This is heady stuff, and certainly debatable. Better than Troon North? The Boulders? Grayhawk? That's like saying Ferrari is better than Lamborghini. It's more a matter of taste than quality.
But for a weekend golf getaway from Phoenix, especially in July or August, particularly if you're not a trust-fund kid, Apache Stronghold is a hands-down winner. It is a lovely course in a lovely high rangeland setting 3,000 feet above the Valley.
Apache Stronghold, part of the Apache Gold Casino/Resort complex east of Globe on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, is probably better suited for the under-10-handicap golfer. The San Carlos Tribe offers great stay-and-play deals throughout the year. As for the course, not only is it long, at about 7,500 yards from the black tees, but most every shot is greeted with a brain-grating risk/reward scenario.
Expect to shoot poorly and love it.
Non-members are welcome for lessons and clinics by club pro Jarek Jabczynski, a world-ranked player and member of the Polish Davis Cup team.
And no, we don't know how many Polish tennis players it takes to win a Davis Cup match.
Phoenix Rock Gym was the first indoor climbing facility in the state, and still carries the most cred with the outdoor extremists. On weeknights, once the kids have cleared out, the 15,000-square-foot mini-canyon is filled with Dief's pro bouldering buddies. But the 17-foot overhang in the spacious beginners' area is designed to bring home the thrill of the big-time climb to the lil' lowlanders. "The kids love it, 'cause when you fall, you kind of swing out, and go for a ride," Dief says. "As long as you've got a rope on, falling is fun!"
One of the longest, meanest and most rewarding hikes in the Superstitions begins at the Reavis Ranch Trailhead. From this trailhead, you can work yourself deep into the wilderness and onto several of the area's most scenic walks.
Twelve miles in, in Roger's Canyon, you'll reach one of the finest Salado cliff dwellings in the region. Vandals apparently aren't willing to hike 24 miles round-trip. The cliff dwellings are in pristine shape.
Obviously, this is not a hike for the weak or ill-prepared. Take all precautions necessary for a long, difficult hike in the desert. There are many switchbacks, washouts, sharp drop-offs, sharp rocks and other obstacles that make this trip not only one of the most beautiful in the area, but also the most dangerous.
Oh, how we hate to give this away, but here's our usual route (which is, by the way, unmarked and unnamed): After parking at the landmark known as Hole-in-the-Rock, head west by northwest toward the Big Buttes on McDowell Road. After you cross Galvin Parkway and close on the Buttes, you'll strike a trail that takes you gently around them, or you can path-find your way over them, which is technically quite challenging and a heckuva lot more fun. Once past the Big Buttes, head due south toward Saddle Butte. Climb up to the saddle and then scramble down the other side. Head south by southeast across the washboard. Re-cross Galvin and head due east, where you'll soon find yourself in the Phoenix Zoo parking lot. Look to your left for the nuclear pond and follow its southern flank to another trail that borders the north side of the zoo. Your next landmark -- no, it's not a desert mirage -- is the odd-duck pyramid, situated incongruously upon a small butte, which houses the corpse of Arizona's first governor, George W.P. Hunt. From the pyramid, look north toward Hole-in-the-Rock and set your star by it.
We usually finish with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Valley from atop the Rock, followed by a windows-down, moon-roof-up, stereo-blasting drive on Galvin, the Valley's only truly crooked street. Ah, but that's another story . . .
The 323-acre Arboretum, founded in the 1920s by mining magnate Colonel William Boyce Thompson, is the state's oldest and largest botanical garden. And beyond that, it's arguably the state's greatest place for a leisurely stroll.
This year, thanks to plentiful rains, the colors should be particularly beautiful. Arboretum officials estimate the peak color season will be from November 20 through December 5.
Thanksgiving weekend, the Arboretum will be hosting its annual fall color festival with music, storytellers, apple cider and numerous guided tours. It's a great event for families with guests in town for the holidays.