BEST HIKE IF YOU'VE GOT ALL DAY 2006 | Round trip on the National Trail | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
While not particularly challenging in a technical sense, the National Trail is one bad mutha if tackled from beginning to end and back. The round trip is approximately 20 miles, the equivalent of walking from 48th Street to 51st Avenue and then turning around and doing it in reverse. The best approach is from the east end, at the Pima Canyon trailhead off 48th Street in Ahwatukee. From there, the National gains about 500 feet in elevation, placing you on the main line atop the mountain. On your journey, you'll pass some of the trail's major landmarks The Tunnel, Fat Man's Pass before hitting another ascent, this one a moderately difficult 500- to 750-footer that takes you to the very top of the range near the Antenna Array. After you stop to catch your breath, head toward the Rock Shelter on the next peak over. Once there, it's clear and mostly level sailing along the South Mountain spine, a section of the trail that offers dazzling Valley panoramas amid a pristine Sonoran Desert landscape. The National's west-end terminus is at the San Juan Lookout, which offers an up-close-and-personal view of the snaggletoothed Estrella Mountains.
Little-known fact: You do not have to drive all the way out to Apache Junction to have a great hiking experience. In fact, Trail 8, which wends its way through the Piestewa Peak/Dreamy Draw area of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, can be just as breathtaking as anything in the Superstitions, with amazing summits and a plethora of cactus. Enter at the end of 40th Street south of Shea Boulevard, at the mountains preserve. Weirdly enough, despite its convenient location, even on a sunny Saturday, it can also be less crowded. Our apologies if we've given up your secret hiking spot.
While the Superstition Mountains provide by far the most dramatic scenery of any Valley-accessible day hikes, the Superstition hikes likely demand too much of a visitor's time. And, well, you read the newspapers. The Superstitions also are much more likely to disappear people. So, if the in-laws have overstayed their welcome, perhaps a hike in the Superstitions is exactly what the psychiatrist ordered. If you like the in-laws, though, the best bet likely is an easy and quickly accessible jaunt up South Mountain. We suggest hiking the Ahwatukee side simply because you get less city, more petroglyphs, and a grade that most people can hope to climb and descend without much pain. The view from the top from Dobbin's Lookout is simply spectacular, beautiful, grand, and, to be honest, frightening, as it gives one of the best perspectives on the vastness of our city's sprawl into the Sonoran Desert. Trailhead is at the intersection of Desert Foothills Parkway and Sixth Street on the Ahwatukee side of South Mountain.
You bought that mountain bike with dreams of tackling South Mountain or the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, but then you discovered something mountain biking can be a lot harder than pushing the old steed down a sidewalk. Perhaps you'll be in shape someday to grind up gravel-ridden slopes and rocket down luge-run trails like the big boys and girls. In the meantime, there's Papago Park. Go ahead, pump up the tires and clean the cobwebs out of the spokes. Papago Park is centrally located and won't cost you a cent to enjoy. Most of the trails are gentle up-and-downs that will only trouble the klutziest of children or adults. If you can ride a bike, you can probably mountain bike at Papago. Yet for all its friendliness to novices, it offers many of the same pleasures as any other mountain bike ride gorgeous views of rising crags, quietude, and the occasional glimpse of wildlife, mostly coyotes, lizards or rabbits. The best place to access Papago for bike riding is off Galvin Parkway. Instead of going east to the Phoenix Zoo, take the entrance road just opposite into a parking area. Trails from there run all over the park, and it's not easy to get lost. Better hurry out there, though civic leaders have grand designs to develop the park in the future, and the long series of interconnected trails that are great for biking someday could be blocked by a hotel or retail shops. For now, your path to biking fun awaits.
The Valley has more kick-ass mountain bike trails than you can throw a broken chain at, but nothing beats Pemberton for continuous one-way rough-riding pleasure. In fact, since the few equestrians at McDowell Mountain Park are well spread out, and hikers rare, this trail transforms a land area the size of Fountain Hills into your own personal mountain bike heaven. On many days, especially if it's the slightest bit warm out, we've had the entire loop, and seemingly every hill, rock, cholla cactus and collared lizard within it, to our smug little selves. The park also has two wonderful, mountain-bike-only competitive tracks. But even without as much of the coveted single-track trail per mile, Pemberton is every bit as fun as the comp tracks and there's 15 miles of it. Bike clockwise for a breezy, long descent on the back part of the loop; counterclockwise if you want a shorter, rockier downhill ride. Either way, it's a blast for beginners to experts, and the ever-changing scenery just rolls on and on. Pemberton will probably take you a couple of hours even if you're pretty fast. So be sure to take water with you, even in cooler temps. It's a big 'un.
Every Wednesday over at the quaint and centrally located Desert Storm Park polo grounds, bicycle maniacs test their mettle during lightning-paced warfare on two wheels. Similar to the traditional yuppified fare, sans the prohibitive price tag, bicycle polo is actually an old sport that's been revitalized in recent years. Its birthplace is believed to be India about a hundred years ago when British troops used bicycles to hone their equestrian polo skills. The urbanized non-equine variety features two teams of coed-friendly riders slugging it out on a 100-by-60-yard grass field with the simple objective of outscoring the opponent. Admission is free, and mallets are provided. All you need is a bike and a healthy pair of lungs. A helmet is a good idea, too.
With its otherworldly sandstone buttes, Papago Park has anchored the city of Phoenix park system since 1959. Papago's trails are generally easy treks with little elevation gain, making it a great place for a family hike or to hone your mountain-biking skills. The park covers 1,200 acres and has numerous picnic sites with ramadas, tables, grills, water and electricity. The park also contains fishing lagoons and bike paths as well as the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Desert Botanical Garden, a fire museum, and the challenging Papago Golf Course. Two of east Phoenix's best-known landmarks are in the park: Hole-in-the-Rock, a natural geologic formation; and Hunt's Tomb, a white pyramid burial place of Arizona's first governor. The park shares a border with Tempe's Town Lake, where you can ply your sailing skills on the river or bike and hike around the lake's perimeter. The Town Lake hosts events ranging from rock shows to national beach volleyball competitions as well as amazing fireworks shows on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve. Central Park, move over!
The fine art of hanging out at the park seems lost on a lot of Valley residents, and we guess we understand why it's hot (duh), and many parks in these parts are just small patches of dying grass with some busted old swings and a concrete table thrown in for good measure. Luckily, we've got Kiwanis Park, 125 acres of green grass, hills, shade there's even a lake with paddle boats if you're feeling masochistic (admit it, those things are never fun). But amenities aside, the place is always packed on the weekend with pickup games of soccer that go late into the evening. Even with the large crowds Kiwanis draws, it never gets too loud or rowdy and is the perfect place to barbecue with young kids or a big family. Or come alone you might just make some friends.


Benedict Park

When the operators of Tempe Diablo Stadium decided to limit all of their auxiliary fields to baseball only, they left the future of the local ultimate scene up in the air like a flicking forehand flying disc toss. Thank goodness for the Frisbee backers at Valley of the Sun Ultimate, who rallied to find a new home at Tempe's Benedict Park. Not a bad pick. The park boasts 20 acres of open fields for perfect huckin' action. The fast-paced and exciting non-contact team sport fuses together the speed of football, the strategy of soccer, and the quick transitional aspects of basketball into a fascinating game on grass. Free and open public play takes place before league matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. The games are coed-friendly, and all skill levels are welcome, so catch, clog, and cut your way on down.
For the second time in five years, an Arizona team has advanced from the Western Regionals to the Little League World Series by rolling over the once invincible California squads. Last time, it was Chandler National. This time, Ahwatukee, which comes out of the same district as Chandler National. For anyone who has taken a small Arizona team over to play a giant California team, in any sport, the sight of the relatively tiny Ahwatukee boys taking it to the bigger and cockier Southern California and Northern California teams in the Western Regionals was a delight. The main force behind the win: Shaun Chase. Besides keeping batters at bay with his pitching, Chase did what only one other Arizona kid has ever done in regional or World Series play hit three home runs in one game. It's that kind of clutch play that has Arizona baseball rising as a force in national tournaments. (At the same time, Arizona's Connie Mack team, the Firebirds, was off winning the Connie Mack World Series.) Chase's finest moment, though, actually was a blunder. As he came around third base after his first home run, Chase tripped on the base and fell awkwardly to the ground. On national TV. But the kid got back up, smiled an embarrassed smile, took the jabs of his teammates in stride and then came back to win the game pitching and hit two more home runs. For a moment, he just looked like an awkward little kid. Which we can too easily forget, with all the hoopla around Little League these days, is exactly what every one of these players is.

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