Whether you live in central to east Phoenix, Scottsdale, or anywhere in the east Valley, the route to Saguaro Lake is the most convenient, most scenic, and most enjoyable short ride you can take on your iron horse. Take the 202 Red Mountain Freeway east to Power Road, which becomes Bush Highway as you go north and connects up with the Beeline Highway. Within minutes, most civilization ends and you'll enter the riparian Sonoran Desert landscape of the Tonto National Forest. Yes, this is near where you went tubing that time. Real wild horses run free in these parts. You want to be aware here, but there's time to relax, too. It's a nice stretch of two-lane rural road, with only a few good passing options. Down nearer the lake, there are sweet turns and jaw-dropping scenery. (But don't park and leave your bike without one of those doggone Tonto passes.) It's such a quick ride out that we usually turn around after a short tour of the lake and head back. The ride to Saguaro Lake lets you break out of Phoenix's boring grid system, commune with nature, gawk at the reservoir set against the cliffs, and feel the wind at your knees — all in what amounts to a long lunch hour.

Tough, meet tougher. In our quest for challenges that make our lungs want to explode, this ride presents itself as a badass, uphill-on-gravel test piece. Start at the fancy Gateway Trail, where some uber-fit hikers may actually outrun you on some of the steeper portions. Don't be too impressed. You'll work as hard or harder as a hiker on this one, even using your best granny gear. It's a solid six miles to the base of Tom's Thumb from here, and a grueling slog the whole way. Which is how we like it. Throw in a Sonoran Desert setting that would impress any out-of-towner, and you've got the makings of a killer day, metaphorically speaking. Take lots of water. When done, zoom back down the way you came like a bobsled. For us, it's a crazy memory. But maybe it'll be your new morning routine.

Once you've gotten lucky enough to find a parking spot at Pima Canyon and taken the asphalt road to the end, this trail sends you soaring without delay. Let the multitudes take their strollers and leashed dogs along the dirt road that leads to the start of National Trail — we prefer to get our legs and heart moving right away, and Marcos de Niza Trail is the one to do it. From the main parking area, walk to the south end to start the trail, and wind around the hill on a single-track path. If you haven't seen the inscription scratched into a rock along the trail, now's a good time to check it out. It's set behind iron bars. Don't be fooled, though — it's a forgery from the 1920s, and was not etched in the 1500s by the famous friar, as it claims. Continue up the hill — that's the main idea for a while, and you gain the ridge proper. From here, the trail is a glorious, slow roller-coaster on the ridge for a mile or so. Be prepared to go up if you're going down, and vice-versa. Finally, the trail lets you down entirely (not psychologically) and joins up with other trails. Turn around here, or keep going and make a day of it. And we don't mean to nag, but take lots of water.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to take a spacewalk? A good face climb is like that, and Quaker Oats is the best introduction in metro Phoenix you can get to the concept. The route's located on a minor rock hill in the McDowell Mountains called Sven Slab — signs will point to the Slab at the Tom's Thumb trailhead. You may or may not find the route without the help of a guidebook (and you might not survive if you're not well-versed in rock-climbing basics). Assuming you've got your requisite gear, belay partner, and have made it to the base of this 100-foot-high route, then it's time to leave the capsule, if you dare. Start making your way up the nearly sheer wall on its often-painful, tiny granite holds. As you rise higher, with vast spaces of vertical rock wall in all directions, all you'll think about is how you don't want to fall. But somewhere along the route, your inner face climber will be born. Fear turns into positive energy that helps keep you from falling. There's no spaceship, no ground, no rush of air like flying an airplane — just the sun, moon, granite face, and you clinging by your fingertips and a smear of rubber from your climbing shoes, mind focused entirely on the next series of holds. When you top out, you've earned your astronaut wings.

Though the city of Phoenix calls this a "smaller cousin" to nearby North Mountain, Lookout is a fine hill in its own right and deserves your time as a climber. Besides the main climbing wall, Lookout has half a lifetime's worth of boulder problems up to about 15 feet high to try, and though the basalt rock can be crumbly at times, many of the holds are sweet. Don't mind the broken glass and graffiti: Lookout's been the site of impromptu partying for decades, but it doesn't affect the rock climbing. Once on the mountain, you'll find mazes of boulders that make you forget your worldly troubles. It's fun to hike, but even better to hike with your rock-climbing shoes and chalk bag, so you can work out your hands and arms on the many short boulder problems. If you need beta, try Lookout Mountain Boulder & Climbing Guide by local climbing guru Marty Karabin. And don't forget the crash pad. Falling here is like trying to land a plane without fuel in Dunkirk — more exciting than you want.

Phoenix Rock Gym

Things look different from 30 feet up. Think about being on a stepladder in your home, getting at something near the ceiling — Phoenix Rock Gym's walls are more than three times as high. This is high-caliber indoor rock climbing. What do you need? Some inversion and upside-down time? Check. Couches and magazines for waiting out the forearm-muscle twitches, and tables for pizza parties? Two killer bouldering rooms, and an exciting lead-climbing area? Check and check. The place has been around for more than 20 years, and the staff know what they're doing in terms of route-setting. Whether you go for a day or buy a quarterly pass, this laid-back gym is perfect for first-timers or children, while also providing a home for people training for their next trip to El Capitan.

Wet 'n' Wild Phoenix Water Park

"Fun for the whole family" is kind of a cliché, but in the case of west Valley water park Wet 'n' Wild, it just happens to be the truth. Show up at the park some sweltering summer day, and you'll find an avalanche of activities to choose from. Thrill-seekers will gravitate to the corkscrew-like Constrictor ride and the river-rafting experience Mammoth Falls; those up for some hardcore relaxing can head for the Monsoon Bay wave pool or the Crazy Cactus Roaring River. There are places to shop and eat, and private cabanas to rent for a top-of-the-line experience. In short, a day at Wet 'n' Wild is so refreshing, we almost forget we're in the desert.

When it's hot in Phoenix (so, like, pretty often), there's nothing more inviting than a big, cool, clear swimming pool. And there's no invitation we're happier to accept than the one extended by the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. The Hyatt has got it all when it comes to water features: a 2.5-acre water playground that includes pools for families, pools for adults, 20 fountains, dozens of waterfalls, and to top it all off, a three-story waterslide. When we're hungry or thirsty, we've got the casual H2Oasis eatery to provide us with light fare and refreshing drinks (alcoholic and otherwise). In short, the Hyatt is a great choice for a family staycation or a weekend anniversary getaway, or even a one-day escape from real life — family and adult cabanas are available for rental, and include amenities like flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi access, and ceiling fans.

Maya Dayclub

Temperatures aren't the only thing that heat up in the spring and summertime in the Valley. Poolside parties take place regularly during the warmer months at local hotels, resorts, or any other spot equipped with a pool of some sort. And one of the biggest hotspots for swim soirees is Maya in Scottsdale. Every weekend from March until September, the spot's outdoor dayclub and its huge pool host various affairs offering DJs, drinks, and plenty of fun in the sun. Maya's annual Soundwave Pool Party series, which takes place Sunday afternoons, is its biggest attraction and features sets by high-profile electronic dance music superstars like Skrillex, Knife Party, and Bingo Players. Big crowds typically turn out for the affairs and kick it in VIP cabanas, frolic in the water, or get rowdy in front of the DJ booth as beats blast from the sound system.

One of the best attractions at OdySea, a mammoth aquarium in Scottsdale, is a theater experience that mimics a deep-sea diving expedition. As visitors sit in a large auditorium, the ground rumbles and the entire room rotates past several gigantic glass aquariums. You can gawk at the sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, and stingrays without leaving your chair. Five hundred animal species can be found at OdySea, which bills itself as "America's newest aquarium" and the largest aquarium in the Southwest, boasting 200,000 square feet of space. It's best not to think about the 2 million gallons of water required to operate this aquarium in the middle of the desert. But the exhibits featuring freshwater and saltwater creatures are well worth the price of admission.

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