Express Mie Studio

Ever hear yourself say, "I can dance and sweat all night but can't jog for 15 seconds. What's up with that?" This new dance fitness studio for women, tucked behind Trader Joe's in the Tempe Square shopping center, makes that question moot. Now you can have your dance party and burn fat, too. The folks who created this playground for ladies hit all the right notes with class names like "Yoga Booty Ballet," "I-Danced-All-Night Club Moves," "Burlesque Beauty," and "Tutu For You." From a beautiful lounge to the custom fortune cookie each participant receives after class, the entire space feels like a spa. These smart folks clearly want participants to form bonds, have fun, and feel pampered, so the workout seems almost secondary.

Express Mie also rocks the pole-dancing scene with a multiple-pole studio designed just for that "ladies sport" and a smaller intimate studio to host private parties, complete with poles, dress-up clothes, boas and a house-labeled wine. We can't wait to gather up some gal pals, step into some six-inch platforms, enjoy some liquid courage, and wrap ourselves around a pole — giggling like a schoolgirl and burning some calories in the process.

There's an art to caving in a human face or blasting someone in the package like those mixed martial arts fighters do. And thanks to the Lion's Den in Scottsdale, anyone can learn no-holds-barred sparring. UFC Hall of Fame inductee and "the world's most dangerous man" Ken Shamrock heads the dojo, where controlled muay thai sparring techniques are taught to men and women of all skill levels. World-class instructors also teach wrestling, boxing, and basically any other kickass skill out there.

For Valley members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, there's no better way to beat the midweek blues than to beat the crap out of each other with wooden swords. Every Wednesday, would-be warriors hone their battle skills on the northern and eastern ends of the baseball field at La Padera Park, charging with rattan sticks and clubbing each other. SCA members generally dress in period-approximate armor for the simulated battles, but the organization leaves their battles open to the public view — and if you can walk in heavy armor and carry a big stick, you're welcome to join the fray, too.

If your idea of polo involves a well-heeled crowd engaging in refined combat atop magnificent thoroughbreds, then you've apparently never hung out at the Dorsey Center in Tempe on a Monday night. Every week, the members of Arizona Hardcourt Bike Polo gather for an intense, two-wheeled version of the world's oldest team sport. More crusty punk than upper crust, it's the realm of tattooed and pierced participants riding battered steel steeds and using mostly DIY-style equipment (including mallets made from PVC pipe or cannibalized golf clubs) during contests at an outdoor tennis court.

The object of the game, however, is the same: Teams of three players attempt to whack a rubber ball through their opponent's goal. It's a gonzo spin-off of the traditional cycling polo (which was conjured during the 1890s in Ireland) that's been popularized by boho urban bikers during the past decade, including the local fixed-gear cyclists who founded AZHC last year. (A similar group, Phoenix Bike Polo, plays on grass at Desert Storm Park in the Arcadia neighborhood every Wednesday.)

Anyone can participate. If you want to, be sure to bring some chutzpah in addition to your Bianchi Pista, since the hard-court action gets a little hardcore, with plenty of smack-talking and the occasional collision.

There are a lot of killer bicycle rides in the Valley, but the one along Usery Pass Road is our absolute favorite, thanks to the backdrop of desert plant life unharmed by the gated communities that swallow up the land to the east and south. Plus, there are super-spacious bike lanes on each side of the windy route, so you won't feel like you're about to get steamrolled by a boat-towing pickup truck. A good and challenging way to tackle the blacktop is to head west from Red Mountain Park, 7745 East Brown Road in Mesa, then north up Power Road along the Salt River until it turns into Bush Highway before finally looping back south on Usery Pass/Ellsworth roads. If you take this 21-mile route, which gains/loses more than 1,000 feet in elevation along the way, the stretch between the 12- and 16-mile markers is the biggest leg-burner. However, once you get through that, it's a smooth coast.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

What goes up must come down — at least, that's what mountain bikers count on. The South Mountain Desert Classic Trail is not the most grueling trail in our neck of the desert, but it's close, it's scenic — and full of ups and downs. Phoenix South Mountain Park is over 16,000 acres of desert landscape overlooking downtown Phoenix to the north and urban sprawl to the south. The trail is about 18 miles long and runs along the southern face of the mountain. If you don't have a mountain bike, get one.

Don't just take our word for it — recent research suggests that spending time in nature will improve cognitive function. Scientists say the human brain has two types of attention: directed attention (which we use when we work, drive, Facebook) and involuntary attention (like that triggered by the call of a bird or the shape of rock formation). The problem is most of us are using our directed attentions past the point of fatigue. One way to restore the circuits is by taking a walk. That's why we're damn lucky to live in a city with thousands of acres of nature trails.

The best place to get away and give your brain a reboot is the 304 Loop Trail at Piestewa Peak. Just drive right on past those over-achievers at the summit trail and head all the way back to the final parking area. The walk is an easy-to-moderate loop, takes about 45 minutes, and is located right in the middle of the city. Go ahead and contemplate the cuddly appeal of Teddy Bear chollas, the migratory patterns of birds, and the new limbs growing on an octogenarian saguaro.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

There are two things you need to know about this hike, and they're both supercool: 1) the Alta Trail is situated on the front range at South Mountain Park, and we're betting that many of you didn't even know there was a front range; 2) the "Alt" section of this trail is not maintained and does not appear on any of the park's maps. Translation: It's not choked with other hikers and it's completely badass.

If you want to hike the "official" Alta Trail, drive about two miles down the San Juan Road and park in a gravel lot at mile marker 2.5 and the Bajada Trailhead, where you connect with a well-maintained trail to the top. That's fine, but you'll miss most of the eastern section of the range and a helluva lot of stellar trekking if you choose that route. Better to do it our way.

After you pass through the headquarters section on the park's main road, turn right at the sign that says Big Ramada and Little Ramada picnic areas. Drive as far as the road will take you and then park. Aim for the nearest rise to the west, and follow the dirt tracks that lead inexorably to the summit of the range. After a brief but leg-frying up, you'll find yourself atop a panorama-saturated, dragon-back ridge that follows the crest of the range all the way to its terminus at San Juan Lookout, about four miles away.

When you get to San Juan, turn around and do it in reverse.

You'll regret it — but you won't.

The Sierra Estrellas are the most maddening mountains in our midst. The southwest Valley chain is within shouting distance of civilization, and its craggy spires scream to be summited, but the formidable range gets more redoubtable the closer you get to it. So much so that there's only one legal point of access to its long crest and six striking peaks (Hayes, Montezuma, Montezuma Sleeping, Montezuma Head, Butterfly, and Quartz).

The Quartz Peak Trail — such as it is — is it.

Finding the trailhead on the far side of the Earth in Rainbow Valley is a challenge in itself, but tracking the footpath to the summit can be even more cryptic. Then there's the actual hiking of the thing, which has caused many a veteran hiker to swear like Blackbeard, thanks to the iffy footing and 2,500-foot elevation gain (about two trips up Camelback Mountain on an even nastier path).

Worth it? Absolutely. Summiting the Estrella is a badge of honor for hiking hardcores, and the views of desolate basin-and-range western Arizona and the bustling Valley to the east make it all worthwhile.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Like some of the exceptional backcountry hikes at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve that are eclipsed by the gravitational pull of Piestewa Peak, this phenomenal hike is often lost in the glare of Usery's popular Wind Cave Trail. But you don't always have to go up to get to the top; sometimes, as with Pass Mountain, you can go around.

The 7.4-mile loop offers a circumnavigation of its namesake peak — the one with the distinctive scar that's visible from almost anywhere in the Valley — as well as lush Sonoran flora, dazzling views of Four Peaks and the Superstitions, and a saddle link-up with the Goldfield Mountains. If you're up to it, you can freelance into the Goldfields before closing the loop on Pass Mountain.

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