Castles -n- Coasters

If any of your candy-ass, 'fraidy-cat friends are too terrified by the Desert Storm's towering appearance to consider riding the 90-foot-high roller coaster (the biggest in the state), tell 'em the ride lasts only about a minute and a half, from start to finish. A mere 90 seconds. About as much time as it takes to nuke a microwave burrito. Although you may wanna skip over the part about how there probably won't be any time to be scared, as they'll likely be too busy screaming their lungs out in terror while zooming along 2,000 feet of steel track (including the initial drop of 85 feet) and blasting through two vertical loopty-loops at around 50 miles per hour. With that whole "nothing to fear but fear itself" thing going on, the less they know, the better. Besides, once they've busted their cherry and ridden it at least once, we're sure they'll be hopping back in line to go again.

Former Arizona Governor Rose Mofford is the Jimmy Carter of our state — perhaps maligned a bit while in office, the elder stateswoman is celebrated by just about everyone these days. Since leaving office in 1991 (she served as secretary of state for more than a decade before becoming governor in 1988) the longtime public servant and softball champion has stayed active, volunteering for charities, and keeping her hand in the political game.

Mofford's perhaps best remembered for her fabulous white beehive, once drawn by a local political cartoonist as a Dairy Queen cone. We've always thought of it more as a swirl of cotton candy, which is why we were so tickled to see an advance copy of a billboard that will celebrate this year's Arizona State Fair. Take a look for yourself and tell us that's not sweet enough to give you a cavity!

Phoenix Art Museum

In a city that almost always sleeps, it's rare to see anyone out for a stroll. But there's one couple you can count on: Julian and Suzanne. You'll find them in the form of a large-scale, animated light sculpture permanently affixed to a southeast wall of the Phoenix Art Museum. The creation of British artist Julian Opie, the large-scale (13.5 feet high, 10 feet wide) work is one of the most clever pieces of public art we've ever seen — beautiful in its simplicity, belying the tremendous work that went into its creation. Opie, whose work is also included in the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery in London, videotapes various people (including himself) walking on treadmills, then simplifies still images on the computer and animates them for LED displays. We don't understand just exactly how it works, but we know one thing: We could watch Julian and Suzanne all day.

Some skylines are world-famous — like Chicago, with the Sears Tower, or San Francisco, with the Transamerica Building. While Camelback Mountain is widely recognizable and doing us proud in the nature department, some folks are still longing for an urban stretch of skyscape as a reminder that it's not just a desert, it's the big city, dammit!

If you're looking for the best urban view Phoenix has to offer, your best bet is from the freeway. Jump on the eastbound I-10. Gaze to the right between 19th Avenue and Seventh Avenue. (Go for the passenger seat. We know you want to see signs of the big city, but safety first.) This stretch of our well-traveled thoroughfare gives a glimpse of the city's burgeoning skyline, best viewed at dusk when the pinky twilight illuminates the Chase Building, the Viad Building, and even the Luhrs Tower. These venerable old school 'scrapers are intertwined with the newly emerging and climbing developments as downtown continues its visible expansion upward. While a whole slew of developers promise a chorus of "One day we'll be sky high," this stretch of I-10 delivers the goods today.

Best Way to Avoid a Photo Radar Ticket Without Slowing Down

Speed Trap Exchange

If you know where every speed-enforcement camera is, and if you track where the cops normally park, you can speed and get away with it. Well, that's the theory.

If you subscribe to that theory, then there's no better resource than speedtrap.org. It's a national registry of speed traps — both conventional cop stakeouts and photo-radar locations. Simply log on to the Web site and click "Arizona." Then click the name of the city you plan to speed through.

The only depressing thing about speedtrap.org is how incredibly thorough it is. In the city of Scottsdale alone, Speedtrap lists 47 photo and conventional speed-trap locations — the vast majority of which are 100 percent legit.

Of course, thanks to Governor Janet Napolitano's push for statewide highway photo enforcement, you can mark the entire freeway system of Arizona as speed-trapped. In recent months, those white photo-enforcement vans have been popping up along the I-10 and even the I-17. So much for the Wild West.

Gas prices keep going up, and that's got you down. Listen to Spike Lee and get on the bus! In fall 2007, Valley Metro introduced an all-day pass that can be purchased on any bus for $2.50. Supplanting the flimsy transfers of the past, it surely is cheaper than the gallon of gas you're burning in your daily commute. Hit Valley Metro's Web site to conjure up your plan of action, leave your road rage behind, and pop in your earbuds. For the truly adventurous, strike up a conversation with an endless cast of strap-hangers, including the self-proclaimed chatterbox and the dude freestyling and shilling his demo CD-R.

December, right?

Judas Priest's Rob Halford has lived in Phoenix since 1985. The British vocalist first discovered the city on Judas Priest's first-ever North American tour in 1978 and immediately felt a kinship with the arid desert climate. "I stepped off the bus at 4 a.m., and the heat just struck me, like it always does, and I said, 'Are we in Hell?' How fitting for a band called Judas Priest to be somewhere that feels like purgatory," Halford says. "And coming from Birmingham, to be in such a beautiful location, it just blew me away."

Halford's home sits high on a mountain in Paradise Valley, and he relishes the monsoon season. "It's very special when I'm in my house in Phoenix, overlooking the Valley, and the thunder and lightning rolls through."

And then comes our favorite comment: "It's very heavy metal weather."

Matt's Big Breakfast
Matt's Big Breakfast

The weather outside is frightful. The thought of leaving your hermetically sealed cocoon? Not the least bit delightful.

So don't. Play indoors at these two oh-so-PHX landmarks.

Some self-proclaimed geniuses will tell you to lay off the heavy stuff — the dairy, the coffee — when it's hot, but those eggheads are full of bunk. When facing the prospect of the 21st consecutive day of temps above 110 — and it's still only July — we Phoenicians want some damn comfort food, dammit.

Matt's is where we go for culinary consolation. Though the funky downtown hang has a limited menu, everything on it is lip-smackingly good. Our faves are the Chop & Chick (eggs and a skillet-seared Iowa pork chop) for breakfast and a well-executed Reuben for lunch. (Despite the diner's name, Matt's is all over the sandwich-and-soda-pop trade, too.) Even if the grub weren't so solid, we'd still give proprietors Matt and Erenia Pool props for their social awareness. Their Web site ticks off their strong beliefs about the following commendable practices: 1) cage-free eggs, 2) humanely raised chickens, 3) grain-fed natural Iowa pork and Angus beef, and 4) the use of local organic produce "where appropriate and possible."

After you've crammed your tummy full of the yummy stuff, head uptown and stuff your head. PAM is the best place for lazy, overfed people to go on a lazy Sunday afternoon, 'cause very little expenditure of energy is required; you just glide effortlessly from one attraction to the next, and there's no particular hurry. You can check out the new touring exhibit, see what's up in the Asian gallery, attend a lecture, catch a flick, take a drawing workshop, and fondle the delightful baubles in the Museum Store.

But, perhaps, the most important aspect about PAM as a summer destination is its kickass air-conditioning system. We've found none better in the state of Arizona. Believe us, we've looked.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

The weather outside's delightful, and it really would be frightful to bounce around your apartment on such a lovely day. So don't. Get the hell out and discover what life here is really about at these signature destinations.

Our positively ponderous municipal preserve — the nation's largest, at 16,000 acres — features mile after mile of hiking, biking, climbing, and horseback trails, plus picnic and recreation areas and the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. The park's one of those enchanted places where newcomers, skeptical of all the gab about what a desirable place the PHX is, look around and say, "Ohhhhh, okay. Now I get it."

After you've worked yourself into a lather on one of the basin-to-range trails — or just driven to the top and sucked in the 360 views — you'd be wise to treat yourself to an appropriately named Kick-@ss Margarita or three at nearby Los Dos, a mellow watering hole/restaurant located in the charming former home of singing cowboy Tom Mix. We recommend the trifecta — if you don't need to be anywhere for a while. Unlike the pansy-ass varietals you'll find in snootier parts of town, the Los Dos maggies are as big as a boxer's fist and pack a similar punch. They numb you to the effects — delightful yet brutal — of the cafe's flaming New Mexican cuisine, which is so good that the Los Dos folks opened a successful offshoot in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan. Manhattan!

The truly brave — say, those who've just conquered the mighty, 20-plus-mile National Trail that runs the length of the South Mountain crest — might try Los Dos' green chile enchiladas, hot. Afterward, you'll love us, you'll hate us, but we're pretty sure you'll say, "Ohhhhh, okay. Now I get it."

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of