We're always on the lookout for a beautiful view on a golf course (yeah, we know . . .), what with our collective game being so darned lousy that we need an excuse to be out there. Well, the par-4 10th at this North Phoenix resort does it for us, and then some. It starts with the tee box, more than 10 stories high on a desert hillside. Looming magnificently before you are both Piestewa Peak and Lookout Mountain. At some point, you've got to hit the little white ball, which is a whole other trip. Just get the darned thing airborne and it will stay up forever, looking vaguely like a pro's shot as it drops about 175 feet or so to the fairway. With your second shot, you have to navigate three bunkers that protect a sloping green. Putting? Well, can't help you much there. It's the getting there that provides the fun.
Ken McDonald Golf Course
During a bad round, every golfer has that moment on the golf course when he or she stops and asks, "Why do I play this miserable game?" That's when it happens: One good hole changes your entire outlook and you start thinking about joining the PGA Tour. The 11th hole at the Ken McDonald Golf Course has serious ego-boosting potential. It's a par 5 and plays about 570 yards from the tips, but it's a fairly straight shot with a flat green. Hit a good drive, plop your second shot on the green, and you're lookin' at eagle. At that point, your double-bogey-filled front nine becomes a distant memory that will be forgotten completely when you tell your friends how you played.
ASU Student Recreation Complex
ASU's running track has a lot to offer joggers. Its dirt surface is easier on the feet than asphalt. It's a long-ish 0.44 miles (750 yards), which gives a sense of accomplishment for each lap. And it's safer than dodging SUVs in the streets. The best part, though, is the inspiration: the young men and women showing off their athletic prowess in the grass fields inside the track. Whether they're playing soccer or softball, practicing a 100-yard dash or just cavorting with each other, these hard-body college folks make being in great shape look easy. The glee on their faces counterbalances our grimace, and the mood is infectious. Watching the energized students, we're reminded that being fit is fun — and that puts more spring in our step.
The paved and dirt pathways along the Highline Canal in South Phoenix received some sprucing up recently, making a great recreation spot even better. We've long enjoyed the rural nature of the trail along the Highline, far enough south of Baseline Road to offer real peace and quiet. The hulking gray-green mass of South Mountain graces the skyline to the south, and the mix of lower-income houses and mini-mansions in the foothills preserve a lot of aging mesquite and other vegetation. This past spring, the city of Phoenix dedicated a new art project and renovation along the Highline called the Zanajero's Line (the name refers to the Spanish word for a farm worker who takes care of the water supply). New pedestrian bridges, shade trees, and benches invite rest breaks, and rock sculptures add to the scenery. The art project runs only to 12th street, but the canal path stays decent until Seventh Avenue.

Best Canal to Run, Walk, or Bike, Scottsdale

Arizona Canal

The Valley's nine canals serve as an oasis to pedestrians and bicyclists who are thrilled to escape the inevitable close calls with Danica Patrick speed demon wanna-bes. We're partial to the part of the Arizona Canal in Scottsdale, near the art galleries and cool little restaurants near Goldwater Boulevard and Fifth Avenue. The Arizona Canal runs 38 miles from Granite Reef Dam to the east and 75th Avenue to the west. But this flat stretch of unpaved but hard-packed dirt is perfect for a relaxing walk or a hard bike ride alongside the flowing waters. Even if it's a hot one out there, there's something about being next to the canal that cools the spirit (if not the body). After the workout, the step back into reality is eased by the coffeehouses and myriad other neat places within walking distance in Old Scottsdale.
Crossing freeway interchanges on a bicycle sucks, especially in this expressway-heavy place. However, it's possible to avoid that madness, especially if you want to connect from Central Phoenix to Scottsdale and/or Tempe. The secret is Oak Street, a mostly residential road that, thanks to the awesome pedestrian and bicycle overpass at State Route 51, makes it possible (and super fun) to ride to the two 'burbs. Heading east from Central Phoenix, you can link up with Oak in the Coronado neighborhood before crossing 16th Street and then SR 51. From there, there's a dedicated bike lane on the slightly busier street that links up with the Arizona Canal trail just east of 24th Street. Or you can keep riding, north of Papago Park to 68th Street (which will more or less lead you to Old Town Scottsdale) or all the way to Chaparral Park, which makes it possible to hit up north Scottsdale or Tempe.
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Wanna get your tires dusty without blowing out a lung or risking your neck? Try the tame but fun loop trails of Papago Park, centrally located on the borders of Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe. Access the trailheads from the parking lot on the west side of Galvin Parkway, just across from the entrance to the Phoenix Zoo. Begin on the 2.7-mile Elliot Ramada Loop and head toward the buttes. Much of this trail is kid-friendly — rolling, sandy, wide single-track without the need for technical skills. Be sure to intersect with the Double Butte Loop, 2.3 miles, which offers gentle up-and-downs around a butte and past the stone amphitheater visible from McDowell Road. Numerous other trails criss-cross the park, allowing bikers a relaxing cruise through the desert or the chance to try something more challenging.
This 7.1-mile ride worked us to the bone. A sign near the trailhead states that mountain bikes are not recommended, but that's just to scare off the wimps. True, we had to carry our bike up several tough, rocky sections, which wasn't fun. But most of the trail is passable on a bike, and you'll be rewarded for the extra effort. After sweating the steep stuff to the top, we had several heart-stopping moments coming down sweet single track that clings to the edge of cliffs in places. And we have to mention the incredible view from the top of hundreds of acres of pristine Sonoran Desert in the Tonto National Forest. Though the trail is only seven miles, the challenging terrain takes longer to negotiate — be sure to take more water than you'll think you need, if the weather is warm.
Granite crags like Pinnacle Peak and the McDowell Mountains make the Valley a rock-climbing mecca, but the area's finest collection of sport-climbing routes is found farther east, near Queen Creek Canyon. Not to be confused with the two-horse town near Higley, the climbers' Queen Creek is the general area four miles north of Superior that includes the Oak Flat Campground, the site of past rock-climbing competitions. You'll need to consult a guidebook to figure out which of the 1,000-plus routes you want to do at places like Euro Dog Valley, Lower Devils Canyon, and the Road Area (which has some of the taller offerings). Favorite spots like the Mine Area are also fun for non-climbers and children, who love to rock-hop and explore the lunar-like terrain. The volcanic rock can be painful on the fingertips, but the sheer number of short climbing routes means there's a lot to love about Queen Creek.
If you've never walked down a vertical rock face, Rappel Gully is the place to learn. The 75-foot climbing route on the Headwall in Camelback Mountain's Echo Canyon is steep, especially at the top, yet isn't too high to intimidate most beginners. Best of all, the anchor for the rappel is what climbers call "bomb-proof." When you set up ropes for a rappel, it's considered poor form to have the whole setup — and its climber — come spilling down the mountain because of a poor anchor. The anchor at the top of Rappel Gully is a massive eyebolt set deep into the rock and secured with concrete. It's not going anywhere. And it's hard to mess up the rope work here — you simply feed one end of the rope through the circle of metal and you're ready to go. That first step off the edge is always the most unnerving for beginners, who often aren't sure if they're going to survive. Another great perk: The west-facing Rappel Gully is in the shade all morning.

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