Best Rock Gym 2021 | Phoenix Rock Gym | Fun & Games | Phoenix

Admiring the View on Galvin Parkway

It’s sort of silly, but you sometimes like to get on your bike and play a game you call Desert Tour Guide. In your favorite pretend scenario, you’re the director of a guided excursion through Papago Park and its amenities.

“Don’t forget to admire the Hayden Flour Mill,” you shout over your shoulder to your imaginary clients as you point your Schwinn Hybrid onto Mill Avenue Bridge, headed toward Phoenix. “But first, check out Tempe Town Lake! Woo hoo!”

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For the avid climber or the beginner, and the old and young, PRG is a welcoming place. It's the kind of rock gym that makes both visitors and hardcore members feel good just for being there. Okay, sometimes it's that lung-bursting, forearm-burning, take-the-pain kind of good feeling, but you're not here just for the atmosphere of camaraderie or the Karabin Climbing Museum. You're here to test your skills, hopefully among friends, on challenging routes put up by people who know what they're doing. With climbing gyms, it's not just about the walls, but how the plastic holds on them are arranged, and this is where PRG excels, due to the enthusiasm its employees and owner Paul Diefenderfer have for climbing. The ratings are realistic, not soft. If you can climb a 5.12 or V5 at PRG, you can probably climb one at any gym. Spend some time at the PRG and you'll find friends — and muscles — you never knew you had.

One of the most underrated, and often underused, bike paths in town is the Rio Salado Pathway — which is why it's the best. A paved path along the Salt River shore, the 19-mile stretch runs from just south of downtown Phoenix to Mesa, nearish the Bass Pro Shops. What the path cuts through is pure urban Arizona. It runs parallel to Tempe Town Lake and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and courses through fields studded with creosote bushes, areas packed with wildlife and birds, and plenty of places to rest. While you're stopped, you may observe planes taking off and landing at Sky Harbor or watch ducks flapping around in a quarry down below, people popping around at Tempe Beach Park, or just wildflowers in general — during spring, of course. But the trek also dips through underpasses strewn with abandoned shopping carts (think of it like an obstacle course) and heads by Tempe Marketplace in case you need to stop by Target for a quick errand.

Phoenix is a hostile place to be a cyclist. Bike infrastructure is largely nonexistent, motorists act like they own the roads, and death by distracted driving (or road rage, who knows?) always seems to lurk around the corner. But, if you know where to go, there are some roads that are actually somewhat pleasant to ride on. North Third Street in central Phoenix is one of them. The traffic on the road is minimal, so you can ride in the street without being afraid of getting hit. The sidewalks are in decent shape, too. Now if only the city of Phoenix would build a damn bike lane along it.

Your ride starts from where you are, and the destination is Fountain Hills. In other words, your experience may vary. But however you get there, it's likely you'll want to repeat the trip. East-siders can get a 40- to 60-mile ride starting from most locations in Tempe, east Phoenix, south Scottsdale, or Mesa, and bike paths (especially along Indian Bend Wash) or lanes are available for much of it. Naturally, there will be hills. You can add more miles and vertical feet if you go into the town, and if you're hungry, you can hit one of the many restaurants there. But the main goal is to end up at Shea Boulevard and the Beeline Highway (AZ-87), taking one of the two roads there, and the other back home. Hardcore riders can easily double the mileage by continuing up the Beeline, then south on Bush Highway to Saguaro Lake.

When you live in a place as picturesque as the Valley, many drives are often scenic ones, each with their own respective views of various natural splendors: Jagged mountains stretching into the sky. Lush riparian areas teeming with flora and fauna. And wide-open stretches of scenery that become even more epic at sunset. A trip down Bartlett Dam Road, though, offers glimpses of all of this and more in a single drive. Navigate the twists, turns, and gentle dips along this 14-mile paved road running east from Cave Creek Road through the high desert wilderness of Tonto National Forest and prepare to be awed. Bare-rock bluffs and rolling hills surround you. Sonoran plant life like saguaro cacti, ocotillo, and teddy bear cholla dot a landscape alive with such creatures as javelinas, bald eagles, and the occasional bighorn sheep. Go in the early spring for wildflowers in bloom, after a monsoon storm for fantastic smells, or in the early evening when everything's enhanced by the deep colors of dusk. Just keep your head on a swivel and eyes open for more than nature's spectacle, as bikers, cyclists, and boaters going to and from Bartlett Lake also frequent the road.

Of all the roads we love to cruise, few offer as much date-night potential as a drive down Central Avenue, specifically between Northern Avenue and the downtown area. It's the perfect road for a carefree jaunt if you have few actual plans and the time to watch the city transform from quaint, mostly suburban vibes to a modern urban oasis. When plans change, Central offers plenty to do, from dinner and drinks to cultural sites, music venues, art museums and galleries, shopping, and more. It's just as much about accessibility as entertainment, and this drive condenses everything that is quintessentially Phoenix into an efficient, 11-mile ride. Central is where our many neighborhoods and interests and values all come together. This drive is about defining what makes this city so wonderful and unique — and part of that is how we've collectively built up this wonderful thing to stand the test of time. If that's not romantic, then what is?

Not a lot of competition for this category. After bottoming out in 2019, the Suns completely turned things around this year, reaching the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2010 and the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993. There was so much to love about this team — Chris Paul's fadeaways, Jae Crowder's rugged defense, Devin Booker's general offensive brilliance — but arguably our favorite thing about the Suns this year was the effect the team had on the city. We loved seeing a vendor beneath a tent on a busy Indian School Road intersection hawking cheap Suns merch. We loved the hustle and bustle outside the arena downtown (even if we couldn't afford a ticket inside). We loved making Suns chit-chat while we waited in line at the cleaners, or with the Uber driver. Winning, it seems, makes everything better. Including Phoenix.

We gave this award to Book last year, too. Back then, inside the NBA bubble (remember that?), the Suns shooting guard's superstar status was still incubating. His performance in the 2020-21 season was on a whole other level, though — it would feel wrong to call anybody else the Best Male Athlete, given the majestic basketball Booker played on the way to leading the Suns to their first NBA Finals in 28 years. Yes, the addition of Chris Paul was essential to the Suns' playoff run, and players like Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and Mikal Bridges made huge contributions. But Booker was who you came to watch night after night after night. He put up 47 points in the game that knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs. He dropped 34 to complete the sweep of the Nuggets. In Game Four against the Bucks, he scored 42 points, including 18 in the third quarter alone. (He didn't miss a single shot from the floor during that quarter, either.) Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to win that game, or the series. But Booker's only 24 years old, and his contract has him in Phoenix a few more years. He'll be back, and we can't wait.

She's best known to some as the beautiful basketball player that snubbed rapper Drake for a kiss at the 2014 ESPY Awards, but there's a lot more to Phoenix Mercury point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith than just her good looks. Since being chosen by the Tulsa Shock as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, the former Notre Dame standout has averaged 16 points per game over the course of her career. In her first season with Phoenix in 2020, she averaged 17 points, four assists, and three rebounds per game. She's setting records here in 2021, becoming the fastest player in WNBA history to reach 3,000 career points, 1,000 assists, and 200 steals. Diggins-Smith also engages in community service in the Valley, promoting benefits for the Arizona Humane Society and participating in racial equality campaigns.

Much like marijuana, legalized sports gambling in this country seems inevitable; there's simply too much money to be made. Arizona wised up this year and passed, through the legislature, a bill that opens the state up to sportsbooks, taxing retail bets at 8 percent and online bets at 10 percent. (And for those looking to acquire a license, the cost is nearly $1 million for initial licensing fees.) Governor Doug Ducey signed it into law in April, and betting got underway in August, just in time for football season. Who knows? Maybe some of the projected $15 million in additional annual tax revenue might actually find its way to Arizonans who need it, in the form of social services or education funding. We're not betting on it, though.

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