Best Ghost Town 2015 | Gold King Mine and Ghost Town | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

When the Haynes Copper Company started digging a mine in a suburb about a mile north of Jerome around the turn of the 20th century, it hoped to find copper. Instead, the firm struck gold. Now, over 100 years later, we get to benefit with the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town. Step through the gold mine museum's doors, and you'll simultaneously take a step back to the early 1900s. Check out the old mining equipment, witness a demonstration on a sawmill from that era, and walk around the old mine shaft. Be sure to stop in the blacksmith's shop as well. And, of course, don't forget to pay Jerome a visit, too, as you head back to the Valley.

More than 250,000 people attend the Renaissance Festival from February to March each year, and it's a rather distinct-looking crowd. Checking out the mix of Arizona suburbanites and carny-like employees — musicians, comedians, falconers, kings, queens, what have you — is half the reason we force our family to endure the dust, winter heat, and un-glamour of the RenFest. Here, we tend to see polo shirts, nice shorts, $110 sandals, and more tattoos than an average inmate — young people in weather-appropriate (read: minimal) clothing, since Arizona State University's an hour away.

Yet not all attendees are posers, students, or slightly upscale commoners. There are some rough-hewn types with jackboots and ear gauges the size of doughnuts — they're usually wearing a bizarre accessory like a wicked top hat, leather vest, scabbard ensemble, or something else that would get their ass kicked on the light rail west of Priest Road. Families of all types — cute kids, cute MILFs, plus the occasional 4-year-old being screamed at by their trashy mom. Of course, we wouldn't fail to mention the cute princesses with the velvet dresses and extreme push-up bras that show off just a tiny blush of areola. Winter is coming — which means turkey legs, the many other shapely legs and thighs, mead-swilling faux royalty, plus the nerds, seductresses, and warriors of the scenic RenFest.

Readers Choice: Sky Harbor Airport

It should be a requirement for anyone who lives in the Valley to go to Taliesin West and get the crash course on Frank Lloyd Wright and his particular brand of architecture. Wright set up the Scottsdale school in the '30s, and it remains an architecture school to this day. There are a variety of tours available every day, and you'll learn Wright's philosophies of design, as well as what made him tick. Armed with your new-found Wright knowledge, you'll have a better appreciation for the buildings in Phoenix (and elsewhere) that were designed by Wright or his students. The tours offered at Taliesin West are worth it for visitors and residents alike.

You can't, as it turns out. But "It's so hot, you can fry an egg on the sidewalk!" long has been a standard summertime exclamation around these parts. Meant as a creative alternative to the plain old "Boy, it's hot!" this story's nearly as old as the ones Aesop used to peddle — and about as factual, too. According to Bill Nye the Science Guy, the lowest temperature at which one can cook an egg is 130 degrees Fahrenheit — and only if you want to grill that bird ovum for nearly a half-hour.

Further, concrete is a lousy conductor of heat: It's light-colored in order to reflect rather than absorb heat. Cracking the egg into a frying pan and placing that on the macadam doesn't work, either — we tried it. Still, groaning about cooking breakfast on the pavement is a colorful tale that refuses — like summer itself, it often seems — to leave us.

We loved artist Rebecca Green's mural The Storybook so much that we gave it a Best of Phoenix award in 2013. Green, not so much. She left town shortly after working on the mural and was never satisfied with it. So earlier this year, she returned to Grand Avenue to paint an entirely new mural, a sweet, colorful, cactus-filled scene she called The Painted Desert.

And we loved that mural all the more, particularly since we were already hard at work planning this year's Best of Phoenix theme, The Painted Desert. Great minds and all that, right?

We miss Green, who's hopscotched from Phoenix to Denver to Nashville, but those of us sticking around town are happy to play alongside her painted desert.

Where else can you combine live music, hot chocolate, twinkly lights, and the most gorgeous desert plants in the world? Lucky for us, the Desert Botanical Garden is located smack in the center of the Valley, and the long-honored garden tradition of holiday luminaria is still going strong. The season just isn't complete for us without tickets to this event, featuring carolers, bell players, and other local musical acts. It may not snow in these parts, but it begins to look a lot like Christmas when we throw on a light jacket and head off into the night to the Desert Botanical Garden.

Just a few miles from the Old Town Scottsdale gallery scene, you'll find a different kind of artistic destination. For more than seven decades, Cattle Track Arts Compound has been attracting both artists and appreciators of the arts to its Old West complex, hidden amid the desert landscape. Since engineer George Ellis built the original structure with recycled materials in 1937, Cattle Track has acted as workplace and sometimes home of some of the most creative artists in our state's history, including Philip Curtis, who helped to found the Phoenix Art Museum. Today, Cattle Track offers frequent events ranging from art shows to live performances and houses a blacksmith, Cattle Track Press, painters, photographers, and a number of other creatives.

Phoenix photographer Andrew Pielage put the Arizona desert on the map — and the billboard, and the magazine ad, and so on — earlier this year when his gorgeous photo was chosen by Apple as part of an iPhone 6 ad campaign. (Pielage signed a deal with Apple that prevents us from showing you the photo here.) New Times is lucky enough to call Pielage one of our own — beautiful desert photography graced this year's Best of Phoenix marketing campaign. We're glad the world's gotten a chance to take note of him, too.

It would be easy to lose a few hours inside Arizona State University's Natural History Collections. The collection is home to one of the largest acquisitions of plants and animals from the Sonoran Desert and the world. There are taxidermy turtles, deer, and owls. In one room, there's a wall of rattlesnakes and lizards coiled up in jars. In another, there are 2,600 drawers filled with nearly a million insects, each one carefully preserved, mounted, and classified.

For decades, the collection was hidden away in the basement at ASU, where even researchers had a difficult time accessing it. But in October, officials moved all the fossils, plants, birds, fish, reptiles, mammals, and insects to its own building in Tempe with the goal of making it more available to the public. The front half is much like a museum, with skeletons and skins on display. In the back, visitors can observe scientists at work. Call ahead to plan a visit.

If your kind of adventure is somewhere off the beaten path (and out of social media range), then once you've packed your compass and flare kit, look no further than the resources in Central Library's Arizona Room. The gold mine of culture is packed with hidden treasures of Arizona's past and is home to a number of maps so rare that the library staff won't let anyone with a pen through the door (pencils only, please). In the collection: 7.5-minute topographic maps, aerial surveys of Phoenix dating back to 1968, a historic Sanborn map, and countless books on all kinds of surveys of the Arizona desert. And if you finish planning with time to spare, don't miss the giant map of Phoenix on the wall on the library's second floor, which offers a rare and historic look at the city we too often view through the lens of a smartphone.

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