This monument of a mountain looms over the surrounding desert between Phoenix and Superior, offering up one of the trickiest hikes near the Valley. (Take the unmarked dirt road to the Saddleridge Trail on the left, which ends at the trailhead parking lot.) It is not the length or elevation gain that makes this hike so difficult (though at nearly four miles in length and just under 2,000 feet gained, it is no easy feat); it is the exposure and lack of trail markers that truly challenge the hiker.

Starting easy along a small section of the Arizona Trail, Picketpost veers off toward the mountain to pursue a steep, cairn-marked trail lined with some of the biggest saguaros to witness your seemingly self-guided journey. A trail beginning with steep switchbacks, the hiker confronts it eventually with an even steeper ascent up rock-scramble canyons, slippery ridges, and bare rock cliff walls. But no tough hike would be complete without a rewarding summit, and the plateau top of Picketpost gives the successful climber an old mailbox to log your accomplishment, accompanied by a spectacular view of the East Valley and the backside of the superstitions. A hard hike along a rough trail, Picketpost Mountain is an achievement to be sure, but not for the faint of heart — literally or figuratively.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

You'll need thighs of steel (or at least a hell of a granny gear) to complete this ride in one push. With our middling level of fitness and bike gearing set more for speed on the flats, we can't reach the summit without frequent rest stops. Yet we go back again and again. Why? This hill is the toughest — and sweetest — challenge for road biking in Phoenix. Some compare it to a shorter version of the legendary Mount Verdoux (part of the Tour de France), in terms of both scenic beauty and heart-pounding exertion. From the Central Avenue park entrance, you'll climb grades of 5 percent to 8 percent for 5.5 miles to Dobbins Lookout; it's a little farther if you go to the TV towers. The smooth asphalt makes for an E-ticket descent with treacherous drop-offs, so make sure your steed is in good shape. Eleven or 12 miles is short for a road-bike ride; most locals do the summit trail as part of a longer adventure, such as the round-the-mountain ride on Riggs Road that will add at least 40 miles to the trip. We've done that several times but also enjoy biking to the entrance and just cranking the hill. For us, it's always a major workout — and always fun.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

Smack in the heart of the Valley, running through one of the country's largest urban preserve lands, Trail 100 takes you past awe-inspiring desert mansions, middle-class to upscale neighborhoods, picnic areas, and, most of all, miles of near-nothingness — just the placid Sonoran Desert. Sixth-largest city? Where? We typically start at the joke of a parking lot at Tomahawk Trail and Tatum Boulevard, which has a grand total of six spaces. Get there early and prepared for a long haul across challenging single-track. Though not as technical for the hardcore among you, we have to get off the bike on one rocky hill twice — once because it's too nuts to descend, and again on the return trip going up because our legs aren't strong enough. That part's west of the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, which passes under the Piestewa Peak freeway. To make it a full 10 miles or so one way, we ride all the way to Cave Creek and Thunderbird roads before turning around. Hours of free thrills.

Let It Roll Bowl

We love Let It Roll because someone was smart enough to revamp this old bowling alley (all new lanes and equipment) to make it a delightful place in which to bowl, while retaining a bit of the shabby interior to keep us comfortable. And the prices, though not exactly vintage, are way more reasonable than at those newfangled, fancy bowling alleys. Our favorite features: the vintage murals depicting partying Sunnyslopers and the fact that the bowling alley is adjacent to a better-than-decent Mexican restaurant.

If you've ever ridden a bike around downtown Phoenix, you know the conditions are hostile and bumpy, at best. The city has few bike lanes, and those that do exist sporadically end and restart without warning. Drivers in the city often are unaware of cyclists, which results in a lot of close calls or worse. Not to throw around the title "hero" lightly, but earlier this year, the Phoenix Spokes People proved commitment to the cycling cause, which resulted in a budget increase for cycling infrastructure 30 times the previous years' allotment. Though tireless and dedicated attendance at 19 city budget hearings, the PSP proved that cycling exists in Phoenix and needs to be protected and encouraged to burgeon everything from local business spending to healthy living. Thus, in a heroic show of devotion to bicycles, Phoenix Spokes People, in part, got the City of Phoenix's cycling infrastructure budget raised from $50,000 to $1.5 million. Hats off to the PSP for making Phoenix that much more livable.

Mitchell Park

At Mitchell, the large leash-free park near Arizona State University, the pet-watching is good and the people-watching even better. The 30-something girl who looks like a hip barista but actually is a post-grad in water science. The amiable drunk who feels compelled to guess the original pedigree of every mutt he meets. Don't get us wrong, though — most folks who go there are friendly and fairly normal. It's just that Mitchell, located just off University Drive, seems to have a wider variety of humanity than, for example, the much larger dog park at the Hardy Sports Complex in south Tempe, which attracts more family types and elderly people. Best of all, the park feels secure and it's kept up nicely by city employees. And those people we mentioned? They're very good about cleaning up after their dogs.

Rose Mofford Sports Complex

The things we look for in dog parks are space, water, parking, security, and safety for our pets. The Rose Mofford Dog Park on 25th Avenue scores on all these points. For one, the park is huge and offers plenty of space for dogs to run free. It also has separate areas for small and large dogs. There's plenty of parking, and you'll find some nice shade trees, benches, and plenty of water for your pup.

Wet 'n' Wild Phoenix Water Park

This place is better than SeaWorld, if you prefer looking at human creatures and tattoos wild enough to shame a school of clownfish. Yet beyond the people-watching experience is a water park that would should make any desert city proud. The many waterslides are first-rate, with at least three — Raging River, Tornado, and especially Mammoth Falls — providing more than our daily recommended intake of adrenaline. We won't soon forget Mammoth Falls, which propels a four-seater raft off a cliff so steep that we weren't sure it would stay upright. Then, after the raft shot up the wall on the other side, we got to experience that lovely "I'm gonna die!" feeling for the second time in less than 30 seconds. Screams of delight (with a dash of terror) all around. Our younger kid, who felt comfortable only on the tamest slides, had a great time in the wave pool and Wet 'n' Wild Jr., a multi-level children's section with ramps and bridges, spraying jets and bucket-loads of water that periodically fall on the heads of the unsuspecting. Just don't expect all this for cheap. Price: $38.99 for adults, $29.99 for kids. (Better deals exist for frequent visitors.) Still, it's the best water bill you'll ever pay.

Tempe Town Lake

The cheaper the pleasure, the happier we are — which is why we always leave Tempe Town Lake smiling after a good paddle. For just $25 a year for residents, $50 for non-residents, you can launch a kayak into the water anytime during lake hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and paddle till your arms feel like anchors. We launch from the beach near the Mill Avenue bridge and try to hit both east and west boundaries to make a nearly four-mile run, which is a great workout. If you don't own a boat, try renting a single or double kayak at the kiosk on the lake's south side. Going during twilight or at night is a treat, especially as a way to cheat the summer sun. You may even see wildlife: We've gotten closeup shots of pelicans this year and saw a beaver swimming next to the boat. The water's not too icky — we promise. (True, a general ban on swimming is in effect because of high alkalinity and other potential pollution, but boating is considered safe.) Whether from fear of the water or other reasons, though, few people kayak on the Town Lake — and the solitude you'll find is just one more great reason to go.

McDowell Mountain Ranch Aquatic Center

You know what it feels like to do a face-flop? We do, thanks to one of the two three-meter high-dives at the McDowell Mountain Ranch Aquatic Center. This flop literally put blisters on our forehead and gave us a mild headache. But . . . hurts so good! The calamity occurred after about 10 joyous jumps, dives, and somersaults from the high dives and before another 10. Yeah, we were having fun, and maybe showing off for the kiddos. Speaking of the munchkins — the three-meter boards are awesome fear-facing educational devices. When we were done with the thrills, it was time for a spin on the relaxing, 600-foot-long lazy river, shooting down the slide, and bouncing a beach ball in the kids' playpool. The center also has a large main pool for lap-swimmers if you want to get serious. Though a bit of a drive from central Valley locations, the fancy layout and architecture, plus the rising ridgelines of the nearby McDowell Mountains, make for a visual treat. It's mellower than a full-blown water park and much less expensive: $9 for adults and $6 for kids — cheaper if you're a Scottsdale resident. When the parents of your kids' friends get tired of you hanging out at their place all summer, the Aquatic Center is a great heat-beating alternative.

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