When we want to experience a real celestial celebration, we head for Starlab, where the Challenger Space Center hosts totally cool interactive stargazing programs using high-powered telescopes. Our night consists of a slide presentation on the constellations and planets, with news on upcoming sky events, and stories of the night sky featuring folklore and mythology from different cultures. If we're as hungry for food as we are for knowledge, we can snack on hot dogs, chips and soda while we wonder about our place in the universe. Often, too, we stop in for special traveling shows, like the NASA Space Weather Exhibit; the Kalusa Miniature Aircraft Exhibit; the Space Toys Exhibit; and the Hubble Telescope Exhibit. Baby, we're going to the moon!

This Chandler public skate park, established in 1998, is one of the finest concrete parks in the western United States. Its seamless flow makes for a smooth ride, and its rails and ledges all line you up for a good run. Every transition in the place is perfect, and the coping is smooth as hell. The street area is great with a pyramid in the middle that's got a real good rail on it, and good corners. A couple humps help you maintain some speed, and there's a bank to ledge with a lot of possibilities. Ledges of all different sizes surround the entire street course, and there's a long kinked handrail-type thing. The park also has three great bowls, including a gnarly bowl with a spine, a volcano and a vert section, which is great to carve around in.

The park is free and no pads are required. There's never any BMXers to worry about, and the annoying little blader kids are easy to avoid because this is a 32,000-square-foot facility. The park, near Alma School and Ocotillo, is open from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.

The boss just yelled at us. Again. We've got too much work, and don't want to do any of it anyway. When we're in this mood, instead of pulling out an Uzi, we go to Steele Indian School Park. There, nestled on one of the city's busiest intersections, is peace and calm. We can wander by the Circle of Life monument in the heart of the park, linger by its centerpiece water cistern, and read poetry etched into its side that explains the history of Native Americans in Arizona. We decompress as we cross the Arbor Bridge, strolling into the 15-acre Entry Garden with its spiraling walkway that gradually descends down into a trail of contemplation and meditation. We soften as we read Native American poems etched into the concrete, and absorb the beauty of native desert plants adorning the path. Around us are historic buildings, currently under renovation, dating from 1901; a 15-acre Neighborhood Park with a playground, basketball courts and volleyball courts; a full-symphony amphitheater; and a 2.5-acre bird-shaped lake. It's quiet -- the park is so new that nobody really goes here yet. That's fine. We've discovered it. And with that, we've discovered serenity.

If we were an animal, we'd like to be pampered by the gentle folk at Wildlife World Zoo, which since 1984 has seen its collection grow to some 1,300 animals (that's Arizona's largest family of exotic creatures). We're proud that the place is honored by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association as one of the two nationally accredited privately owned zoos in the United States. WWZ doesn't just put its panthers on display, it educates us about what makes each animal unique, and what we must do to preserve them. There are no concrete sidewalks, just natural caging, like a modern-day Noah's Ark of penguins, giraffes, zebras, tigers, oryxes, lions, deer, kangaroos, gibbon apes, monkeys, camels, white rhinos, white tigers, African lions, African wild dogs, maned wolves, lemurs and so much more. To WWZ, we say, you go, grrr!

Let us loose in this store, then jet us to Iraq. Two days later, we'll have Saddam's weapons of mass destruction . . . and Waldo. With more than one million maps, books and geographical items, this place can help you find anything, anywhere. It's got every corner of the world covered: U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps of Arizona, hiking trail maps, digital maps, GPS products and good old Inflate-A-Globes.

Indeed, customers can get map-happy on numerous levels: local (county road guides), state (topographic maps for all 50) and mile-high (World Aeronautical Charts). Considering the company's Phoenix Mapping Service publishes street atlases for Phoenix and Tucson and produces custom maps for government and businesses, surely this place can help you find your measly way to San Jose.

Just to the east of Tempe Town Lake, beyond a small rubber dam, a spectacular wetland is sprouting willows, cottonwoods and sycamores -- the mainstay of Southwest riparian areas. Effluent from Mesa's wastewater treatment plant flowing into the arid Salt River bed is being impounded by the Town Lake's east dam and fueling the fabulous resurgence of streamside life.

Drivers and passengers can catch glimpses of the emerging habitat from the sweeping ramps at the interchange of highways 101 and 202. The swath of greenery fuels the imagination of "what if" we restored the Salt River to even a fraction of its glorious past.

Among the birds assembling in the area are Great Egrets, which 100 years ago were close to extinction. Now the emblem of the National Audubon Society, the return of the graceful bird is a positive sign that, given a little money, water and time left alone, nature will provide all that is needed for wildlife to return to the Salt River Valley.

Just the location warrants major bike-shop cachet. Three blocks from Mill Avenue and ASU, Tempe Bicycle sits in the midst of the Valley's only bike-friendly and bike-conscious neighborhood.

Add to that owners Bud and Yvonne Morrison's 27 years in the bike business, and their longtime commitment to providing the widest selection of killer bikes and accessories, and you have what is easily the Valley's top bike store.

Beyond mere stuff, Tempe Bicycle also provides that perfect bike-shop atmosphere. It's dark, it smells of grease and just about every employee has some very bizarre, very cool tic in their personality. This is an organic cool, smart, eccentric, grassroots, which means this is a place to hang out if you love biking.

Readers' Choice: Tempe Bicycle

According to legend, in the 1870s, Jacob Waltz ("the Dutchman") was said to have located a lost gold mine, then stashed his booty of gold somewhere in what's now the park. Waltz died in 1891, and since then, many people have tried to find the Lost Dutchman's Mine. Many disappeared, met with foul play, or were found dead, contributing to the legend of the mountains.

Located in the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2,000 feet, the park is still hot in the day, but it cools off at night to blanket weather. A variety of hiking trails, campsites and picnic facilities are available, depending on how close you want to get to nature. We recommend the Siphon Draw Trail if you're into scenic hiking, or the less strenuous Discovery Trail, which features a wildlife pond.

The area is also pocketed with ancient cliff dwellings and caves. In case you want to go looking for the Dutchman's gold, most stories place the gold in the vicinity of Weaver's Needle. Happy prospecting.

The growing city we live in always seems to be in a state of building. With that comes a lot of noise and debris. And the traffic seems to be getting worse, too. Finding a quiet spot to sit and collect your thoughts seems like an impossible dream. Except that we have the Franciscan Renewal Center. The former tourist resort has been a place to retreat to for solace since the '50s. The lush and spacious gardens are the desert's version of Eden within our urban sprawl. Fountains trickle sweet melodies and the breeze whispers through the trees. Come sit, smell the flowers and remember that there is more to life than work, bills and responsibility. Relax and clear your mind in an oasis amidst the concrete jungle.

"We train hard for war. We pray harder for peace." The sign in the office reflects what the owners -- all former/active military personnel -- feel about warfare. Swat City offers the perfect family outing that incorporates teamwork, exercise and good sportsmanship. Teach your children valuable leadership skills while having fun. There are 10 fields of play to choose from, with five open for night play. Whether it be the Area 51 field, the ghost town, the pirates' ship or the castle, there is bound to be fun aplenty.

The owners are a rare breed of businessmen. They proudly donate 25 percent of the profits to aid the families of fallen men and women in the U.S. armed services.

If this place is good enough for the search and rescue team of the fire department, some SWAT teams and the anti-terrorist unit of the military, it's great for your kid.

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