South Mountain Park and Preserve
The best thing about the view from the top of South Mountain is that you don't have to be a super jock to get there: There's a road that will get you all the way to the summit without one ounce of exertion. (Well, your car will be working it; you won't.) And once there, what a sight: After getting this bird's-eye view, "the Valley" label suddenly makes sense as does some plan for slowing, if not stopping, development. You've never seen sprawl until you've seen it from 2,200 feet. Wait 'til sunset. Bright lights, big city.
If you really want to impress your date, give her the world. Sail over the beautiful mountains, enjoying breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of untouched desert wilderness. Hot Air Expeditions offers the tour du jour of balloon rides. You and your date snuggle in the basket as a trained pilot hovers at 400 feet, pointing out clusters of desert flowers or a jackrabbit bounding along below. The balloon rises and falls to offer different views, but you barely feel any motion, since you're literally riding on the wind. The red carpet is rolled out for your arrival, leading to champagne and a catered luncheon prepared by legendary chef Vincent Guerithault of Vincent's on Camelback. Now, we're told that ballooning is the safest form of air travel, and ground crews follow the balloon's path from takeoff to landing. But we're not going to tell you that this date won't be without its safety risks. As for the actual date itself, nothing's guaranteed, but all we can say is if a nice dinner counts as foreplay, heaven only knows what awaits you in the bedroom.
Usually, asking your companion to "go bareback" on a date would warrant a slap in the face, but not this time. Ponderosa Stables offers a unique trail ride that includes a hearty meal at the T-Bone Steakhouse. Riders depart from the stables with a guide and take an hourlong ride down the mountain at sunset. It's a quiet journey no cars or city sounds, just the chirping of crickets and coyotes howling under a hazy purple sky brushed with hints of crimson and ginger. Even when there are other riders, it's easy to slow down a moment and steal a kiss under the stars. After the downhill trek, hitch your pony to the post and enjoy a moist top sirloin, or, if the ride's made you exceptionally hungry, the massive 32-ounce porterhouse. Be forewarned: Inexperienced riders may end up with a raw hide by the end of the date. Then again, if you're lucky, maybe your date will let you kiss it and make it better.
A traditional Japanese garden that can survive the Land of the Blazing Sun? Believe it. Heck, they even managed to get moss to grow here, in a shady patch near the authentic tea house. Phoenix might have parched riverbeds, but inside this tranquil downtown oasis, there's a waterfall, a flowing stream, and a huge, koi-filled pond dotted with bright green lily pads. Granted, the water features are all manmade, yet they're also an utterly Japanese take on natural beauty, kind of like the precisely placed rocks (1,500 tons of 'em, all hand-picked by visiting experts from our sister city of Himeji, Japan) and sculptural, exquisitely pruned trees found throughout the garden. And it all suits Mother Nature just fine, from the looks of the ducks contentedly paddling across the water, and the dragonflies busily zipping past thickets of leafy bamboo. Seeing how Ro Ho En is right in the heart of the city (on the southern end of Margaret T. Hance Park), we're still shocked that this secret is so well-kept but not for long, we suspect.
Over the years, we've honored Desert Botanical Garden as the Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner, but really, we think you should stop by, too. Check out the Web site, and visit the Marshall Pavilion, where butterflies roam twice a year; take a gardening class; or come for a festival (there's a great Day of the Dead one, at the end of October each year). Or simply come on a random weekday, when foot traffic is light and the garden is at its best in full sunlight, showing off colors you never knew existed in nature; not around here, at least.

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