BEST HISTORY LESSON CLEVERLY DISGUISED AS A PARK 2005 | Steele Indian School Park | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
A surprisingly big city park at the intersection of Central Avenue and Indian School Road, four-year-old Steele Indian School Park has a little something for everyone: swings for the kids, a lake with trout and bass for anglers, and a very cool spiral of a garden for quiet reflection.

But the best part of the park has got to be its legacy: From 1891 to 1990, it held a boarding school for Native American kids (hence the name), the main buildings of which are still on site today. While the buildings are waiting for restoration funds to turn them into a Native American cultural center and museum, the city has done an excellent job putting up historical information for people who are interested. Ambling from the covered bridge to the old buildings, you'll get a good sense of what life was like in the school just by reading the placards. Think of it as a free museum -- that just happens to have swings, too.

If you're unfamiliar with the quasi-sport of ice blocking -- the act of locating a steep hill, plopping your bum down on a big block of ice and getting a push from a friend in order to bobsled silly down a grassy hill -- you really haven't lived. Or maybe you are actually sane.

Epic ice-blocking opportunities are aplenty at Gilbert's 100-acre Freestone Park. For an evening of slip-sliding adventure, wander down toward the west end of the park. There you will find hills of varying grades and skill levels for both the newbie desert bobsledder and the technically skilled Olympian-in-training.

Ice is available at your local Circle K.

Wouldn't you know it? Turn your back for one minute, and some mysterious bicycle bandit has snatched the phat beach cruiser you use to get around town. Looks like you're gonna have to beat feet down to Domenic Malvestuto's Mill Avenue bike business to score a new ride. Willing to drop a couple Gs? The helpful staff of cycle psychos might recommend choosing from their assortment of high-end two-wheelers like the Trek Madone 5.9 ($4,500), Orbea Orca ($3,999), or the Cannondale Optimo R-1000 ($1,800).

More salt-of-the-earth pedal pushers can also peruse the collection of more affordably priced used bikes out back, available for less than a C-note. And if you're only interested in souping up your Schwinn or customizing your Colnago, the shop has a vast selection of nearly every type of bicycle accessory imaginable, from pedometers and CO2 inflators to freewheel removers and crotch-hugging apparel for both men and women. Just remember to buy a lock this time.

Pulse, which this summer celebrated its first anniversary in what owner Erik Beckmann predicts will be the Valley's next extreme-sports mecca -- Goodyear ("It's blowin' up out here!" he says) -- strikes the perfect medium between the hard-core street cred of Cowtown and the board-park mom friendliness of the industrial mall shops.

"I like to say, 'We put the core in corporate,'" quips Beckmann, an old-school skater himself, who welcomes the skate punks to hang out and watch the latest rad DVDs but doesn't invite them to veg by nixing the couch and lounge area in favor of a girl-friendly fashion section. His shop, featuring all the requisite pro boards and his own budget Pabst-label-aping Pulse line, also boasts the coolest dressing room in town: a huge corrugated steel tube outfitted with a door and hangers by Beckmann's handyman dad. Tubular!

The city's outdoor skate parks have become a battlefield of sorts between young and old skateboarders and even BMX bike riders, who all want to claim the turf as their own. One thing they all seem in agreement on is that the sprawling concrete playground occupying a corner of the Snedigar Sportsplex in Chandler, just south of the Bashas' headquarters in a largely agricultural section of town, has the best variety of bowls, jumps, dips and flips to please anyone on wheels. Veteran boarders may cringe at the sight of all the helmeted, knee-padded grade-schoolers who typically rule the pools, but the overall atmosphere is big-brotherish, with the big kids in baseball caps high-fiving the little ones in bright orange Vigor helmets and offering tips to keep them from tumbling in their paths -- a setup that benefits old and new skaters alike.
While Tempe's city government was very late to acknowledge its local skating scene, it delivered a winner with this new park, which opened in February. Area skaters are raving about the street-oriented course, saying it is by far the best in the state. Spread across 26,000 square feet, the well-lighted concrete park is attracting the top skaters in the region on a regular basis.

And no wonder: The park has various shapes and sizes of rails, ledges and stairs to give skaters a true street experience, as well as a large bowl with a pyramid and a cool vert wall and pool coping. A word of warning: Too bad Tempe didn't set up shade screens, because the place roasts in the summer. No pads are required here, and water and restrooms are available on site.

Skateboarding might not be a crime, but those damn punks seem to always find ways to get busted. Thankfully, Phoenix has the state's only indoor park at Metrocenter, where kids can skate 40 hours a week for less than the cost of a trespassing citation. To shred through Phoenix Skatepark's 36,000 square feet of pipes, bowls and street courses -- not to mention the rails and ledges -- kids can skate for four solid hours for $10, eight hours for $12, or spend $25 to skate for the whole week inside an air-conditioned facility that requires those under 18 to wear a helmet and pads at all times -- and keeps the cops at bay.
Many of the Valley's outdoor paintball parks look like glorified junkyards, littered with precisely the kind of old industrial waste barrels and weathered wooden fortresses your mother would've warned you not to play on -- which, of course, is part of the appeal. But at Westworld's indoor Xtreme Pursuit, a cavernous warehouse stuck in the shadow of the Grand Avenue overpass on West Camelback Road, the two fields are stocked with tournament-quality inflatable cylinders, cones, and "tombstones" made of the same vulcanized material used in heavy-duty river rafts. The refs can be cool or cruel, depending on their attitude of the day, but most are well-trained in airgun repair -- a plus -- and can fix a jammed cocker, impy or timmy faster than your opponents can reload their paint. Hard-core ballers, who universally praise the fully stocked pro shop, may bemoan the family-friendly facility's overabundance of youngsters and noobs. But hey, that just gives you more easy targets to practice on.
The dedicated pay-to-spray parks around the city all offer their own unique charms, bunkers and hiding spots. But these days the serious splatter-junkies stock up on their own paintball guns, paint, air and wear, and head out north of Phoenix on Cave Creek Road until just beyond the canal overpass, where a winding ride on a bumpy dirt path takes you to a somewhat forbidden (the paved stretch of Jomax is usually gated closed by highway patrollers) outdoor paradise for go-carters, ATV-ers, remote-control model-plane enthusiasts and, lately, paintballers. Here, amid nature's peerless assortment of rocks, hills, cactuses and the occasional manmade tire fortress, outlaw paintballers create their own version of the painted desert on a weekend basis. Just keep an eye out for Smokey.
The operative word here is "monthly." While there are a few ringers and rabid pinheads lurking about with their death-head balls and pro-style gear, the demographic of this nifty league tends toward amateur to midlevel bowlers with little time to spare. (Speaking of sparing, we recently witnessed a lanky young lady heft an air ball halfway down the lane, where it landed with a thunderous crack and somehow proceeded to take out the remaining three pins in her second frame. She clapped her hands and screamed with delight. We winced.)

The SNL season runs from September through July on the second Saturday of each month, with a "sweeps" contest in the August slot. Practice starts at approximately 6:45 p.m., and live balls roll at 7. Each team has four members, and one must be female. The cost is $26 per person up-front to cover the first and last weeks, $13 for each month thereafter (not counting the cost of shoe rental and other incidentals).

The SNL atmosphere is loose and fun, with much more camaraderie and friendly competition than you'll find in a weekly league. And -- most important -- the beer's cold and cheap.

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