BEST CHEAP THRILL 2006 | Arizona Falls | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Ask Phoenix newbies what they miss most after moving to the desert, and, whether they say Seattle's rain, Michigan's lakes, or California's beaches, the common denominator is usually water. Which is why this way-cool waterfall, a collaboration by Salt River Project, the Phoenix Art Commission, and the Arcadia neighborhood, is just the place to take 'em. Stand here on a summer night with the spray of the falls hitting your face, and you'd swear you were at a mini-Niagara. Only a little warmer. The site housed the first hydroelectric plant in the city, and now you can see the antique gears through walls of water part of a public art project created by Boston artists Lajos Heder and Mags Harries (they did those Squaw Peak pots that made such a stir, years ago). Today, the falls generate enough hydraulic electricity to power 150 homes. Now that's a cheap thrill!
Most everyone has dreamed of skydiving. But the gap between dream and actually jumping out of some plane at 13,000 feet above Arizona can be, um analogy, please? Yes, of course, as big as the gap between you and the ground you're terrified of being pancaked on. This first jump, seemingly a jump to oblivion, must be handled by gentle, competent, cool people to make it the pleasure you imagine beyond the terror you imagine. This is why Skydive Arizona is the place to go if you want to feel safe (or as safe as one can feel) about death-defiance. The staff here seems hand-picked for vibe: very cool, very smart. The equipment used, from aircraft to parachutes, is topnotch and clearly well-maintained. Here you feel the love for the sport, the love for the spiritual renewal and brainpan-frying buzz of free fall. Now, remember, that's just our opinion. We haven't performed any inspections or anything. But we're not alone in our adulation. Skydivers writing into, the leading Web site for skydiving reviews, chose Skydive Arizona hands-down over other skydiving companies in the state. Of 24 reviewers, from novices to experts, Skydive Arizona had an average of five stars per rating. Yes, everyone who went there (at least, everyone who went there and reviewed it on loved the experience. Other Arizona companies seemed pressed to get one five-star rating. It will cost you $189 on weekdays or $199 on weekends for a first-time tandem training jump. For this jump, your instructor will be with you through the entire experience. For the more advanced skydiver, solo jumps cost only $79. And beyond the jump itself, the Skydive Arizona campus is a joy somewhat austere, but clean and functional. Hanging out here for coffee or drinks afterward can be as much fun as the drop. Well, okay, no, not quite as fun.
We're all for physical fitness (uh . . . in theory, at least), but the treadmill is so damn boring, and lifting weights is for meatheads. So we're stoked on the workout we can get dangling 30 feet in the air at Phoenix Rock Gym. The first trip to the top of the wall is a little scary, but it feels pretty sweet to look down and realize you actually climbed a wall. The best part about this gym which offers 15,000 square feet of climbing surface is the fact that no experience is necessary to climb. And once you get over the awkward feeling of strapping into the harness, you'll realize even a baby can do it. We mean that: Children as young as 2 years old are welcome to climb. For experienced climbers looking for a challenge, the gym offers walls up to 5.13 skill level (for all you non-climbers out there, that translates to "really hard"). That's neat and all, but we'll stick to the beginners' wall for now until we can develop that elusive thing called upper-body strength.
Enough, already it's time to get out of the rock gym and climb outdoors. We know indoor climbing walls are fun, but they are to climbing what stationary bikes are to cycling. And there's no better first climb to conquer than Praying Monk. Camelback Mountain is right in the middle of the Valley, meaning that if you really screw up, there are plenty of hospitals and a nearby fire station filled with friendly, trained mountain rescue professionals. But don't worry, the toughest part of your day will probably be finding a parking spot in the tiny lot at Echo Canyon, off McDonald Drive. The Monk is a freestanding, leaning tower of ancient congealed mud, tinted red like the rest of Camelback. A short scramble gets you to the Monk's plateau; the often-shaded, boulder-strewn cubby at the base is a good place to don your climbing shoes. The east face route is bolted so you don't need much gear, just one rope and some quick-draws, which are two carabiners connected to a bit of sewn webbing. Life on the "sharp end" of the rope, as leading is sometimes called, can be a bit unnerving because there's no rope already fixed at the top to catch you when you come off the rock. But the bolts are close together, and you won't run into any life-or-death decisions. A lead fall here, unlikely as that is for a competent climber, would be perfect practice for a more serious climb. You will, however, be mesmerized by the exposure. Your heels will stick out over a hundred feet of air as you look for embedded pebbles to grasp for finger-holds on the orange-pink, not-quite-vertical face. Gym rats should take a good look around as they go up this is real climbing. A pleasurable, free-hanging rappel brings the climbing party back down to earth. You've now graduated from lead school. Next stop: K2.
Mountains must be climbed because they are there, but some people also feel compelled to stand on all big, pointy things. Show us any rock tower, pinnacle, cone or spire and we'll find a photo of someone showing off on top of the damned thing. So we understand if you've been looking with desire at Weaver's Needle, a stubby finger of rock rising 1,000 feet from the desert floor in the Superstition range. You've seen it from Fountain Hills or your drives up the Beeline to Payson, and you've wondered if it were possible to climb. Well, don't hold back. It's not that technical, except for one part in the middle that requires climbing gear and a couple of ropes for safety. Anyone with strong hiking legs, a bit of climbing expertise and a lot of chutzpah can bag the summit. Take U.S. 60 to Peralta Road, then hike Peralta Trail up and over the saddle to the base of the Needle. From there, it's an ugh-fest up the steep slope to a gully that bisects the giant lump of rock. This is a good place to get a drink and rest up for the summit push. (In fact, if it's the middle of summer, you'll need a cooler of cold drinks and even then, beware of heat stroke.) A long, easy rock climbing pitch up past a big chockstone gets climbers to the fun part a couple hundred feet of unroped ascension on easy vertical terrain. Easy and potentially deadly. If you fell near the top, you'd have time to open a parachute before you hit the ground. But you won't fall, right? You'll be having lunch on the grandest, pointiest summit in the Valley. And if you can't get enough of the sublime view, there's enough room to throw out some sleeping mats and spend the night. Sweet dreams!
Don't be alarmed if you happen to hear indecipherable nerd babble echoing off the fluorescent bathed hallways of ASU's Bateman Physical Science building. That's because Physics and Astronomy graduate students are high off cool neutrons and totally hot electrons during the department's free open house. Every last Friday of the month from September through November and February through April, the public can participate in high-energy physics demonstrations and attend presentations on cosmic hot topics ranging from the search for new planets to trans-Neptunian solar system discoveries. After receiving tutelage on light prisms and cosmic energy fields, stroll out to the fifth-floor observation deck, where up to 10 portable eight-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector telescopes are zoomed on eye-popping Milky Way stars, moons, and planets. Pray for clear skies and commence stargazing, space cadet.


Central Boxing Club

Don't be intimidated if you see Mike Tyson working out nearby, because what the Central Boxing Club is more about is honing the pugilistic skills of average folks. Really. Iron Mike and other big-name fighters, including Julio Cesar Chavez, have trained at the club. But the main emphasis of general manager Harwood Hamilton, a former champion on the Toughman non-professional boxing circuit, is providing everyday clients (he has about 150 so far) around Phoenix with an exercise routine that will not only keep them in formidable shape but will give them the confidence to walk the mean streets of P-town with a definite swagger. He calls it his "motivational fitness program." The workout is open to almost everybody (children 8 and above must have the permission of their parents), and the day we were there, a couple of middle-age ladies were bobbing and weaving with the gloves on. After you've worked up to it that is, done your time on the numerous punching bags around the gym, plus mastered jump-roping you will enter the ring with the affable Tony Roberts of the boxing-workout circle. And though he's built like a compact NFL running back, Harwood Hamilton won't hurt you much. He'll train you to handle yourself with your fists. And we can tell you from experience that boxing is one of the best full-body workouts available right up there with swimming and sex, only it streamlines your reflexes as a bonus. Prices range from $130 to $210 a month, depending on how much intensity you can stand. A couple of Hamilton's clients we talked to considered this a bargain, considering they were getting into peak shape while learning how to (God forbid they will have to, but you never know in the big city) throw a punch. Don't be put off by the seedy location; there are plenty of muscle-bound guys around for security. Also, the venerable gym's been refurbished with murals of great fighters outside and to the extent that you could eat off the floor inside. No smell of sweaty jockstraps here.
Even with the revived popularity of ballroom dancing, thanks to reality television, it's no surprise that we found the best ballroom dancing in Sun City, a town where "flashing" involves showing a guy your AARP card, and "bar hopping" means getting up to order a brandy without using your walker. Every Thursday through Sunday, Lou's Tivoli Gardens hosts dine-and-dance night, where grannies get blitzed on wine and strut their sagging stuff on the dance floor. Latin keyboardist Manuel Dorantes performs most evenings. If you can suffer through requests for "Tea for Two" and "Beer Barrel Polka," it's the best place in town to learn how to fake it at your cousin's wedding.
With NASCAR and Formula One on such a posh high these days, it's good to know that them good ol' boys are still holding down the redneck racing fort at "The Track That Action Built." Instead of mega-corporate sponsors and luxury suites garnished with shrimp and fine wines, Manzy offers $2 bean burros, cheap beer, and free dirt clods in the eyes. Since 1951, some of the biggest players in racing lore have spun their wheels here at one time or another: A.J. Foyt, Bobby and Al Unser, Mario Andretti, and local legend Wild Bill Cheesbourg, who successful competed at the Indy 500 for 10 years. Watch eight racing classes scream around the half-mile and quarter-mile dirt tracks, including midgets, sprints, modifieds, and dwarfs. The track's signature event is the 150-lap Bomber Enduro exhaust-a-thon, in which 70 cars bump, grind, and peel their way to the finish. Manzy ain't gonna stop hootin' and hollerin' anytime soon.
Okay, so it's all just a fantasy. But we've seen this particular fantasy the one about becoming a world-class NASCAR competitor taking the checkered flag at some super-cool international drag race overtake even our stuffiest friends. There's something about the thrill of zipping around Speedway Raceway's curvy quarter-mile indoor track in a 270cc Honda-powered Indy-style go-kart that morphs us into a hairpin-turn-hugging speed demon doing 1.5 lateral G's on a quarter-mile track. Speedway is open 365 days a year so that the kid in all of us (although real kids ages 8 to 14 drive Speedway Junior Karts) can catch a thrill-a-minute raceway high any day we want one. And we're off!

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of