Best Hike in the Heat 2011 | Brown's Cave at Apache Lake | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix
Heat exhaustion is never too far away during summer hikes in the Sonoran Desert, but we're not the type to sit at home for five months out of the year. On most local hikes, the only relief from the oven we call the outdoors comes in a bottle (we're talking ice water, not dehydrating booze). But the trek we're here to tell you about features not only a lake perfect for a post-hike dip, but a Shangri-La-esque waterfall to stand under. The one thing it doesn't have is an actual cave, though (Brown's Cave is just an overhang). There are two ways to get there: Go to Apache Lake, launch a boat, and find the mouth of Alder Creek, on the north shore near the west end of the lake. (Depending on the lake water level, this area also provides a fantastic sandy beach for camping or hanging out.) Hike up the rugged canyon about a half-mile to the waterfall; the overhang is a bit farther. The second option requires knowledge of dirt roads that spur off the Four Peaks turnoff from Highway 87 north of Mesa, which is Forest Road 143. Check the Internet or a hiking guide to find the six-mile-long 4 x 4 road that goes to the Cane Spring Trailhead and Alder Trail. The latter takes you to the "cave," waterfall, and Apache Lake. Splashdown.
Like hiking Camelback Mountain? You're going to love the Siphon Draw trail up Superstition Mountain. This trail is like Camelback on steroids and offers a spectacular view from the Flatiron — the high, flat area at its western face. The steep, boulder-strewn trail departing from Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction is a toughie. Though well traveled, this trail is technically "unofficial" and marked only by friendly hikers using cairns and blazes of white spray paint. The trail rises 3,000 feet in 3.2 miles, double the length and height of the Camelback summit trails, so if you can't make it to the top of Camelback in less than an hour on a cool day, you'd probably be better off sitting this one out. If you can do it, you should. It's a pretty trip, offering lots of red rock, big trees, and slick rock gulleys you'd half-expect to see someone skateboarding across. By the end, you'll be literally climbing this mountain, but the payoff is so worth it: a vista across the East Valley, with Phoenix's twin-cluster skyline and the comparatively short city peaks in the distance. Four Peaks looms to the north; the rest of the Supes range is to the east. Linger a while and enjoy the view — the trip down will be rough, too.
We all know it is a good idea to get outside for a hike, especially when the weather in Phoenix is nice. But if you are not a hiker in the rough and rugged sense, then there is a special place for you, too. Feel as though you are hiking in the Sonoran Desert as you stroll through the blooming flowers along the Desert Botanical Garden's wildflower trail. This place is a treasure in our own backyard, and there is no reason to save it for your out-of-town guests. Get out there and soak up some desert for yourself, without all the equipment and stuff.
Okay, so the bottom floor of this longtime videogame palace is, technically, more like a sunken living room than an actual underground arcade. But for generations of gamers, it's also a time machine dressed up in a cheesy castle coating. Sure, there's a sprinkling of high-tech driving and first-person-shooter games, but the reason this place blows Dave & Buster's out of the water is the world-class collection of vintage arcade games. We're talking all-time classics like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and the original Star Wars, as well as forgotten gems such as Joust, Moon Patrol, 1942, and Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off Road. Not to mention more than two dozen classic and contemporary pinball machines and all the old-school air hockey action you can handle. Feathered hair and acid-washed jeans are suggested but not required.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people hike the summit trail of Piestewa Peak in Phoenix — but stop short of the real summit. The vast majority who complete the steep, 1.2-mile Summit Trail turn around after reaching a lesser prominence, located about 30 feet lower. We consider this poor style. What if Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had stopped 30 feet short of the summit of Mount Everest in 1953 and said, "Screw it — we're close enough!" Besides, scrambling up to the actual summit is easy and fun. No climbing rope is needed, but you'll have to use your hands. Instead of bearing left to the mound of pointy rocks with most of the hikers, follow the short chute right and straight up. We also enjoy taking a second route, which involves picking your way up and over the boulders leading from the hikers' summit. At the tippy-top, you'll see the U.S. Geological Survey medallion embedded in the rock that marks the true 2,608-foot summit, plus you'll find a nugget of solitude.
For now, a tentative plan is on hold that would turn the legendary Oak Flats area just east of Superior into a $60 billion mining pit the size of Meteor Crater. What does that mean for you? If the weather is anything resembling cool, throw some day-camping gear in the cruiser and get ready to enjoy a rock-climbing picnic. Just exploring the maze-like canyons strewn with giant rocks is fun, but climbers find the place a paradise of bouldering problems waiting to be solved. No rope is needed — just your rock shoes and chalk bag. Hundreds of short routes featuring overhangs, pocket-lined fines, and ultra-crimpers abound; the climbing area developed, in large part, from years of hosting the now-defunct Phoenix Bouldering Contest. If you're too tired to drive the two hours back to the Valley after a full day of blowing out your forearms amid the tree-and-cactus-filled wonderland, you can spend the night — for free — at the adjacent Oak Flats Campground. Wait too long to visit, and the whole place might be rubble.
Many climbers write off Camelback as nothing more than a pile of "choss," a.k.a. crumbly crap-rock. Yet it's really stunning how few harnessed adventurers come out to get high (naturally) in the Phoenix park that contains the pyramid-shaped pink mountain and surrounding slice of the Sonoran Desert. Yes, the rock quality, being composed of prehistoric mud, is poorer than the granite you'll find at Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale or the volcano-born stone in the Superstition Mountains. But there are major upsides: the super-convenient, central Valley location, the abundance of routes, the 300-foot-plus height of some of the climbs, and the area's sheer beauty. The handholds and footholds on the most popular routes are solid (true, there are no guarantees), and anchors for your rope often bombproof. From the spooky, hang-it-all-out moves on the three-pitch Ridge Route to the classic southeast face of the Praying Monk formation, the cliff climbs in the Camel's Head area offer easy-to-get-to thrills for vertical-minded visitors.
If you want to develop fingertips that work like steel hooks, there's no better place to do it than at the Phoenix Rock Gym in Tempe. We're ashamed to say that we've occasionally let months go by without a visit, but we've belonged to PRG since it opened in 1992 and we always find our way back. We love the people who work there, as well as the regulars and the newbies who try to claw their way to the top of the 30-foot walls. When our climbing partners can't go, we make the veins in our hands and forearms pop out on the two world-class bouldering walls, which don't require the use of ropes. Well before the place starts to look too familiar or grows boring, new paint goes up on the walls and holds get switched around in a most satisfying way. How these guys figure out how to make the perfect 5.10 for us, we don't know — but they do and, in the process, facilitate a climbing experience that makes us forget, for a moment, that we actually prefer to be outside. When we do hit real-world rock — a rarer occasion now that we've got kids — the practice we have at the rock gym makes for a much more confident, Spider-Man-like adventure. Oh, and those kids? Thanks to PRG, they went straight from diapers to diaper harnesses.

Best Place to Learn About Backyard Pump Tracks

Rage Cycles

Remember when we used to dream about draining the pool so we could drop in on our BMX bike and ride the walls? Now, it's all about carving up the back lawn and creating a miniature single-track trail that winds through the yard complete with banks, berms, and jumps. The trick is riding through the course without making a single pedal stroke. That's right, all the forward power is generated by pumping the bike through the turns and over the humps. The problem is, where are these private tracks? All over the Valley, it turns out, but good luck finding them. To get a taste — and tips on how to DIY — head over to Rage Cycles in Scottsdale and try a run on the course tucked behind the shop.
Most cyclists are willing to punish themselves up a climb for the reward of the thrilling descent. The road to Bartlett Lake is just the opposite. Just before Cave Creek Road ends, Bartlett Dam Road cuts through the desert to the east, winding its way 14 miles down to a remote lake fed by the Verde River. The descent is broken into two sections, with a small climb in the middle, and the final stretch is down a straight-as-an-arrow screamer (watch those brakes). After cooling off at the marina store, settle in for a hard grind back out. And beware riding this in the heat, as it is panhandle-hot down there.

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