The parking lot of the Tom's Thumb trailhead in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve is less than an hour's drive from central Phoenix, but it feels like another planet. The main sign of urbanity is the parking lot — which, though large, fills up with vehicles on good-weather days like there's a Black Friday sale going on. This hill of granite and cactus has a lot to offer for rock climbers, especially at the tallest formation in the area, Gardener's Wall. Our favorite climb there is Hanging Gardens, a moderate route that will get you noticeably nearer to the clouds. It's rated a 5.5 for technical difficulty — sounds easy, but with outdoor climbing, everything's more intense. There will be fear. It begins on a wonderful, gray-granite knife-edge that turns into a vertical crack system. Halfway up is a tiny belay ledge — this is no place for acrophobes. The leader brings the second climber up to that point before proceeding up a perfect hand-crack. Beginning outdoor climbers will gain new confidence on Hanging Gardens and learn the pleasures of multi-pitch climbing. It's best to bring two ropes for the long rappel back to the ground.

Before the Phoenix Rock Gym opened in 1992, the only "rock gyms" in these parts were the boulders and crags strewn about the desert. Rock climbing was done mostly by hardcores who didn't mind the heat, rattlesnakes, and cholla barbs sticking in shins from unplanned night descents down a mountain. Thanks to the PRG, rock climbing in metro Phoenix became something everyone could try. Suddenly, climbing wasn't just about risky thrills and blowing out forearms, but also about pizza parties and little kids having fun — which turned out to be fantastic for the future of climbing.

Kids exposed to the sport on the PRG's 30-foot-high climbing walls grew up to conquer Yosemite's El Capitan, and then they began taking their own kids to the gym. Other rock gyms opened as climbing took off as a mainstream sport nationwide, and the PRG kept competitive by opening a second bouldering area, adding a lead-climbing room and making its existing walls more challenging and fresh-looking.

PRG's longevity is partially owed to owner Paul Diefenderfer, who's good at both climbing and running a business, and to the friendly and helpful staff members he's hired. But the real secret is the community of fans and climbers who love the place and keep coming back over the years.

Who would have thought that Chandler would have a world-class gymnastics gym? Well, MyKayla Skinner trains at Desert Lights Gymnastics, and she traveled to Brazil as an alternate for the U.S. team. The 19-year-old finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, even beating out 2012 medal-winner Gabby Douglas, who finished seventh. Skinner is a Gilbert native, and she won a bronze medal on the vault at the 2014 World Championships, where she helped the U.S. take the team gold. She had to watch from the sidelines as the American team took gold, but hey, she's still a homegrown Olympian who only narrowly missed competing on a global stage. She's now at the University of Utah on a full gymnastic scholarship, so look for her to be a top competitor at future NCAA competitions.

Paul Goldschmidt is the guy that pitchers' nightmares are made of. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds of solid muscle, he's got a killer eye for the strike zone and a habit of punishing pitchers who make even minor mistakes when facing him. The Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman is one of the best in the league at drawing walks, so pitchers can't throw outside the zone and hope he'll chase. Nope, the only way to get him out is to throw him strikes, but unfortunately for everyone not on the Diamondbacks, he tends to crush those. He's one of those rare players that both hits for power and a high batting average, and though the Diamondbacks might have whimpered through yet another disappointing season, Goldy is as productive as ever, named as a reserve in the All-Star game.

It's not like Cardinals running back David Johnson came out of nowhere. The Cardinals took him in the third round of the NFL draft, after all. But no one in the league foresaw the monster offensive season Johnson turned in during the 2015 campaign. He established himself as a versatile triple threat, able to confound defenses by running the ball, catching the ball, and returning kicks. His statline reflects his hugely productive season as well — 13 touchdowns and more than 1,600 yards are great numbers for anyone, not just a rookie. He showed his most exciting potential against Philadelphia last year when he gashed the Eagles for 187 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The future of the Cardinals' backfield looks bright.

Few sports are kind to the ravages of age, and professional football is certainly a young man's sport. But beloved Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has continued to dominate the league into his 30s. Not only is he able to stay competitive at age 33, he was, by any measure, one of the best receivers in the game last year. While it's not unusual to see veteran players continue to contribute well into their 30s, they rarely keep up with the young guns as well as Fitzgerald did last year. The average age of the eight players who finished with more receiving yards than Fitzgerald is 26. Just shows what talent, hard work, and winning the genetic lottery can do for you in the National Football League.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, at 36, is like a fine red wine. He was the best regular-season QB in the league in 2015, and that season was an exclamation point on a career filled with many more downs than ups. Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003 (prior to Palmer's arrival, Cincinnati hadn't enjoyed a winning season since 1990), he suffered numerous injuries and poisonous front-office politics before he requested a trade in 2010. Out of spite, Bengals owner Mike Brown refused to honor the request, effectively sentencing Palmer to football purgatory after the team drafted quarterback Andy Dalton. Brown eventually relented and traded Palmer to the one franchise worse than hell — the Oakland Raiders. He spent two years playing awful Bay Area football before arriving via trade in Arizona. The following seasons have seen Palmer blossom into an elite quarterback. They say success is the best revenge after a toxic breakup, and last year was the gaudy diamond ring on Palmer's joyous middle finger to his old bosses.

When the Arizona Diamondbacks owners demanded Maricopa County pony up almost $200 million for stadium repairs, lest the team bolt for greener pastures, you'd have to forgive the average fan for at least beginning to swallow the bait. After all, there's precedent. When the Arizona Coyotes threatened to leave and demanded the Glendale city government give the team all but the mayor's firstborn daughter and the city council had the gall to balk, Coyotes fans nearly tarred and feathered their elected officials. So there was some precedent that the Diamondbacks could get their way fairly easily. But there's no serious way to look at this in which the Diamondbacks don't come off sounding entitled and whiny. Chase Field is less than 20 years old, and it's already not "state-of-the-art"? Maybe if the team spent some money on more than one talented player (the team's payroll is among the lowest in the league), it wouldn't have to beg taxpayers for repair money equal to almost half of what it cost to build the damn thing in the first place.

Ever since Steve Nash left for a second time, not much has been bright in Suns land. The 2015-16 season was a dark one, indeed, for the hometown ballers, but one shining star that appears when you go 23-59 in the regular season is you usually get a pretty good draft pick, and the Suns had more than a few needs when they landed the No. 4 slot in the lotto. Most observers had them looking for a power forward to replace Mirza Teletovic, and it seemed pretty likely that the team would draft either Croatian import Dragan Bender or University of Washington product Marquese Chriss to fill the outgoing Bosnian's shoes. But in a move that either shows maximum indecisiveness or brilliance, the Suns traded for the eighth pick and drafted both players. To quote the little girl from the Old El Paso commercial, why not both?

Steve Kerr was part of a group that bought the Phoenix Suns in 2004, and up until 2010 he was the team's general manager. But he left after that season when majority owner Robert Sarver refused to give Kerr and the Suns' coaches raises, and Kerr sat on the sidelines until he became the head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2014. Since then, Phoenix Suns fans have had to watch glumly as the Warriors became one of the most exciting teams in NBA history, with our former GM leading the team in 2016 to an NBA-record 73 regular-season wins. Kerr's success must feel like sand in Sarver's eyes, and Suns fans are forced to watch Kerr lead a team that has lost just one more game in two years than the Suns won during the  2015-16 season.

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