Best Night Hike 2009 | Desert Botanical Garden | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix

There's something magical about the desert at night. Everything looks, sounds, and smells different. And in the hot summer months, it's a great time to go and experience what desert plants and critters are up to after the sun sets. But if the idea of a nighttime desert exploration has you feeling a bit uneasy (ever seen the 1972 made-for-TV movie Gargoyles? — we're terrified just thinking about it), then the Desert Botanical Garden is the perfect place to discover all the alien-free wonders the desert has to offer, like night-blooming cereus and owls in action. The garden is open late year-round, with extended hours for their summertime flashlight tours (June through August), perfect for the whole family.

Lauren Saria

As with so many things, proximity's often a key for hikers looking to arrange a post-trek meet-up. For most, a redneck bar or a convenience store'll do the trick if it's the nearest place to score a frosty brew.

So while it doesn't hurt that this historic New Mexican-style restaurant is the closest dining-and-drinking establishment to the South Mountain Park exit, we'd slog through several miles more of hell and jumping cholla cactus to score one of the restaurant's "Kick-@ss" Margaritas and a plate of green chili enchiladas.

In fact, hiking, shmiking. Let's get right to those maggies.

We have a love/hate relationship with Camelback Mountain. There's no better view of home than from the top, and no greater sense of accomplishment than getting there. Yet we loathe the getting-there part — the Camelneck, the Backbone, the etiquette-challenged hikers. Ugh.

But when it comes to The Vig, we're feeling only the love. This chic tavern on the fringe of Arcadia is absolutely perfect for a post-Camelback repast. Prime location, great ambiance, crankin' sound system, bocce ball on an awesome patio, and terrific appetizers (try the Hot Vings, five-spice edamame, or sweet potato fries).

After a snack like that — and a cocktail or two — you'll be planning your next hike to burn it all off.

Diana Martinez

The Dreamy Draw is a lovely place, but it's not named for its oasis-like beauty. It earned the designation back in Phoenix's Territorial days, when workers from the Rio Mercury Mine near Squaw Peak would wander the area in a daze, high on mercury fumes, after their shifts.

You'll see that same thousand-yard stare on dust-covered folks who wander into this storied restaurant/watering hole on the Draw, but today's victims are just a little pooped out from hiking the Peak, which is now, of course, called Piestewa.

And there's nothing like two or three original hand-tossed margaritas and some fresh fish tacos on the foliage-choked patio at Aunt Chilada's (which sits on the original site of the general store that served the Rio Mine) to snap a poor hiker back to reality.

Those who trek on weekend mornings can look forward to the special brunch menu, which includes a gurgling chocolate fountain. Yum.

Best Competitive Sport Played with a Keg on the Field


The concept of adult kickball got its start in our nation's capital, where over-educated and underpaid young professionals used the semi-ironic playing of a children's sport to take out their aggression, hide their shameful post-college binge drinking, and find suitable hookups. Perhaps it's the gorgeous weather, or maybe it's the party atmosphere created by that boozed-up college in Tempe, but Phoenix is now one of the top kickball-playing towns in the country.

For better or worse, there are up to a dozen different leagues running around the Valley at any time, all of them offering some variation of the drink/kick/catch/cheer/drink formula that's slowly making the sport of softball obsolete. A squishy ball and lackadaisical pace make kickball safer than most recreational sports, and the gently sloping learning curve is novice-friendly, which is why your gym teacher had you play it as a kid. As we said, you have tons of choices — the city of Scottsdale even runs an odd league where you can drink beer on the field under the watchful eye of city-paid employees — but we prefer the original, WAKA, which offers less playing time than some leagues but is a lot more fun.

When it comes to surviving summers here, Phoenicians are ready to pull out all the stops, from breaking out the water hose to sneaking into someone's pool. A whole genre of swim-and-drink nights at local hotels have even blossomed over the past few years to keep us cool. Other options around town, though, leave us, um, cold. Many local waterparks have roving bands of adolescents set on remaking Lord of the Flies, while floating the Salt River has too much of a low-budget Girls Gone Wild vibe going on. That's why The Oasis waterpark at the Arizona Grand Resort appeals so much to us. In addition to their eight-story water slide, their huge wave pool, and their 25-person hot tub, they've been spotlighted by The Travel Channel as one of the top 10 waterparks in the country.

We're not sure what we like more about this place: the pools, the views, or the architecture (considering we spent more time admiring Phil Weddle's rusted steel and glass aquatic center building than we spent actually swimming). Not only does this place feature myriad aquatic options — including an eight-lane lap pool, a diving well with four diving boards, a really big (and kinda scary) tube water slide, a zero-depth-entry play pool, a splash pad, and a 600-foot lazy river — it's got views of the McDowell Mountains and a captivating public art piece titled Cactus Mirage by Nori Sato (only in Scottsdale will you find nationally recognized public art at a swimming pool). But this awesomeness comes at a price. Be prepared to pay $30 for a family of four if you're not a Scottsdale resident. To be honest, we felt a bit like the caddies crashing the country club pool in Caddyshack, which is funny because there was a Caddyshack-esque "incident" that particular day — and it cleared the kiddy pool for half an hour. Despite all that, it's a beautiful facility, loads of fun, and totally worth the trip.

One of the crown jewels of any local high-end hotel undoubtedly is its sumptuous swimming pool. For instance, the W Scottsdale boasts an opulent oasis of white sandy beaches, glowing fire pits, and relaxing cabanas. Meanwhile, the swank swim tank at the Mondrian Scottsdale is a cerulean-colored lagoon of lavishness usually frequented by skinny and stylish bikini-clad chickadees. Both are luxurious relaxation destinations for A-listers and well-heeled types who want to take a leisurely dip. And unless you're a paid guest, your freeloading ass ain't allowed.

Not so at the Clarendon, where the CenPho boutique hotel opens its chic pool to the public daily from 6 a.m. until midnight (weather and holidays permitting) for $10 per person, which includes use of towels and sunscreen. If you're living a threadbare existence, get a taste of how the other half lives as you take an extended repose either in the crystal blue waters or by soaking your carcass in the 50-person spa.

Keep in mind there's one caveat: Appropriate swimwear is requested. In other words, do the world a favor and ditch the greasy cutoffs and your "Home of the Whopper" T-shirt in favor of some more modest board shorts.

The Dolly Steamboat markets itself as the "Junior Grand Canyon Tour," and Teddy Roosevelt compared the area favorably to the Alps, but we prefer to think of Canyon Lake as a stand-in for the Mississippi — at least when you're aboard the Dolly Steamboat. This recently restored sightseeing boat cruises the lake like Tom Sawyer once did down south. Though the big-wheeled boat floats like something from Mark Twain's era, the rocky landscape in the deep valley of the lake is uniquely Western. As you cruise, the captain will tell you about the history of the Apache Trail, and point to the bighorn sheep, coyote, deer, bobcats, and mountain lions that are often visible from the decks. Coyotes and bobcats? Golly, Huck, that's mighty scary!

As much as we love Phoenix, sometimes we need to get the hell out of Dodge for a day or two to collect our thoughts and find our center. Lately, there is only one place that comes to mind when the urge to disappear strikes us: the Shady Dell. Located in historic Bisbee, the Shady Dell RV park has nine beautifully decorated vintage Airstream trailers for guests to stay in. If the prospect of living it up trailer park-style with your own Astroturf yard doesn't seal the deal for you, it's worth mentioning that downtown Bisbee and its funky shops and restaurants are just five minutes away. With a cool tiki vibe, a 1950s-style diner and cabin names like "El Rey" and "Homemade," it's easy to get wrapped up in the Dell's kitschy goodness.

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