Best West-Side Park 2002 | The White Tank Mountain Regional Park | Fun & Games | Phoenix
A stunning stand of increasingly rare saguaro cactus welcomes visitors to Maricopa County's largest park, totaling 29,217 acres of rugged mountains with ragged ridges separated by deep canyons. Infrequent, heavy rains pouring down chutes and plunging over cliffs have scoured out a series of depressions in white granite -- creating a series of "tanks."

About 21 miles of trails are available for mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking with difficulty ranging from easy to strenuous. The Waterfall Trail offers .4 mile of barrier-free access to the Petroglyph Plaza.

The park has a unique 10-mile "competitive track" designed for cross-country runners and joggers, endurance bike riders and galloping equestrians. Family and group camping sites are available on first-come basis for $10 a night. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a $5-per-vehicle entry fee.

The White Tanks provide a priceless respite from the relentless expansion of the metropolitan area that is now lapping up against the park's eastern and northern boundaries.

To get there, exit on Cotton Lane from Interstate 10 and go north to Olive Road. Go west on Olive to the park entrance.

It's a quick jaunt, but it offers a little bit of everything that you're looking for when you're lighting out to the desert to spend an hour or two with nature. The Ahwatukee trailhead of South Mountain Preserve offers lots of options for the hiker -- from the flat Desert Classic (favored mainly by mountain bikers) to the arduous National (for the self-detesting) -- but the 1.5-mile Telegraph Pass is the clear winner when it comes to compromise.

Just to start you off easy, the first undulating half-mile is paved, rolling up and down in small sine curves until it empties out at the meeting point with the Desert Classic. Veer left and suddenly you're in flavor country -- a craggy but flat trail that creeps along the base of a long rock outcrop. At about the halfway point, things then take an interesting turn: upward. Now you're hoofing it into the sandstone, crabbing along an upslope and eventually hucking up ersatz staircases that have been hewed out of the hillside. And just as your pulse reaches cardio level, there you are: Telegraph Pass, right along a rise on South Mountain Drive. Sit on the bench and watch the lazy lunkers drive by. Then have a drink of water and begin stepping down into the flatlands, where your oven-hot car awaits. Now, aren't you glad you took that hour to commune with nature?

There are a hundred reasons to hike up Pinnacle Peak. First, the scenery is breathtaking, high Sonoran Desert in all its glory. Second, there's variety. Besides hiking trails over 150 acres, there are three rock-climbing areas. Third, there's the feeling of victory if we make it to the top of the 3,171-foot peak. Fourth, it's nice to know that the main 1.75-mile hiking trail is less demanding than our two most popular mountains, Camelback and Squaw Peak.

Reasons five through 100: flat-out snubbing-the-snooty satisfaction. Since 1994, the park has been closed to us regular folk, commandeered by a developer building the upscale Estancia home community. The fencing was supposed to be temporary; new homeowners refused to take it down, citing concern over riffraff (that's us) coming too close to their manicured yards. Finally, this spring, Scottsdale parks planners woke up and returned our park to the people.

It's hard to hike and thumb our noses at the same time, but hey, we're willing to bet the effort burns extra calories.

Who needs reality TV when you can be out getting a cardiovascular workout on Squaw Peak? We've traveled up other more vigorous hiking trails and found people too tired to dish the poo. We've tried easy walking trails where it's too hard to keep pace with a pack of gossiping secretaries. This trail has the perfect balance of physical challenges and audible mental breakdowns.

You'll get more mother-in-law gripes than a borscht belt comedian convention, more upper-management-bashing than a bound volume of Dilbert cartoons. And as an added bonus, you'll get 75 percent more inane chatter about tapping into your personal potential than a 30-day Tony Robbins cassette course -- without the incessant smiling.

Plus there are the human oddities, like the midday New Age guru who hikes with bells, the perfumed and fully made-up professionals who never sweat, and this one guy whose body odor actually resembles bacon and eggs! Don't delay. Get off your ass and join in!

It easily could have wound up as just another 75 acres of concrete jungle, but instead the old Phoenix Indian School grounds now include a 2.5-acre lake and a neighborhood park with a playground and volleyball courts. The 1,500-seat amphitheater housed the city's summer concert series this year, including free steel drum and Brazilian jazz performances, and even a performance by our favorite local jazz musician, Margo Reed. An entry garden is marked by walls made of old sidewalk from the original Indian School, and throughout the park you'll find tributes to Native American culture. This project was more than a decade in the making, with heated negotiation from City Hall all the way up to the U.S. Congress. For a change, our leaders did the right thing. Thanks.

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