Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
On any given day, James Turrell’s Knight Rise skyspace installation at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is an interesting component of the museum, a concrete enclosure equipped only with a narrow entrance, concrete bench, and elliptical opening in the ceiling. But at sunrise on the day of the winter solstice, and sunset on the day on the summer solstice, SMoCA invites the community to come into the skyspace to appreciate the beauty of nature in a unique way. The design of Knight Rise produces an optical illusion in which the sky seems to descend into the space while appearing as a disc of shifting color. The nominal fee for the SMoCA solstice events usually includes beverages and snacks, making it a magical way to mark the passage of time.
The Supes, as locals call the range, soar above all other Phoenix-area crags in both height and spirit. The western cliff faces — the volcanic rock colored a soft brown — rise to more than 5,000 feet and can be seen from most anywhere in metro Phoenix. In rainy weather, they brood like dark giants, their upper reaches in the clouds. This is the Valley’s Yosemite, a place of incredible vistas, gravity-defying rock hoodoos, and a lush Sonoran ecosystem that’s home to elusive desert animals like coatimundis, javelinas, and bighorn sheep. Don’t mistake this federal wilderness preserve for just another mountain park. It comprises about 240 square miles — bigger than Scottsdale and Tempe combined. Take it easy on the short trails around Lost Dutchman State Park, gazing in awe at circling hawks and plains that erupt with color in wildflower season. Or take it hard, pushing your physical limits to the top of steep trails like Siphon Draw. Rock climbers can challenge themselves here on the tallest routes in the Phoenix area. Whatever you do, be prepared for adventure — and that means taking enough water for your hike, especially if the weather is warm. Every few years, people searching for the fabled Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine traipse deep into Superstition Mountains with homemade treasure maps — and are never seen alive again. But don’t fret — most Superstitions visitors enjoy this natural treasure without any problems bigger than a blister. You’ve seen them from afar — now go experience them at their best, up close and personal.
Franciscan Renewal Center
In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was the structure that held the ferocious Minotaur captive. Fast-forward thousands of years, and labyrinths are more commonly used as tools of meditation and reflection. That’s the case at the Franciscan Renewal Center, an oasis of calm in the heart of Scottsdale. The labyrinth is a flat path bordered by stones where the public is invited to walk in quiet contemplation. There’s no cost to use it or reservations needed; the labyrinth is open when the center is, from early in the morning to mid-evening, all year round. There’s something about the mindfulness required to navigate the gently winding path that makes the cares of the world drop away, and while there’s no monster in this labyrinth, it does an admirable job of soothing worried minds and anxious spirits.
The Monastery
Legend has it that nailing a horseshoe near your front door is a good thing, but we’ve heard conflicting instructions — open-end up keeps the good luck in the house, but open-end down wards off evil. We don’t want to take a chance on doing the wrong thing (and horseshoes would really clash with our decor), so when we want just a bit of that good horseshoe juju, we play a couple of rounds at The Monastery in east Mesa. The bar/restaurant is located in a Santa Fe-style house and has a little something for everyone, including a full menu, plenty of TVs, cornhole, volleyball, live entertainment, giant Connect 4, and the aforementioned horseshoe pits. The Monastery is family-friendly as well, making it an ideal place to take the kids for an afternoon of fun. Just be careful: We’re pretty sure hitting a youngster with a horseshoe is bad luck — whichever end is up.

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