Important batting-cage questions to ask: Is the price right? Is it open late? Are the cages tall and long enough that admiring your shot is an option? Is the machine's command of the strike zone Diamondbacks Randy Johnson or Expos Randy Johnson? Home Run Stadium, Mesa's most optimistically named batting cage, ticks off three yeses and one Diamondbacks. It meets all the secondary batting cage requirements, too. There's an arcade and a concession stand, not to mention shade and air conditioning for when you have to pretend you're not tired after your first token. If you're much more serious about this than the average slow-pitch softball slugger, private hitting lessons and team rentals are an option. It's a little difficult to endorse a batting cage that isn't connected to a giant waterpark or a pirate-themed miniature golf course, but remember that you won't have to compete with the lazy river for the maintenance guy.

Glendale's Camelback Ranch is one of the newest spring training facilities in the Cactus League, as it opened in 2009. It's perhaps the most beautiful spring training complex in the Valley, including walking trails, an orange grove, and a lake stocked with fish. We think the stadium itself is the most aesthetically pleasing in all of baseball, with desert colors found everywhere and a rusty-looking metal construction that's unlike any baseball stadium you've ever seen. There's just one huge drawback — it's the spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers. No worries, it's also home to the Chicago White Sox — so there's a way to avoid seeing the most hated baseball club in Arizona. If you're going to catch a spring training game, this is definitely the place to go.

There's a lot to not like about Arizona Grand. It isn't 7,200 yards long. It sits next to a freeway. You have to use plastic balls on the practice range. But then there's the 18th hole. You make the walk uphill from 17, having spent an undue amount of time whacking your ball out of the sandy desert landscape that makes up the back nine. Your fatigue from the front nine — a minefield of rolling hills and giant water hazards — is catching up with you. But then there's the 18th hole. Par 3, 202 yards, with Camelback Mountain and the entire city of Phoenix in all its sun-baked glory in the distance. You hit your ball, misjudge the 30-yard difference in altitude between you and the hole, overshoot it to an embarrassing degree. You check your scorecard, think about how much you hate this course. But then there's the 18th hole, and you can't wait to get out there again.

It's summer, and when it's summer, it's very, very hot outside, and when it's very, very hot outside, the last thing you want to do is smack around a tiny white ball in stuffy golf attire. So you show up to the course in a T-shirt and sandals, and when you get to the fourth hole, you take those off, too. Don't worry; this is Shalimar, where the grass isn't so green and the sand traps are rock-solid, but where you also can get nine holes on a cart for less than $20, and on a hot summer day, you'll have all 4,800 yards of public golf course to yourself. Well, you might have to share it with the Hipster Duck, a maverick with a mohawk who likes to hang around hole nine. But don't worry; he's cool.

When the summer heat starts to cook every single body in Phoenix, an inborn signal goes off, much like the internal clock in geese that tells them to fly south to avoid the cold of winter. The easiest place to run away for the day is Flagstaff, but for a true break from the heat, your final destination shouldn't be the city proper. Head a little farther northwest into the Coconino National Forest to find Lava River Cave, a unique natural formation created when a volcano erupted some 700,000 years ago. As you head underground, be prepared for the overwhelming desire to bundle up underneath a cozy sweatshirt. The temperature in the caves is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, making them the perfect place to escape from the oppressive Sonoran Desert heat. This mile-long tubular cave is surrounded on all sides by hardened lava flows, so the surface is slick, bumpy, and totally unlike anything else you've ever set foot on. Wear comfy shoes, bring a jacket, and make sure to have a bright flashlight — better yet, one headlamp per person.

Don't be scared — it's just Mexico. Sure, Americans do sometimes die in Nogales, but that happens in Phoenix, too. And if an American tourist ever was murdered doing what we often do — that is, park at the Burger King on the Arizona side ($4 for all day), walk over, eat something, buy something, and walk back — we've never heard of it. According to a New York Times article from last year, Mexican authorities claim something like that has never happened. We believe it. Fact is, the odds are overwhelming that you'll simply have a wonderful time for a few hours. It's Souvenir Heaven: charming tin pieces, colorful wrestling masks, the belt-and-boot boutiques with warm leather smells. Treat yourself to authentic Mexican baked goods or lunch at the 40-year-old La Roca restaurant. Fear not the taco stands, either — way tastier than you'd expect. We've even been known to employ the services of a local barber, just so we can start our tourism story for the scaredy-cats back home with something about a Mexican holding a straight razor to our throat. People who never go to Mexico won't expect the happy ending.

Nowhere in California or Hawaii will you find a comfortable two-bedroom furnished condo with a massive patio looking out over an unobstructed expanse of golden beach for under $200 a night. But Rocky Point, Mexico, is loaded with such deals. True, if you leave your chosen resort on the shore of the Sea of Cortez and go to town, you'll find that Hermes and Juicy Couture haven't found reason to open shops here. Rocky Point, or Puerto Peñasco, as the Mexicans call it, may never be called posh, though boosters have ambitious hopes to someday see a cruise-ship port and airline service from the United States. What you'll find are warm people, eateries ranging from street food to formal dining, boating and fishing culture and, of course, miles of top-notch beaches. Yes, you've heard of Mexico's violence and also heard that Rocky Point has a little of that. You do have to be adventurous to drive to and stay in Rocky Point for the weekend. We daresay it's worth it.

Once an oft-traversed roadway, Route 66 has been relegated mainly to a kitschy back road. Don't let the garage sale memorabilia fool you; the Mother Road is still worth driving. Why? Because it leads to underexplored oddball nooks of the Copper State. Case in point: Holbrook. Sure, you're familiar with its teepee motel (you and everybody else -- it's referenced in Pixar's Cars, after all). But the city's also home to some bizarre murals worth a gander. There's a map of Arizona landmarks, complete with a prominently featured Yuma Prison and a howling coyote at "Happy Holbrook," and a bizarre collection of portraits (a cowboy and samurai are among them) on the signage for the Globetrotter Lodge, on the side of which you'll also find a massive painted Route 66 sign. It's perfect for a photo op and a solid stopover on the way to the Petrified Forest National Monument.

It might be the Valley's only vintage amusement park. With its cartoony medieval theme, Enchanted Island is the perfect setting for the refurbished 1948 Encanto Carousel from the original Kiddieland. It's also a perfect outing for families with little kids, because there are lots of rides and activities especially for them and their parents — kiddy cars, a tiny coaster, bumper boats, a train, the Splash Zone — and only a few exciting things they're too young or short to be allowed on. Castle Clash, a pair of opposing castles armed with water guns, targets, and water cannons, sounds especially fun. The option of paddle boats and canoes for older adventurers, as well as serene strolls, urban fishing, and picnicking in the larger park, make Enchanted Island a destination suitable for everybody. Single tickets, wristbands, and memorable birthday parties are all available.


Scrambling is sort of like bouldering, a rock-climbing activity that generally keeps the climber traversing low to the ground, in that it involves no ropes or safety gear beyond rock shoes and possibly powdered chalk for a drier grip. But with scrambling, you keep going up — if you can. Papago is possibly the most popular place in the Valley to do this, and we've seen people in flip-flops and tennies ascending ghastly faces of crumbly rock and gravel that we wouldn't climb in rock shoes. We don't aspire to such daredevil behavior — and neither should you. But the nice part about Papago is that with good judgment, there are many rocky areas that are good and steep for scrambling but so easy — in the right places — that nearly anyone can do it. Challenge your fears and the tread of your shoes on the friction slopes near Hole-in-the-Rock and the hills just east of the northern fairways of Papago Golf Course. For hikers and bikers in popular Papago Park, scrambling up the pink hills provides that extra thrill you crave on the trail.

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