BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO GOLF SINCE THE CREATION OF THE 19TH HOLE

BlueBallSports' "Putt-Her"

Chris Wehrle and his mom, Candy Phelps, are at the top of our "Wish I'd Thought of That" list, thanks to their Putt-Her golf club, which is flying out of pro shops across the land. The Putt-Her, like those old stag-party ballpoint pens, displays a bikini-clad woman when you tip it over. Although Mom, a retired peddler of golf attire, nixed the idea of the Putt-Her's shapely model winding up naked when you upend her, the duo's company, BlueBallSports, is hoping to introduce an all-nude stick featuring porn star Jenna Jameson one day soon. In the meantime, they've hit a hole-in-one with a photo of a local Polish babe, not to mention a deep understanding of the relationship between the birdies and the bees.
Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club
Serious racqueteers are unanimous in their praise of the Scottsdale Athletic Club. The enterprise began decades ago as the Scottsdale Tennis Club and over the years has evolved into a full-fledged tennis, fitness and dining/banquet facility. The club's pride and joy are its 11 immaculate courts, each featuring a lighting system that is the equal of any tennis center in the Southwest. This is the place where the touring pros come to practice.

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
Phoenix Rock Gym's personable owner Paul "Dief" Diefenderfer has been scaling the big buttes around Arizona for 30 years -- he favors Pinnacle Peak and the giant domes of Cochise Stronghold near Tucson -- and he designed his indoor rock gym, now situated just across from the APS power plant on University Drive in Tempe, as a small-scale replica of his favorite canyons, cliffs, crags and crevices.

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!"

Perhaps because of its proximity to the hugely popular -- and stunning -- Peralta trailhead, this newish (c. 2001) trail seldom gets its props as one of the Valley's best. Don't make the same mistake. A 10-mile trek along the edge of the Superstitions, the Lost Goldmine Trail brings a hiker close to both giant saguaros and stunning mountain views without a grueling uphill trek. Unlike the Peralta, too, the parking is free and the release from the burdens of civilization is total: On this trail, you won't be bothered by an endless stream of dog walkers and Boy Scouts, pushing their way to the summit. For most of the hike, we're betting you'll find yourself blissfully, wonderfully alone.
Reavis Ranch Trail
There are 170 miles of trails through the Superstition Mountains, which, by far, give hikers the most intense Sonoran Desert experiences within an hour of Phoenix.

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.

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Most people would stop at "shabby" when describing Papago Park, but we think it's one of the coolest and most underutilized hiking areas in the Valley. Yes, the Phoenix city park is something of a faded dowager; yes, it's trashy; yes, the pea-green muckhole generously termed a pond looks as if it might spontaneously combust; and no, the hiking here doesn't require the technical skills of Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain. However, if you venture out of the more visited areas of the park, you'll find a lovely remnant of Sonoran Desert squeezed between ever-encroaching Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. You might even encounter a coyote, a diamondback or a Gila monster, and you're almost guaranteed to see a jackrabbit or a baby cottontail gallivanting through the scrub that dots the desert washboard. Perhaps most important, you'll be all by your lonesome, save the occasional mountain biker whizzing by on your left.

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 . . .

South Mountain Park and Preserve
Within a mile of all sorts of fast-food restaurants in Ahwatukee, you and the kids can set off on the Telegraph Pass Trail and quickly feel like you've left civilization. This one-and-a-half-mile trail offers fantastic views of the Valley as well as gorgeous desert flora and fauna, rugged Sonoran terrain and even a few petroglyphs. And when you're done, suburbia is right around the corner, handy for refreshing post-hike hungry kids. Which means you can have a great outdoor experience in South Mountain Park in a quick couple of hours, then be back in the indoors before the heat hits.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
Boyce Thompson Arboretum is gorgeous and deeply informative any time of the year. But only in fall, as you walk the 1.5-mile path through the steep-walled Queen Creek Canyon, do you pass through hundreds of different tree species from ecosystems around the world changing colors together. It's a palette seen in few places on Earth. And surprisingly, most visitors come to the Arboretum in spring, leaving the paths fairly quiet during this spectacular show.

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.

Picacho Peak State Park
Late February and early March is wildflower season in Arizona, something many locals had forgotten until the rains returned last winter, bringing the desert's incredible flowers this past spring.

One of the most spectacular shows of color, and one of the most easily accessed, is Picacho Peak State Park 60 miles south of Phoenix, which, if you didn't know, is that giant solitary mountain you nearly run into on your way to Tucson.

During peak wildflower season, drivers along I-10 have been known to stop along the freeway to gaze at the outbreak of Mexican gold poppies along the mount's eastern slope.

This isn't smart. Better to come into the state park and take one of several trails allowing you to stroll amid the yellow-orange meadows.

At which point you'll realize the poppies aren't alone. A host of other beautiful, albeit more subtle, flowers dot the historic peak throughout the spring.

The park is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The trails close at sunset.

The narrow, serpentine Apache Trail cuts through deserts, around mountains, near cliff dwellings, along the shores of three lakes dammed up along the Salt River, past active copper-mining towns, and through beautifully eroded canyons. It's easy to see why this gorgeous 120-mile route has been a favorite of tourists since its completion in 1922.

President Teddy Roosevelt described the route as "one of the most spectacular, best-worth-seeing sights in the world." It's a gem no matter what time of year, although late summer can pose extra hazards from monsoon rains and washouts. The drive is doable by passenger car, but is best done in an SUV. The descent down a narrow gravel road into Fish Creek Canyon is one you'll never forget, and is guaranteed to scare the wits out of Aunt Minnie from Queens. Your guests may want to slit your throat before you reach historic Roosevelt Dam, but by the end of the day they will sing your praises for taking them on the drive of a lifetime.

To get there from Apache Junction, go north on State Route 88 toward Apache Lake. The paved road becomes a graded gravel surface after Tortilla Flat, a tourist trap with all the usual goodies but no pay phone. The less adventurous may want to turn around here. Otherwise, continue to Roosevelt Lake and take State Route 188 toward the twin copper towns of Miami and Globe. Go west on U.S. 60, and be prepared for a wild two-lane mountain road through Devil's Canyon, the Queen Creek Tunnel and on into Superior.

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