Best Summer Jog 2011 | Parking garage southwest of Sun Angel Stadium | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix
When the gates are open and there are no athletic events, we're among the members of the public who enjoy the free use of the Joe Selleh Track and bleachers of Sun Angel Stadium for a high-intensity workout. When that summer sun is high enough to fry the back of our neck, though, we also occasionally move part of that workout to the nearby four-story parking garage. A recent trip to the garage on a particularly oven-like July day found it completely devoid of vehicles — except for two Arizona State University Campus Police cruisers parked on the top level. As we jogged around the empty levels and up and down the wide ramps, the cops did nothing but glance at us — which we took as passive approval of our heat retreat. We never have been hassled in this garage before, either, but we recommend jogging there only when it's empty — both for the sake of being courteous to ASU and to avoid being run over by a motorist looking for a parking spot. Yeah, the temperature in the shade still soared over 100 during our recent run, even at 9 in the morning, but it was way more tolerable without those blistering waves of thermal radiation. And days like those, when we sleep through the early morning and can't put off the jog 'til evening, you'll find us in the garage.

Our knees just aren't what they used to be, but we still love the freedom and beauty of running on a surface that wasn't created by a steamroller. When we're not in the mood for the demanding ups and downs of some of the local single-track trails in desert parks, the dirt road leading west from the parking lot of Pima Canyon proves more than satisfying. A metal gate stops all motorized traffic from entering, but you may have to dodge a few fast-moving mountain bikes coming down the slope. And about that slope: It's gentle but relentless. It's just over a mile from the parking lot to the trailhead of National Trail, though the incline and uneven terrain makes it seem longer. Enough rocks and divots exist to force us to pay attention to the trail — this isn't a sidewalk but that means it's working our muscles better than an ordinary jog would. Coming back, the grade isn't steep enough to punish our joints — much. We've used this two-mile-plus workout, done frequently over a multi-week period, to prime ourselves for the Grand Canyon, Humphreys Peak, and other hearty Arizona challenges.

We'll admit — Goldfield isn't for everyone. But if you are the type of person who loves a little kitsch, then you might find a place in your heart for the campy town of Goldfield. According to our tour guide, the tourist trap was once a booming mining town — until one of the most productive mines in the West was flooded. (Unless you had some high-tech scuba equipment, there was no way you were pulling gold outta there.) Learn all about the workings of the mines and the demise of the town after you travel, via a bumpy elevator ride, into the cool mine shaft below. Once underground, your gritty prospector will take you on a journey through the cavernous tunnel, where you will learn all about life in a mine. Be sure to watch the little kids' faces as the "widowmaker" and the "honeybucket" are explained. Those priceless looks alone are worth every penny of the $5 tour. Don't forget to tip the prospector — without him you would just be wandering around a boring hole in ground.
There's something exciting about coming across the remnants of a human settlement while on a long hike through an otherwise barren landscape. Who lived here? Why this spot? Where'd they go? How the hell did they get up all that stuff up here? In the case of the abandoned ranch just off the Willow Springs Trail through the White Tank Mountains on the Valley's western edge, at least one of these questions is easy to answer. The men who settled here — from the looks of it, cattle ranchers — picked the shadiest spot around, near a deep spring. The White Tanks are named for the granite pools that collect water on their face, reserves that have drawn human inhabitants for thousands of years, as demonstrated by the petroglyphs that line these peaks like graffiti in a rail yard, left by the seven villages of Hohokam who once settled here. Yet this little riparian spot is still uniquely captivating. Barbed wire, several long rock fences, a rusty water tank, and the ruins of what looks like a house give a glimpse into the hardscrabble lives of the people who settled this town before the advent of air conditioning and 10-lane freeways. Explore for a bit before heading back down into society — or moving on to The Black Rock Trail, which takes you to less-preserved Indian ruins.
Beginning each spring and continuing until the temperatures really start to climb in the summer, thousands of bats migrate to the so-called "Phoenix Bat Cave" near the Arizona Biltmore. The "cave" is actually a Maricopa County Flood Control ditch, but it has the proper temperatures and protection for these tiny flying creatures. During bat season, visitors to the cave (which is marked by a plaque from the Arizona Department of Game & Fish) can see dozens of bats flying out at dusk, hunting insects. There are two types of bats who make their home here: the western pipistrelle, which is the smaller of the two groups and the first to fly out of the cave in the evenings in fluttery flight patterns, and the Mexican free-tailed bat, which is a female colony that comes to the cave to birth and raise their young (the highest number are believed to be in the cave in July and August). Accessing the cave requires parking near 40th Street and Camelback, then walking along the north side of the Arizona Canal for about half a mile. The entrance to the cave is behind Phoenix Country Day School, north of the canal.
It's easy to see why Camelback Mountain has some of the most popular trails in the Valley, as the top of the red sandstone "hump" provides an unparalleled view of Phoenix. Most people are familiar with the Echo Canyon trail, but we like the slightly easier Cholla Trail. We say slightly easier because while you'll still end up sweating like a whore in church, it's a bit less steep. The last eighth of a mile before the summit does require a bit of rock scrambling — so leave Rover at home if you plan on reaching the top. And whatever you do, bring plenty of water and know your limits. Hiking should be fun, not harrowing. Nobody wants to be the dingbat who gets airlifted off Camelback.

Best Place to Find an Underground Bike Race

AZ Fixed

For most folks, an alley cat is that annoying feline that roots through your garbage and causes endless caterwauling at all hours of the night. For local cyclists or riders of fixed-gear two-wheelers, however, alley cats are under-the-radar urban bike races that are ultra-competitive and ultra-fun. Best described as a cycling scavenger hunt, alley cat races feature riders zipping around a certain area of the Valley as fast as their muscular legs can carry them in between various checkpoints. These events usually feature a theme, as well as pimp after-parties, where the winners are toasted and the losers get roasted. Due to their quasi-legal and DIY nature, alley cats are announced on the down-low. In fact, the only way you can find out about the next race is by checking out local cycling message board AZ Fixed. Populated by local cyclists and fixed-gear aficionados, the site is also a place to learn of more subdued jaunts like a weekly ride by the Tempe Bicycle Action Group or the Critical Mass excursion on the final Friday of every month. As one AZ Fixed user by the name of Zap states, the site's raison d'être is simple: "It's all about having a good ol' time on your bike."
Phoenix's city park system is one of the largest and best in the world, and the Christiansen Trail gives a nice crash course on what it has to offer. This marathon 10.7-mile trail stretches the width of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, from Tatum Boulevard on the east to Seventh Avenue on the west. You'll traverse much of the city on foot — mostly off the grid, with a few glimpses into posh neighborhoods. It's thrilling, and a little odd, to be in the middle of the sixth-largest city in the country yet totally immersed in the outdoors. Though the trail's long, there is only about 200 feet of elevation gain, so it's also pretty easy. Don't worry about playing Frogger on busy roads, either, as you'll take tunnels under State Route 51, Cave Creek Road, and Seventh Street. We recommend starting early at the tiny eastern trailhead at Tatum and Tomahawk so you begin the day looking up at Camelback before making your way west, slipping around Piestewa Peak and over toward North Mountain. The scenery gets less impressive as you head west. Arrange a ride from the other side after you've ended in a developed city park with restrooms and full cell coverage.
Imagine surfing, but picture doing it downhill on a hard, smooth surface at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. In the dark. With a bunch of other people flying down the hill around you. In a nutshell, that's downhill longboarding in the Valley, where rides and timed races take place every month during the full moon at McDowell Mountain Ranch.Longboarding was developed on the West Coast in the 1950s and requires the use of a wheeled board that is generally up to 59 inches long. The downhill aspect, in which riders fly downhill as fast as they can while trying to maintain control of the board, has a large following in Phoenix but has stayed pretty quiet while growing over the past two years. Anywhere from a dozen to 25 people participate in the full-moon rides, as well as at downhill longboarding events at South Mountain, but the events are so under wraps that they're almost impossible to catch. (In fact, they eluded the Best Of team all summer!) The full-moon rides at McDowell Mountain Ranch are organized by former NAU student Ryan Chopko, who announces monthly events only to members of a longboarding group on Facebook. He says the moonlit rides are "pretty intense.""It's dark. There's not much light, except the light from the full moon. And we move down the hill really, really fast," Chopko says. Generally, boarders meet at a location near McDowell Mountain Ranch around 9:30 p.m. Riders are shuttled to the top of a hill and dropped off. Speeds are clocked by timekeepers at the top and bottom of the hill, and if everybody's pitched in some money, winners can get prizes. (Chopko generally asks for a $5 buy-in per boarder.)You can only keep a good secret for so long. What started as an underground event is quickly moving into the mainstream. "Our full moon event is . . . becoming so well known it almost doesn't require advertisement," Chopko says. "Which is so crazy to me, because two years ago, it was something so small and private. No one knew what the heck it was."
Until a couple of years ago, online trip reports about the two main trails cutting through the 34,400-acre Table Top Mountain Wilderness area detailed nothing but the pleasures of hiking in the rugged, cactus-filled terrain located 20 miles or so south of Maricopa. These days, it's more common to hear warnings about the federal preserve. "I'd be very careful," a ranger with the Bureau of Land Management's field office tells us (you can call them at the number listed above) when we inquire about a planned trip to wilderness within the now-infamous Vekol Valley, south of Interstate 8. Not only do signs warn outdoors enthusiasts that they're entering an area rife with human- and drug-smuggling activity, but earlier this year, the BLM completed work on a 1.3-mile "Normandy-style" vehicle barrier between the Table Top Wilderness and the northern edge of the Tohono O'odham reservation. Many illegal immigrants and their guides filter through the BLM land every year, often using the distinct Table Top Mountain as a navigational guide. Gun battles are not uncommon. No hikers have been messed with — yet. We're holding off on the summit trail hike until we find a small herd of fellow risk-takers willing to accompany us.

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