Phoenix Art Museum
We seek refuge, and often. We do it through music, through food and drink, and other forms of escape that we'll leave to your imagination. But working in downtown Phoenix as we do, refuge just hasn't been much of an option, unless you count hunkering down at the now-smokeless bar at Durant's.A ways south on Central from Durant's is just what the refuge doc ordered, and at an art museum, no less. With the kind financial bump of the Dorrance Family Foundation, the gloriously reconfigured museum recently finished installation of a one-acre, secure outdoor garden, replete with 140 mature trees — we love the Arizona ash and willow acacia — and a bunch of thought-provoking sculptures. With plenty of spots to just sit and take it all (or nothing) in, it's a delightful urban haven. Even stepping out onto Central, where light-rail construction continues, doesn't seem so bad in the afterglow.
Shangri La Ranch
Looking to express your freedom of choice with some nudie fun? Well, you name it and the Shangri La nudist camp probably has it. Naked swimming, volleyball and hiking are just a few of the options available to clothing-optional newbies and family-oriented die-hards.

Outdoor activities center on the large pool, while indoor options feature a clubhouse with billiards and darts as well as the weekend-only Bare Buns Café, serving snacks and coffee drinks. Tuesday nights are potlucks, and there's always a rockin' Saturday-night dance shindig celebrating holidays such as Earth Day or themed events like the Bunny Hop, in which you can actually wear something like rabbit ears or an Easter bonnet to the dance. The curious can download a one-time-only guest pass online, while mainstayers can take advantage of the lifetime membership.

So, you went out and bought that bad boy of a motorcycle just for the heck of it. It wasn't that your midlife job (and the accompanying stress) was all that bad, but you were just looking for something new and exciting that wouldn't get you in too much trouble with the wife.

Oh, okay, she jumped all over you for this sudden and unquenchable need to be a potential organ donor. But a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do, right? Yeah, baby!

And what a route you found, one that scoots you, in almost no time, far from the maddening crowds of our metropolis. Here's how it goes: From central Phoenix, get up to the 101 East, either from Interstate 17 or 51 North. Exit at the Princess/Pima Road offramp and follow the signs from Pima Road North to the lake. The views of the mountains and desert are as good as it gets around here, and the traffic, thankfully, is usually sparse. By the time you're halfway there, the city seems far, far away. Stick on your helmet (please!), watch out for the lame-brains driving all around you, and get your motor running.

When we were kids, Mom used to drive us on Sunday mornings over the desert and through the cactus — to Carefree, where there was little more than a tiny convenience store and (luckily) a bathroom. We were too young to appreciate the beauty of the raw landscape; we just wanted to go back to the city, to Thomas Mall, and get an Icee. Today, we finally appreciate a nice open expanse, but alas, the Valley's been mowed by development. We love the drive from Scottsdale to Phoenix, via Cave Creek, because to us, it represents the best of both worlds. We can check in on the new acres of homes (there are certainly some cheesy developments, but as we get to the more expensive parts of north Scottsdale, we have to admit that some are downright habitable) and still glimpse an expanse of soothing desert.

From Scottsdale Road, head north. Don't take the freeway. If you must, cut over to Hayden to avoid mid-Scottsdale traffic, then dip back to Scottsdale Road and head up to Carefree. In those parts, Scottsdale Road turns into Tom Darlington (not the only cute name in the town — check out some of the other street signs, but only if you're a passenger; we're not trying to get anyone killed here) and you'll turn left (west) on Cave Creek Road from Darlington. That takes you through the picturesque home of some pretty good junk shops, as well as the Satisfied Frog brew pub and a number of biker bars (again, we're not telling you to get a beer; just sharing the info) and then, outside that town, you'll hit a nice expanse of desert.

Keep driving and, eventually, you'll hit the outskirts of Sunnyslope, then central Phoenix, when Cave Creek runs right into Seventh Street. It's a half-loop you don't hear much about in these days of new freeways, and it might not be the quickest way to get to your destination (and maybe not the best bet if you actually have a destination in mind) but it'll show you a part of the city we bet you haven't seen.

Old Tucson is pretty old hat. Bisbee seems a bit blasé. And consarn it, Tombstone has gotten tortuously tired. Frankly, if you're looking for a peaceful and scenic destination for a one-day vacation outside of the Valley, we recommend taking a road trip to Fossil Springs Canyon. Go north on Interstate 17 for 85 miles until you hit Camp Verde, and go 10 miles east on state highway 260 (a.k.a. the General Crook Trail) until you reach Forest Road 708. You'll have to navigate another 15 miles or so of mega-bumpy dirt roads, but believe us, it's totally worth some sore shocks and buttocks, as the canyon is a picturesque paradise of abundant wildflowers, cottonwoods, junipers, and other riparian flora situated along the gentle Fossil Creek. Looking like something out of Lord of the Rings, this secluded sylvan sanctuary and tributary of the nearby Verde River is perfect for swimming, fishing, bird-watching, or even hiking. In the vicinity, there are also several hot springs where you can soak for a spell, which are also popular spots for skinny-dipping nudists looking for some clothing-optional relaxation — so if you feel like dropping trou, don't forget the sunblock.
Gold Canyon Inn and Suites
When San Diego is way too far and Sedona seems way too New Age-y, you can always get your kicks driving just a short distance east down U.S. 60. In Gold Canyon, your backyard is the Superstitions, so there's plenty of hiking and exploring to do. Make sure to check out the Hieroglyphic Trail, an easy walk that will lead to remarkable drawings from Arizona's earliest settlers. After you've stopped in at the Texas Coast Grill for some BBQ and live country music, make plans to stay the night at the gorgeous Gold Canyon Golf Resort or the surprisingly beautiful Best Western Gold Canyon Inn. Be sure to check out the antique stores on Old U.S. 60 heading back to Phoenix — like most of the places 'round here, it feels miles from metropolitan life and stuck in a time warp in the very best way.
Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix/Ro Ho En
We've really taken to the desert lifestyle, soaking up plenty of sun, reveling in the gorgeous Sonoran scenery, and (of course) making the most of our glorious, spring-like winters. But sometimes we still long for some green, leafy trees and the sound of flowing water, the kinds of calming natural elements that are all too rare in this sprawling desert. Luckily, there's a peaceful, plant-filled oasis right in the middle of downtown: The Japanese Friendship Garden. Also known as Ro Ho En, the garden's name combines the character for "heron" (the symbolic bird of Himeji, Phoenix's sister city) with the character for "phoenix," our city's mythical namesake. Discreetly located on Third Avenue, fenced off from the south end of Hance Park, the garden is three and a half acres of traditional Japanese landscape design, with shrubs, flowers, and sculpturally shaped trees, a flowing stream filled with handpicked rocks from all over Arizona, a rustic teahouse surrounded by a lush tea garden, and a tranquil pond filled with colorful koi. It's the perfect place to recharge and relax amid the hubbub of the city — and it sure beats the long flight to Japan.
North Mountain Park
North Mountain Park has all the usual trappings of a mountain park in the Valley — hiking trails, a playground, a visitors center — but the view of the city from the mountain is sweeping in scope and dazzling in its diversity, especially when seen at night.

The peak of the mountain (yes, the one with the big "S" on it) is only 2,104 feet, but what makes this view so great is that you don't have to do a bunch of climbing or hiking to see it. You can just drive your car up the paved road into the park, and voilà! There's your scenic view. Visitors can sit on stone benches and soak in a sunset while marveling at our city's sprawl (on a clear day, you can't see forever, but you can see downtown) and relaxing amidst the park's major plant species (which include bursage, palo verde trees, and more than 10 varieties of cacti).

The only drawback is that it's safer to visit this area during daylight; while the city lights are superbly striking from the mountaintop, the park does get its share of shady nighttime squatters and accompanying problems. This is a great place to bring a date for a picnic on an overcast day, but you should probably go elsewhere for a late-night make-out session.

Best Of Phoenix®

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