To be sure, the Valley's biggest annual sporting event (though NASCAR definitely is right up there) is much more about the scene than the golf. Every now and then, however, we stop to watch a professional golfer hone his craft. To wit, the ever-popular "Big" John Daly, the most dysfunctional hillbilly linksman this side of the Ozarks. We wandered over to the practice area on a Thursday morning last January, the first day of the tourney. Right there before us was the powerful Daly working with his caddie. By work, we mean chain-smoking cigarettes, chugging from a two-liter bottle of Coke, and hitting ball after ball with amazing precision at a makeshift target of empty chocolate-bar wrappers about 50 yards away. After he hit about 40 balls, Daly pulled a Milky Way out of his golf bag, wolfed it down, walked over to his target site, and dropped his latest wrapper on the pile. Now that's an athlete.
The San Carlos Apache Tribe had several advantages when they went about building one of the state's great courses. They already owned the prime piece of landscape and, besides, they could always depend on a flow of golfers thanks to the dependable flow of gamblers making the drive to the nearby casino. For golfers, the fact that this amazing course has low overhead and can be a loss leader to draw people to the casino makes it one of the great golf values in the state. Amid stunning scenery, Apache Stronghold offers a ridiculous array of risk-reward scenarios. From the black tees, at 7,500 yards, the course can simply wear down most any golfer not at the top of his game. Oh, but what a lovely walk ruined. A round of golf will cost you only $45 if you walk, $55 if you want a cart, which is probably the best way to go. The best deal, though, is to make a weekend of it, with two nights at the casino hotel and two rounds of golf for $89 per night per person. It's like getting a normal hotel rate with one of the best rounds of golf thrown in for free.
A former copper boomtown, Miami (said: "Mi-am-uh") has fewer than 2,000 residents, but more original merchandise than you'll find in any shopping mall in metro Phoenix. Ditch eBay; check out the antique stores in the old downtown district in person. And don't forget the Book Bank, a great used bookstore, right off U.S. 60 as you're passing through Miami. A few minutes on, and you'll hit Globe. The shopping's not as good here, but the Noftsger Hill Inn the only place to stay, in these parts more than makes up for it. The inn, a former school, features enormous rooms furnished with antiques that would make the Miami shopkeepers drool, and the original chalkboards are graffitied with messages from guests. The proprietors say the place is haunted, but we didn't run into any spirits on our visit, just friendly fellow travelers and a home-cooked breakfast (including thick strips of bacon and fresh blueberry bread) before the drive home.
Tired of being stuck in town for the fall? It's bone dry, daytime temperatures are still scorching, and kids are relegated to crowded water parks or picnics on dead park grass. Pack up the family station wagon and head to Sedona's Slide Rock State Park, a scenic red rock canyon nestled in a 43-acre apple orchard. It's a setting straight out of Little House on the Prairie, complete with a farmers' market, nature trails, and swimming holes like the natural rock slide for which the park is named. The water quality is tested daily, and visitors are free to enjoy delicious apples from the native trees. No, really, we swear. And you can make it there and back in a day, easy.
This sprawling nature preserve, a little more than an hour's drive east of Phoenix on U.S. 60, doesn't have the polish of the Desert Botanical Garden. But it more than makes up for that with its slightly tatty, quirky charm, and no can deny that its collection of plant life is just as impressive. Its trails gently loop through 320 acres of cacti, trees, canyons and even a eucalyptus forest. No matter what direction you go, the walk never gets particularly strenuous, which makes it perfect for nature enthusiasts of all ages.
Named after the late Native American war hero Lori Piestewa who died in Iraq, the former Squaw Peak provides a sweet desert experience for beleaguered urbanites who've had their fill of concrete and glass. Myriad hiking paths rated from easy to difficult provide a choice for those looking for a cardio crunch or just a gentle outing with family and friends. It's not unusual for three generations of family members to stride as one up and down the well-used dirt paths, or for large groups to picnic in the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, accessible from Northern Avenue east of 16th Street. On the downside (yes, we must), why must fitness freaks insist on jogging up and down the mountain, sometimes with their poor, tongues-hanging-to-the-ground dogs in tow? Go find your own damned mountain.
If you've ever daydreamed about lying naked 'neath a clear, blue sky, this hike's for you. While the strenuous jaunt is not an "official" Bureau of Land Management/Tonto National Forest route, it's the best trek we've come across in our many years of meandering through the Valley and surrounding areas. One of the main reasons is the solitude. Unlike the more heavily trampled trails in the Supes Peralta, Hieroglyphic, Black Mesa, Dutchman's the 12-mile round trip to Black Top Mesa is for loners. No one ever goes there. Beautiful. The trip starts at the First Water trailhead, which is located on the north side of the preserve, off the Apache Trail east of Apache Junction. From there, you'll encounter a multitude of micro-environments, from the humid, almost jungle-like environs of the Weeping Rock region to a rubble-filled riparian area to the hardpan flats of the low desert and then up to the flat-top summit of Black Top itself an otherworldly domain of craggy volcanic boulders, oddball vegetation, and absolute seclusion. Go ahead, whip 'em off; who'll know?
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.

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