The good people of Phoenix have a way of rubbing it in. While much of the nation shivers and shovels, Phoenicians debate the relative merits of their T-shirts’ performance fabrics and slather on the SPF 30 for treks up rugged peaks and singletrack rides right in midcity. Truth is, their pride is exceeded only by our envy.
The masses head for 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, the metro area’s tallest mountain. But you can play desert solitaire among the cactus-studded foothills in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve’s Dreamy Draw area, just north of Piestewa. Commune with saguaros on the 3-mile Trail 220 or the 4.8-mile Perl Charles Memorial Trail. Get maps from the city’s parks department (www.ci.pheonix.az.us/parks).
Get technical about your riding at South Mountain Park, where pros train and everybody else does a fair share of carrying. At 16,000 acres, the nation’s largest municipal park offers a versatile network of careening singletrack, with steep gravel slopes and rock ledges. The uninitiated will want the Desert Classic Trail; hairball riders favor the National Trail. Either way, carry a comb for quick extraction of cholla barbs. Tempe Bicycle (www.tempebicycle.com) rents rides for $30 a day.
No, it’s not a mirage: Every morning you’ll see people sculling in the desert, on glassy Tempe Town Lake. Created 5 years ago in the dry Salt River bed, the 2-mile-long reservoir now hosts prestigious regattas and training Olympians. The appeal? A ban on motors keeps waters on the four-lane, 2,000-meter racing course placid. Rio Salado Rowing Club (www.riosaladorowing.org) offers weeklong memberships for $25 that include boats and open-rowing sessions.