Best Place to Aim for the Stars 2020 | Estrella Star Tower | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

You wouldn't think that one of the loveliest landmarks in metro Phoenix would be the entrance to a west Valley housing development. But you won't need much convincing upon visiting the Estrella Star Tower, a little-known local gem. During the day, the spiral-shaped tower — which is surrounded by a man-made multilevel waterfall, walking paths, and benches — is a popular backdrop for graduation or family photo shoots. Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower, and you've got an impressive view of Estrella Mountain Regional Park. As day turns to night, it's a prime spot for watching the sunset as the lights set into the tower start to illuminate. The tower's design was conceptualized by local astronomy personality Steven Kates, also known as Dr. Sky; a panel on the tower includes a quote from Kates that reads in part: "At the observation plaza, you can reflect on your place in the universe and observe nature from this sacred ground of our ancestors, where we reach up and out to the skies." We can't think of a better place to do so.

The end of Metrocenter had been a long time coming. Opened in 1973, the west Valley mall began to lose market share in the 1990s, when its parent company opened Arrowhead Towne Center just 10 miles away. While Metro was bleeding popular chain shops and replacing them with lower-end mom-and-pop boutiques, Arrowhead was romancing upscale shoppers with new tenants like Sephora, Coach, and Phoenix's first Apple Store. Crime in the neighborhood didn't help; neither did the rise of online shopping. And then COVID hit. In mid-June, the mall's owner announced Metro would close for good at the end of the month. On Facebook, where a group dedicated to the mall has 17,000 fans, a farewell was planned: one final cruise outside the mall. Thousands of locals turned up over the course of two nights. They drank beer, watched sports cars do donuts in the parking lot, and most of all reminisced about the good old days: Goldwater's, Hot Dog on a Stick, Bill &Ted's Excellent Adventure, the ice-skating rink. Their first car. Their first kiss. Days gone by. "I needed to take a nap to stay up this late," one woman in the crowd told us. Her gray hair hung to her waist. "But it was totally worth it!"

On the surface, it seems like a tale fit for the pulpy pages of War Stories magazine: On a chilly night in December 1944, some 25 German soldiers and sailors absconded from Camp Papago Park, a Valley prisoner-of-war facility during World War II. It was the largest-ever escape by Axis POWs on U.S. soil, an embarrassment for the military, and fodder for dramatic newspaper headlines ("Wily Germans Elude Chase"). Security was lax and life was relatively comfortable at the camp overseen by Army Colonel William Holden, who believed with Colonel Klink-like foolishness that his prisoners could never bust out. Exploiting the situation, the escapees used a 178-foot tunnel they'd dug for months to reach a nearby canal. Their newfound freedom didn't last. Some considered it a prank and surrendered days later. Others hoped to return to the fatherland by way of Mexico, but were done in by the weather and desert terrain. One trio even considered rafting the Gila River to the Gulf of California, only to find a dry riverbed. Within weeks, each was recaptured and the story of their great escape has since slipped into Phoenix lore.

Don't panic, but our planet is under constant bombardment by objects of an alien origin. No, Marvin the Martian hasn't been lobbing explosive space modulators our way. Instead, it's the tens of thousands of space rocks that take aim at the Earth each year. Before you start digging a shelter, know that only about 500 of these meteorites make it through the atmosphere. Most end up in the ocean, and the ones making landfall are too small to be considered "planet killers." See for yourself at Arizona State University's Meteorite Gallery, which offers close encounters with these emissaries from across our solar system. Located on the second floor of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4, it features a curated display of rocks from the collection of ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies, which includes more than 10,000 samples. Arranged in a half-dozen or so glass cases, these meteorites vary in size, shape, color, and composition. Some are hunks of craggy and porous rock as big as a basketball. Others are as small as pebbles or skipping stones. You might even see one of triangular chunks of the lunar surface that landed in Oman in 1999. Before you ask, no, it's not made of cheese.

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