At the city-supported Museo Chicano downtown, the gift shop is just about as big as the gallery space itself -- and for good reason. The wares on sale are oftentimes as gripping (sometimes more so, actually) as what's on display. Flashy fiesta flags hang overhead. Cigarette-chomping sugar skulls line the shelves. And dioramas of canny calaveras are the order of the day -- scenes of savvy-looking skeletons shooting pool, drinking booze, giving birth, hanging out on street corners.

Of course, el Museo also offers the requisite coffee-table books, art prints and gear dedicated to the supposed George and Martha of Mexican art, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. But in our opinion, it's the folk art that makes this place most firme.

Where else can you drive 35 miles on a four-lane, divided parkway in the middle of the afternoon and see only six other vehicles?

Long ago dubbed the "Road to Nowhere," the Sun Valley Parkway was built in the mid-1980s as the centerpiece of a real estate development project that collapsed in typical Arizona fashion. The only thing that has ever come true from all the real estate hype for the area now annexed by Buckeye is the parkway.

A sign stating "No Service Next 35 Miles" signals the start of the parkway that lies about 12 miles east of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, off Interstate 10. The sign also gives the green light to floor it, which we did. After a few minutes, the old truck wound up to 102 mph, not bad considering the 198,500 miles on the engine (1994 Dodge Dakota, V-6).

Besides the obvious temptation to ramp up the RPMs, the road is a favorite for cyclists with its wide shoulders and paucity of traffic. The parkway bisects the Hassayampa Plain, offering vast expanses of relatively untouched Sonoran Desert landscape marred only by a jangle of crisscrossing, high-tension power lines.

Amid talk of strikes and steroids, there are still a few baseball players you can hold up as shining role models to your kids.

Craig Counsell is the shiniest role model of the lot.

Undersized and undertalented, Counsell seems to have nothing going for him except heart, an undying work ethic and an exceptional understanding of the subtleties of baseball.

There are a lot of guys in Double A with more natural talent. But because he's Craig Counsell, he's a consistent big-league batter capable of playing any spot in the infield on any day with Gold Glove acumen.

And like the superstars, he always seems to pull out a hit when the Diamondbacks most need one. Unfortunately for the D-Backs and their fans, Counsell suffered an injury in August and will be unavailable for the postseason. Still, if the Snakes repeat as world champions this year, Counsell will have been one of the biggest contributors to their success.

Despite all the complaining and groaning about Sun Devil Stadium generated primarily by the hapless Arizona Cardinals, the facility remains one of the finest football venues in the country.

Yes, the toilets are old and concessions stands are limited, but for pure football fans, the proximity to the field and clean site lines can't be beat.

When the fans are fired up, the stadium generates a roar that spills down Mill Avenue and blots out the jets flying into Sky Harbor Airport. The stadium was built during Arizona State University's golden era of football under the direction of former coach Frank Kush, after whom the field is named.

It's a beautiful football stadium, plain and simple.

Despite the Cardinals' derisive feelings about Sun Devil Stadium, the National Football League Players Association last year named the stadium the fifth best facility in the NFL. If the Cardinals simply played a few night games in September and October, there would be no need for a new facility.

The Fiesta Bowl, which will host the national championship game this year at Sun Devil Stadium, will look back on its days at Sun Devil Stadium and realize those were the best of times.

"Walshie," as former Phoenix Coyotes captain Keith Tkachuk used to call him, has a sports nut's dream job: He gets to wander around America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark during professional hockey and baseball games, eyeing the action while hunting for the odd and colorful situation and character in the crowd on which to report. Immediately after the games (and between periods at the hockey rink), Walsh tosses a few quick questions at the athletes themselves, often with more than a hint of irreverence. That's the beauty of Walsh -- he obviously loves sports and knows baseball and hockey inside and out, but he refuses to take the games, or himself, too seriously.

Walsh's résumé has some noteworthy quirks: While attending the University of Arizona, he was team manager for the fabled 1988 basketball team that went to the Final Four. Then, in the early 1990s, his gutless bosses at KTAR radio fired him after he criticized the pathetic Arizona Cardinals from his vantage point as roving reporter. His public axing from the Evil Land of Bidwill turned out to be fortuitous, for Walsh and Valley sports fans alike.

Okay, so it's in Chandler. But Madstone Theaters -- a national chain of 20 cinemas that play predominantly independent and foreign films -- is a godsend in any neighborhood. Until last month, the Valley had gotten by with precious few full-fledged art movie houses, and if it weren't for Harkins Valley Art or Camelview, we'd never see a foreign or indie film at all. But Madstone is here to change all that. The company recently bought an abandoned AMC multiplex and transformed it into this six-screen, upscale cinema that showcases art house and foreign films, as well as documentaries and classic movies. Plush interiors and comfy seating may be a given, but when was the last time you went to a movie house with a concierge, or an art gallery, or a full-service cafe that serves sandwiches, coffee drinks, baked goods, and beer and wine? Madstone features revivals of recent hit indie films, as well as a digital movie screen that will bring live and interactive programming to the Valley.

As if that weren't enough, the company has launched Madstone Films, a new-style studio that funds new works by up-and-coming young filmmakers. Movie fans will want one of Madstone's annual membership kits, which offers discounted tickets and invitations to special screenings and receptions. Let's go to the movies!

As the Valley's arts organizations struggle for economic survival, we hold up associate conductor Robert Moody as a compelling reason to support the Phoenix Symphony. Were his orchestra reduced to a tin whistle and a secondhand set of bongos, we'd wager that Maestro Moody still could conjure an inspired performance to delight the most discerning listener. With eloquence and humor, he amiably explains the pieces he conducts, making classical music accessible -- and interesting -- even to symphonic novices.

And we can't help but notice how dapper he looks in his tuxedo (in fact, we're reasonably sure he never wears anything else). His credentials aren't bad, either: He's conducted at Carnegie Hall and lived in Austria, where he worked at the Landestheater Linz opera house. His current repertoire includes serving as chorus master for the Santa Fe Opera, conductor for the Oklahoma City Symphony's "Discovery" concert series and music director for the Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestra. Ah, a real Renaissance man.

Rock us, Amadeus.

DJ John Holmberg, along with his sidekicks, Brady Bogen and Beau Duran, have more or less saved KUPD from its longtime creep toward becoming WKRP.

Luckily for listeners, KUPD's management got bored with Dave Pratt too. In early September, they replaced him with the relatively young, inexperienced DJ from the floundering sort-of-alt-rock station The Zone.

The show started slowly thanks to 9/11 and KUPD's mistake of teaming Holmberg with a doormat of a Hooters girl for a sidekick. But as the new team jelled, and as laughing at edgy, dark, gloriously twisted jokes became okay again, the Morning Sickness took off.

Now Holmberg and crew are the second-highest-rated morning show in Phoenix behind Howard Stern. And their numbers have been just as good as, and sometimes better than, Pratt's, who had 20 years to build his audience.

Now Holmberg just needs to overcome Stern. It should happen. Day in, day out, Holmberg puts on a much better show.

Not every Valley municipal project is a boondoggle.

In its eight years in existence, the sprawling Peoria Sports Complex has become the northwest Valley's magnet for an incredible array of events. One weekend, you can see the Goo Goo Dolls, the next you can watch Japan's best professional baseball players duking it out on the Complex's numerous state-of-the-art baseball diamonds. Because of all the activity, the Complex, in the last three years, has become a draw for all sorts of hotels and restaurants.

You can watch Little Leaguers bashing it out most any weekend. Old guys can attend fantasy camps in which they get to play with their major league heroes. The facility even hosts an Easter egg hunt, besides numerous other community festivals. And it's home-team ground for the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres for Cactus League play.

More so than anywhere in the Valley, you can show up at the Peoria Sports Complex on any weekend and expect to be entertained.

It feels like everyone is cutting their vacation budget. If the kids are bummed because you aren't going to San Diego to escape the heat of summer, take heart. Try the Sonoran Splash plan at the très luxe Scottsdale Princess. The promotion features Dive-In Movies on a 12-foot-by-16-foot screen mounted at the pool, which is filled with inner tubes for wet viewing. Although the movie lineup is aimed at kids of all ages (e.g., Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Shrek, Beethoven's 4th), cocktails are available for adults floating on inner tubes.

Scheduled from June 22 through September 9, 2003, the Sonoran Splash includes lots of extras for parents, such as yoga classes and tennis clinics, and even free breakfasts for kids under 12. And no one of any age should miss the two water slides. At 186 feet and 199 feet, respectively, they are the largest of any resort in the state. Room rates begin at $129, with kids staying free in the parents' accommodation.

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