaves changing colors and falling into piles that are actually big enough to jump in. If you spent any childhood years in the East or Midwest, you're wiping away a tear right now, just thinking about it. And don't forget to bring enough friends for that impromptu, Kennedyesque game of touch football.
This may be the last year we can claim Black Mountain as our personal refuge. Development is creeping to the very edges of Carefree and Cave Creek; there's even a Target going in nearby. But for now, the mountain remains virtually deserted, and we often see only a pair of fellow hikers as we ascend the trail, 3,396 feet to the summit. Part of the challenge is finding the trailhead, but turn south on School House Road off Cave Creek Road, and you're there. It's a rugged hike, but we feel no pain: The terrain's breathtakingly beautiful, scattered with black slate and lush with natural greenery, and as we plant our flag at the top, we're treated to stunning views of the Valley below.

Sure, it may not be too long before some entrepreneur tries to plant a Starbucks at the summit, but for now, we claim this mountain as our own.

Your aging mom and dad (or your lazy friends from college) are in town, and it's time to show them the sights of Arizona. But your guests are feeling about as mobile as a scorpion in a Lucite paperweight, and they claim to have little interest in nature. What to do? Try this painless, super-scenic triple-destination tour. Begin by motoring up to Prescott in the morning for some casual antiquing at the shops in Town Square. Then treat your company to lunch on Whiskey Row before piling them back into the car for the curvy drive across Alternate Route 89 and up toward the mountaintop town of Jerome. You don't have to stop the car to appreciate the vistas from Jerome, as you continue on into Sedona, where your guests can enjoy dinner at one of several red-rock eateries and one of the most magnificent sunsets in the world. Stop off at one of the ever-changing events at Sedona Cultural Park before heading back to the Valley with a carload of happy and well-entertained tourists.

Finding your canine a refuge from the maze of cars and hot sidewalks grows tougher with each new acre of concrete poured in the Valley. But one small section of canal bordering Paradise Valley and Phoenix is guaranteed to please your pooch -- and, more important, you -- and you'll only have to cross one major street -- 32nd Street -- to walk it. On the western end of this hike, views of the Biltmore and duck families gathering on the water will convince even the most hardened critic that Phoenix is still a stunning area. At sunset, the canal reflects a silhouetted skyline that begs to be compared to the Italian countryside, and on a fully moonlit night, the banks of the canal reflect the iridescence of its lunar light source. Caveat: While the city has thoughtfully provided educational markers denoting each native plant on this trail, it skipped the trash cans and doggy pickup bags. So bring your own scooper and doggy bag.

From the makers of the Chandler and Gilbert skate parks comes what Valley skaters desperately need: a nice, clean, cool indoor place to skateboard. This isn't a rink where you do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. It's a 21,000-square-foot state-of-the-art training site offering a street plaza, vertical ramps, bowls, decks, rails -- all the cool features at parks across the country that have been designed by SDG. This park also offers lessons and camps and hosts special events. Unlike its outdoor counterparts, it has an admission fee and designated open skating times. But, hey, that keeps the crowds down. And you can consider it insurance against heat exhaustion and lightning strikes during the desert's cruelest skating months.

We are duffers, every last one of us, and, as such, we deeply appreciate what club pros inevitably tell the media about their respective courses: "It's a tough-but-fair test of golf." We go for the fair part, which is why we love Encanto, a little gem of a track tucked away a few miles north of the State Capitol. We especially like the ninth hole, a longish par-4 with a fenced-in driving range to the left and a residential neighborhood to the right. Sand traps guard the hole on each side, and if you hit over the green, Godspeed to you. But if you do hit the little white ball long and straight twice (yeah, sure), you've got a chance for a par, depending on the pin placement. Every now and again, the evil groundskeeper will stick the hole on a ridge, where an ill-conceived stroke can lead to a four-putt. Now that's one place we've all been.

The fastest way to lose weight is to sweat it out in 100-plus-degree weather, while bouncing up and down on hot asphalt. Torture? Yes, but you can psych yourself out if you run fast and let yourself be distracted by the view on the scenic incline of the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area. The mile-and-a-half bike path winds through shaded areas dotted with boulders where you can stop to catch your breath. Heat stroke and dehydration aren't concerns: Drinking fountains appear at frequent intervals. Dreamy Draw, open from 5 a.m. 'til 10 every night, is your shortest and most visually pleasing route to cardiovascular success.

It's so hard to meet new friends, especially when you're hairy as a bear, with a wet nose and a predilection for sniffing butts. What's a dog to do?

Thank goodness for Chaparral Park, with its fenced, 1.3 acres of lush grass, trees and, on any given day, as many as 150 pets with people. Here's where our pampered pooches come to mix, mingle and, yes, sniff butts, with fellow canines enjoying a taste of off-leash freedom. The park's open until 9 p.m. daily, and it's usually packed around 7:30 p.m. Our pup's been socialized, so he knows how to behave with his new buds (no fighting, no biting).

And if we're lucky, we just might find a new friend of our own, too. Someone who loves pets as much as we do -- but no butt sniffers need apply.

Okay, so this isn't the "Best of Eloy" issue -- but there's no zoning for dropping pedestrians from the sky in our fair city. Anyway, Eloy isn't that far away (halfway to Tucson), and it's got what it claims is the "world's largest skydiving center," with nearly 200,000 annual jumps. Skydive Arizona is also the favorite hangout for Valley skydivers for one particular reason: It has a bar. Not to mention a swimming pool, air-conditioned packing area, skydiving school, three landing areas, gear shop, restaurant, $5-per-night bunkhouse and volleyball court. To get there, take Interstate 10 east to Exit 198, turn left, drive seven miles, then go left on Tumbleweed Road. The uninitiated can take a tandem jump for $140, while lifts for the certified (or is that certifiable?) start at $17. Just chute me!

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