Best Indoor Shooting Range 2010 | Caswells Shooting Range | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix
Caswells beats any other indoor shooting range in the Valley, for a number of reasons. First, Caswells is a firearm retailer, which means visitors can buy or rent a wide variety of guns and ammo. The indoor range at Caswells has awesome air conditioning, so patrons don't have to sweat it out while shooting, and the targets are movable (they operate on an electronic system, so shooters can adjust their distances more precisely). The indoor shooting booths are side-by-side, but each is relatively private — at least, private enough that shooters don't get dinged with brass casings from their neighbors' stall. There are 11 stalls, and the adjustable targets for each reach a maximum of 75 feet. Prices are reasonable, too — $15 per person per lane rental and $7 gun rentals. Add the fact that ladies get free lanes and gun rentals on Tuesdays and Fridays, and there's little doubt that Caswells is the best shot for Valley gun enthusiasts.
The junior marksmen program at Rio Salado Sportsman's Club focuses on small-bore (.22-caliber) rifle shooting, and boasts some of the best junior marksmen in Arizona. Shooters who've gone through the program at Rio Salado include two-time National Junior Olympics competitor Tanya Gorin; Christine Costello, who recently graduated from the University of Nebraska on a full scholarship from the Huskers rifle team; and Joyce Kim, who was named Smallbore Junior of the Year by the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association in 2008. The program is for marksmen ages 10 through 20, and focuses on safety first: the coaches, who include Ed Roberts and Myles Gorin, are all certified through the National Rifle Association and say they've never had a single accident in the junior program. It's a social activity for almost everybody, too — the kids spend time together away from the firing line, most of the childrens' parents join them for weekly practices, and at the end of the season, there's always a big party.
Ben Avery is the largest publicly operated shooting facility in the United States, sprawling over 1,650 acres near Lake Pleasant. It has a proud history among sportsmen and was the site of the World Shooting Championships in 1970. Gun enthusiasts and law enforcement officers regularly practice on the main and specialty ranges, which include an archery range. Ben Avery also has a Clay Target Center for skeet and trap shooting, and a large campground away from the ranges. But the main thing that sets Ben Avery apart is the surrounding landscape — shooters get to take in some great views of the surrounding mountains and desert plains while honing their marksman skills.
You wouldn't necessarily know it by reading the local daily newspaper, but tens of thousands of Arizonans go dove hunting every year starting September 1. If you're not a hunter, the only way to tell for sure that dove-hunting season is approaching is if you go to Walmart and spot a 12-foot-high pyramid of shotgun-shell boxes on sale. We know it's a popular activity because we keep getting pushed out of our favorite spots. That's not necessarily because more people are choosing to shoot the world's symbol of peace — hunting is a dying sport, in general, by many accounts. But Arizona's fast growth (before the recession) has either swallowed up many of our old hunting grounds or caused more people to swarm onto the ever-shrinking good spots. In the past few years, though, we've found success (and our birding limit, or nearly so) in fields around Stanfield, just south of Maricopa. We won't tell you exactly where our spot is — duh! — but it's a big area. Just drive along the access roads to the local farms until you find a good place to hang out — far away from any "No Hunting" signs or inhabited buildings, of course. When you're done, you can barbecue the birds in the field — or follow our lead and stop off at Harrah's Ak-Chin casino for a buffet breakfast and a few hands of blackjack.

Best Place to Access the Superstition Mountains If Lost Dutchman Park Closes (Or Even If It Doesn't)

First Water Trailhead

Lovers of the outdoors pooled their money this year to keep Lost Dutchman State Park open after severe budget cuts by the Legislature. After $26,000 was raised from private sources, officials announced the park — a major gateway to the East Valley's Superstition Mountains — would remain open. But there's no assurance the state will fix its financial problems next year. Whether open or closed, however, if you want to hike in the Supes, you can skip the park altogether and drive to the nearby First Water Trailhead. The access road, FS78, is just 0.3 miles past the turnoff for Lost Dutchman off State Route 88; the trailhead is about two miles down the dirt road. From there, you'll find a wide variety of trails to hike — including those that are accessible from Lost Dutchman, like the popular Siphon Draw trail. Best of all, the parking is free, while Lost Dutchman costs $7 per vehicle. Some websites state that a $6 Tonto Pass or other fees are required to park at First Water. The Forest Service assures us that's not the case for day hikers. The catch: Get there early before those free spots fill up.
For years, when hiking on the west flanks of the Superstition Mountains, we wondered where the hell that train-whistle noise was coming from. This year, we found out — it's the whistle above the mine at the Goldfield Ghost Town. And we're happy to know, because the mine turns out to be a slice of Arizona we should have experienced years ago. A grizzled-looking prospector type gave the tour into the mine for our small group of adults and kids. Though we were impressed right away by the authentic mine elevator, which went down 30 or 40 feet (as far as we could tell), the ambiance of the tour was set when the prospector/guide had to jump up and down to make the elevator descend the final two feet. Inside the dim mine shaft, where the ceiling is held up by rickety-looking wooden and metal support beams, we were treated to a history of the place and interesting anecdotes — like how the 19th-century pneumatic jackhammers were called "Widowmakers" because the dust they kicked up had miners dropping like flies. After the relieved feeling of seeing sunlight when you get out, stop by the saloon and Wild West town for a Tombstone-like shoot-out. Don't wait for your Chicago relatives to visit before making a pilgrimage to this historic spot.
Just when you think you've exhausted every "touristy" event in Phoenix to take your visiting Aunt Sally, something new pops up on the horizon. In this case, it pops up in a canyon. After finding this little gem of a tour, we're shocked at how few people know about it. The Dolly Steamboat winds its way through the breathtaking waterways of Canyon Lake, where secluded, pristine vistas justify the nickname "The Junior Grand Canyon." Wildlife sightings are commonplace along these nature cruises; once, we saw an entire family of bighorn sheep climbing up steep, enormous rock walls. The air is much cleaner 50 miles east of Phoenix, so everything along this spectacular ride just seems more colorful. Dolly's captain is entertaining and knowledgeable about not only the boat but all kinds of history related to the Apache Trail and its parts, as well as the flora and fauna of the area. The tours range from the simple — but spectacular — nature cruise to dinner cruises and even a once-a-month astronomy cruise, and Dolly is also available for private events. Even the drive out to Canyon Lake is magnificent. Make sure you pack your camera and binoculars, but leave the alcohol at home. (There's a bar and snack bar on board, though.) Prices for tours range from $20 to $79, with discounts for seniors and kids.
Camping doesn't get much better than sitting on a secluded, sandy beach at Apache Lake, listening to the water lap at your boat and falling asleep under the stars. We try to get out there once every couple of years or so, motoring far away from the shoreline-picnickers. Numerous dry arroyos run into the lake from the surrounding desert, and we've found a few good ones with plentiful, coarse sand that make the perfect platform for an air mattress or two. Apache Lake doesn't have an endless supply of sandy beaches — you may have to share your spot — but it's usually much better for camping than other lakes in the Phoenix area. Canyon Lake is too canyon-y and Saguaro Lake's sparse beaches are a long boat drive down a no-wake zone. You'd think Roosevelt Lake, being the biggest of the Roosevelt Dam reservoirs, would have the best beaches, but it just ain't so — particularly after our wet winter, which flooded beaches and cluttered the shorelines with debris. Apache Lake, however, still has some great camping sites on its shores. When sleeping without a tent next to a lake in the desert, our only worry is whether a ringtail cat will snag the Cheerios out of our backpack (again).
We had a terrible scare last year when The Water Wheel fire broke out north of Payson. The fire ate up nearly 800 acres of precious pine and forced the evacuation of two subdivisions. It did not, however, destroy the beautiful swimming hole that gave the disaster its name. The trees along Houston Mesa Road are scorched black, but the deep, cool pool of the East Verde River where Valley swimmers escape the blazing Phoenix heat with a long plunge off the steep walls leading to one of Rim Country's most pleasing waterfalls is still mostly intact. The parking area near where the blaze started has been closed (hopefully just temporarily, but possibly not) and was guarded by a cop when we stopped by earlier this summer, but you can still get there by walking in and along the East Verde from the lot downstream. It's well worth the jaunt. As anyone who's been there will tell you, the Water Wheel swimming hole is one of the state's true gems. It's not over-the-top gorgeous like similar spots near Sedona or at Havasupai, but it's wonderful in its own understated way, close and calming, which is just how we like our swimming holes.
Arizona is blessed with a wide array of lakes, creeks, and rivers perfect for kayaking. The only problem is that if you want to see them, you have to devote a large chunk of your day to getting there. Tempe Town Lake is the solution to this problem. Unless you'd rather take a spin down a disgusting irrigation canal, Tempe Town Lake's the ideal spot for a quick afternoon workout for the urban 'yaker lucky enough to live close by. (Pending a refill, of course, which is scheduled to occur in November.)

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