If you happen to see a family of four dressed as video game characters or superheroes running down the sidewalks of Mill Avenue in Tempe, don't panic. The Arizona heat hasn't finally gotten to you. They likely are part of one of the off-kilter Urban Dare adventure races. Inspired by such reality TV competitions as The Amazing Race and offering cash prizes and free airfare, these twice-yearly costumed scavenger hunts require participants to don outlandish outfits and dash around Tempe and Phoenix. Meanwhile, they hunt for clues and complete a series of goofy challenges, like maybe a giant game of Jenga or jump-rope contest. Then again, they could just be a bunch of nutters who let the Arizona heat get to them. The next Valley event is scheduled for March 24, 2012.
Let It Roll Bowl
This still-charming, vaguely futuristic building was designed in 1960 by Ralph Haver-influenced Pierson Miller Ware and Associates, a well-regarded architecture firm. It opened in 1962 with 32 lanes and a coffee shop that served a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy for 35 cents and packed in a crowd for the Friday-night fish fry. The former Northgate Bowl (which became Sunset Bowl sometime in the '70s) is a Sunnyslope fixture and looks the same (from the outside, anyway) as it did way back when. Even the wacky light-up sign with its pop-out letters is the same one erected in 1962, although new owners overhauled the interior in the '90s, adding lanes, a computer scoring system, a video arcade, a daycare, and a pro shop. But these improvements only make bowling at Let it Roll all the more fun for the whole family.
K1 Speed
When local off-road racer "Pistol" Pete Sohren closed his Speedway indoor kart-racing business, Valley go-kart enthusiasts weren't left with many options — that is, until national chain K1 Speed opened a Phoenix location in the old Speedway building. Visitors can now enjoy all the medium-octane (45 miles per hour, max) excitement of whizzing around an indoor track on a go-kart — minus noxious exhaust fumes. All K1's karts are electric, which means you can race with a group of friends, and spectators won't have to shout at each other or gag on the smell of gas. As a company, K1 has credibility — professional racer Boris Said is a co-owner — and the tracks are designed to mimic those in NASCAR. Plus, the lobby is pretty pimp, all decked out in custom paintings of cars, chrome siding, and shiny arcade racing games, with plenty of black leather couches and chairs for resting after the big race.
This rugged road provides a challenge for quad riders and other off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, and it offers breathtaking views and a chance to discover remnants of Arizona's mining days. You can explore the area and see the stone houses occupied by early miners. Take I-10 west to the Salome Road exit and turn right. Turn right again on Eagle Eye Road and travel 8.5 miles to a dirt road that heads north toward a mountain summit. It's an amazing playground year-round, but especially welcoming in the fall, winter, and spring.
"I wish I was at the mall," our wife muttered as the Jeep tilted sideways, the doorless passenger's side showing nothing but rocks and earth. The nod to our studly 4x4-ing didn't go unappreciated, and we assured her the vehicle was far from tipping over. This was just one of several times she expressed regret for signing up for this tour, but at least one of us was having a great time. Driving from Interstate 17 to Seven Springs on Table Mesa Road (a.k.a. Forest Road 41) is one of those half-day Arizona adventures that should be experienced at least once by everyone with a high-clearance vehicle and a love for bumps. You could probably get a passenger car down this road, if you don't mind beating it up some. But for the minority of SUV owners willing to drive on dirt, Table Mesa offers an experience that falls neatly between extreme and boring. Exit I-17 just north of New River and head east. The few river crossings are nothing you can't handle (assuming no storms and flash-flooding). Stay on FR 41 until it merges with the southbound Seven Springs Road. You can go east-west, of course, but we found it charming to end the trail with the transition from the beautiful-but-austere Sonoran wilderness to the riparian Seven Springs area, with its sprinkling of cottages and almost Connecticut-like feel, before heading back to town through upscale Scottsdale and right past the mall.
South Mountain Park and Preserve
After a hectic day, there are many surefire ways to escape from reality. Some are expensive. Others are illegal. Luckily, viewing the sunset at South Mountain is a free antidote to calm your weary mind without any side effects. Head up to Dobbins Point at dusk and take it slow as you drive up the windy, meandering Summit Road. We recommend raising the volume of your tunes (possibly Alexi Murdoch's "Orange Sky") as you take in the light against the crags and the mountain profiles along the way. Once you reach the top, check out the planes departing and arriving at Sky Harbor to the east as they fade in and out of view, and, to the west, see the lights over the neighborhoods below. Remember to appreciate the contours of the many varieties of cacti on your way back down the road to reality.
We-Ko-Pa Golf Resort
We-Ko-Pa's Cholla course is not for your twice-a-year golfer — it's a beast. In other words, if you're not in the fairway, you're screwed — and that's what makes it awesome. By the end of your round, you'll either swear off golf forever or think you're ready for the PGA Tour. The course has become the standard for desert golf and, in 2001, was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the 10 best new public courses in the world. The challenges of playing at one of the most difficult desert courses in the country aside, the place is gorgeous. Snaking its way through a mountainous desert landscape, Cholla provides views of the Valley that are worth the 110 strokes (and roughly 10 golf balls claimed by the desert) it will take your average golfer to complete the 7,225-yard course.
The Phoenician, Scottsdale
The only good thing about 120-degree heat is that the snowbirds who invade the Valley every winter can't bear the hellish temps and retreat to the comforts of their hometowns. This means Valley golf courses rely on the business of people who actually live here but aren't willing to drop nearly $200 on a round of golf. The Phoenician is no different. On May 23, rates at the posh course dropped to $60 a round — a far cry from the $189 greens fee the course charges in the winter. The course is gorgeous — it's a desert course without the symptoms of a desert course (i.e., acres of unkempt, snake-filled wilderness in which to risk your life in search of your ball). After all this is The Phoenician.
Ken McDonald Golf Course
It's hard to improve upon perfection — especially when perfection comes cheap. However, Ken McDonald Golf Course, the 2010 winner of New Times' Best Winter Golf Course, has managed to make the course even better than it was last year — including elongating its 11th hole. The par-72 championship course got brand-new carts last year, is scenic, always in great shape, and, most importantly, still cheap — even in the winter. Winter rates at Ken McDonald fluctuate but rarely go above $32, which is nice when rates at the Valley's premier courses skyrocket with the arrival of the snowbirds to upwards of $200.
Vistal Golf Club
We stood on the tee of the par-3 eighth hole, nestled in a box canyon on the base of South Mountain. We saw rocks to the left of a sloping green, a large sand trap guarding the front, and nothing but nastiness to the right. A thing of beauty, in other words. If we turned to look north, the skyline of downtown Phoenix and beyond might inspire us — and Lord knows we needed it. Vistal used to be called South Mountain about a decade ago, but a name change went along with a total layout re-design. The bold new look includes an ungodly number of what quaintly are called "hazards" — including sand traps, water, and undulating greens. We also really appreciate the classic rock music that is piped through the facility and into the practice areas. Unfortunately, our game falls decidedly short of "We Are the Champions" status.

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