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What You Need to Know About Paradise Valley Bike Rides

It’s ironic: Paradise Valley is a pretty good place to ride a bike most of the time. Yet the town wears that status begrudgingly. The town’s government and residents seem united in a hatred of cyclists.

There is simply no other way to interpret their actions. 

Paradise Valley Bike Resources Go Off the Map

More than a year ago, I noticed that every scrap of information about Paradise Valley and its bike infrastructure had disappeared from the MAG Bikeways Map. Now, this map is one of the most-valuable resources for anyone who rides a bike in the Phoenix area. That’s particularly true for roadies who scour it for the best bike infrastructure – especially bike lanes and stuff like the Rio Salado bike path.

I finally have a definitive answer about this from a MAG employee: Paradise Valley residents wanted the information removed from the map. They lobbied town officials for this change, and then town officials carried it to the Maricopa Association of Governments. 

paradise valley bike
“Take me to your town manager.”

Poof. No more Paradise Valley bike information.

If the town of Paradise Valley receives any public money from Maricopa County or any other regional agency, the tap should be turned off. This sets a precedent that any other town could follow. No government agency should be allowed to withhold information — especially about transportation infrastructure — from residents. 

Paradise Valley Bans Bikes from a Construction Area

paradise valley bike
No cop on Sept. 2020 – but a sign of the times.

In July of 2020, a Facebook thread popped up alleging that bikes were not allowed to use a road that was under construction. 

“Now they are not only prohibiting bikes from using the normal traffic lane, they have also stationed an off duty policeman there to prevent cyclists from using the sidewalk,” the original poster said. 

I couldn’t find a single law allowing this. In all my time riding in Arizona cities, I’ve seen many closed bike lanes (and sidewalks, but bikes really shouldn’t ride on sidewalks anyway).

Every time I’ve encountered closed bike lanes, there was signage indicating that bikes can use the car lane. That is the way road closures work.

I have never seen an off-duty police officer preventing bikes from using a lane. 

Also, I saw a police officer enforcing this during a recent ride through PV. The officer instructed cyclists not to turn onto 68th Street as they headed east on Hummingbird Drive. It might still be going on. (I didn’t see an officer on my Sept. 1, 2020 ride.)

I could find no precedent for other Arizona towns taking any action like this.

What This Tells Us About Paradise Valley and Bikes

Clearly, Paradise Valley would put a gated wall around its borders if it could. And bicyclists are persona non grata.

Paradise Valley gonna Paradise Valley, I guess. If the town is that hostile toward cyclists, who smarter municipalities recognize as a valuable demographic, I wonder who else is impacted by its insular policies. Its population of about 15,000 should think about how this looks in the current political climate.

And its elected officials should definitely remember that, if they run for higher office, people like me will be all too happy to remind them of their actions. 

There’s not much recourse. But if any like-minded cyclists out there would like to team up for a “Map Every Single Paradise Valley Bike Route and Share It EVERYWHERE” project, just let me know. I’ve got a GPS and I know how to use it!

Have you had any problems as a cyclist in Paradise Valley? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Abandoned Movie Theaters of Scottsdale

South Scottsdale is nothing like the palm trees-and-golf courses luxury destination you expect it to be. My neighborhood is full of abandoned and disused property. It’s almost like there’s a systematic plan to make the area look crappy so everyone is OK with tearing everything down and replacing it all with “luxury condos.”

I think about this every time I drive around my neighborhood – and I thought it might be fun to preserve some of those memories. So let’s remember some of the abandoned movie theaters of Scottsdale from the days of olde … by which I mean the 1980s.

Camelback Theater

Back in the 80s, there were two separate malls in what is now Scottsdale Fashion Square. There was Scottsdale Fashion Square and another to the west called Camelview Plaza. If memory services, that’s where the Camelback Theater was.

I definitely remember that Camelview Plaza had a crepe place called The Magic Pan. I’m not sure if I actually saw any movies at the Camelback Theater, but I definitely knocked back a crepe or 50!

Camelview Theater

If you’re new to Scottsdale, you might wonder why I’m mentioning this when there’s actually a Camelview Theater. Well, that’s not the original one.

abandoned movie theaters
ModernPhoenix.net has more great photos of the Camelview Theater.

Before the fancy version that you know today, there was a much more modest version a few blocks west. It had distinct architecture that I’m not schooled enough to describe. The interior paid homage to Old Hollywood. I loved the place.

One of my favorite memories of the original Camelview was going there with my brother Erich to see Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In more recent years, the Camelview gave us a place to watch non-blockbuster artsy stuff – which was very welcome.

Cineplex Odeon

This more than an abandoned movie theater in Scottsdale – it’s an abandoned concept of the mall of the future. It was called the Galleria, and it was meant to start a new generation of anchorless malls. There’s already reams of copy online about what a silly idea this was.

I can’t recall setting foot inside the Cineplex Odeon, and I’m not even sure what it is today. Unlike most of the others, this one probably still exists within the shell of the Galleria, so

El Camino Theater

Today, I live just blocks from the El Camino, a free-standing theater with just one screen. I know it’s been some sort of weird auction house. Right now, it’s just a fenced off abandoned movie theater with a broken front window. There are signs it will soon be torn down.

I also don’t remember ever going to a movie here.

abandoned movie theaters
El Camino Theater looks like it’s going to get razed soon.

Fashion Square 7

As part of Scottsdale Fashion Square, this is barely worth mentioning. It’s been repurposed into some art space that’s overpriced. Par for the course.

IMAX Theater

Like the Cineplex Odeon, the IMAX was part of the Galleria. One of the things I actually liked about the Galleria is that it’s connected to my favorite restaurant – The Famous Pacific Seafood Company. Twelve-Year-Old Me loved eating their shark cooked over wood-fired grills. Dead serious.

I remember going with a date to see a filmed Rolling Stones concert, even though I wasn’t a Stones fan. I also interviewed the first Spanish woman to climb Mount Everest there; she was featured in a movie that showed at the Galleria.

Kachina Theatre

The property that would become the Galleria sure had a lot of theaters nearby, and this is another one of my favorite demolished and/or abandoned movie theaters of Scottsdale.

abandoned movie theaters
Photo found at cinematreatures.org.

And it’s the home of a huge movie memory for me: The Empire Strikes Back. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if they had social media when this came out? I can practically hear the outrage at Darth Vader’s claim to be Luke Skywalker’s father.

I also saw ET here, but I was never a huge fan of that movie.

Los Arcos Mall Cinema – My Best Abandoned Movie Theater in Scottsdale Story

Los Arcos Mall is a topic that fired up the southern half of the city. A developer called the Ellman Companies bought the mall with plans to tear it down and build a hockey arena – but it wound up being some weird work-live-eat amalgamation of stuff affiliated with ASU. Its signature funny-looking spaceport thing is still polarizing (I love it).

The old mall had a movie theater in the bottom. I don’t remember ever seeing a movie there.

But here’s a memory I DO have of the old mall:

When I was a news reporter, the local papers were looking for every possible angle to write about the mall’s upcoming demolition. At one point, a bunch of psychics approached me and spun all sorts of tales about hauntings and visitations. Things like apparitions of javelina running around, and specters walking the halls bisected by the floor.

I concocted the idea of spending a night in the old mall with a photographer and whichever of the psychics was game for it. I had to get the PR stooge for the developers onboard with it. He stalled me long enough for demolition to begin, that worthless worm!

I am also disappointed to this day that we never used my photo cutline of the demolition: “Mr. Elman, Tear Down This Mall!”

UA Movies 5/Scottsdale Dollar Cinema

This building still lives on as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, which is nice among this list of torn down or abandoned movie theaters. I saw many a movie here back in its heyday as the United Artists 5.

abandoned movie theaters
The old UA7 gets some upgrades as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts.

The most memorable?

I’ve only walked out of one movie ever. I was probably 7 years old.

The movie was Without Warning, which was about some alien that threw little pissed-off starfish that sucked people’s brains out or something.

At some point, I’d had enough. Erich took one for the team and walked me to the next theater, where they were showing Middle Age Crazy starring Chevy Chase. Though it may also have been Modern Problems.

You might also wonder why a 7-year-old was watching Without Warning. This actual quote from my mother may explain things: “This one’s rated R – it must be good!”

Looking Nearby For Abandoned Movie Theaters

Cine Capri

The Cine Capri was just about five miles away from South Scottsdale on the southwest corner of Camelback and 24 Street. It was an impressive screen, and I’m pretty sure it was the biggest around.

It also had the very hip Cafe Casino nearby. My tween self loved that place for reasons I can’t quite remember. Nevertheless, both it and the Cine Capri are gone.

I remember seeing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home there – with Erich, you guessed it!

An Outdoor Abandoned Movie Theater

There was also apparently a drive-in movie theater somewhere east of Scottsdale Road on McDowell. That must’ve been before my time.

There was also a drive-in theater in North Tempe, right on the southeast corner of Mckellips and McClintock.

NOTE: I used this cool website to refresh my memory about the names of these theaters.

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What Does it Cost to Use a Blink Charging Station?

Back in September, the cost to use Blink EV charging took a slight dive. They switched from time-based charging to kilowatt-hour charging. This makes a lot of sense. Before this change, it actually cost more to use the Blink Charging Network than it did to operate a gas-powered vehicle.

Which is of course a giant scam: Low operating cost is one of the benefits of owning an electric vehicle. That’s why the total cost of ownership for a $40,000-ish Tesla Model 3 is lower than the cost of a $25,000-ish Toyota. When I charge at home, it costs about $1.60 to charge enough to drive 120 miles. With Blink charging, the same amount of charging would cost about $22.40. That’s right: literally 20 times the price of charging at my house.

Since the change, Blink network members will now pay 39 cents per kWh. That’s a considerable improvement and brings the price down to about $15.60 to “fill” my car from empty (which is rare – typically, EV owners add a few kilowatt-hours here and there whenever they park).

blink charging
Blink charging stations

Non-members will pay 49 cents per kWh. For you math majors out there, the cost before the switch from time-based pricing was about 56 per kWh.
This isn’t a big difference mathematically, but it’s a step in the right direction toward uniform and reasonable pricing.

Have a look at this pricing calculator to get an idea of the per kWh charge in your state; keep in mind, though, that it may not reflect options like generating your own solar power.

How does Blink Charging Compare to Other Networks?

That’s nearly impossible to answer. There are some networks like Volta that are free. Businesses pay to advertise on the stations, which pays for the electricity. Then we have ChargePoint, which ranges from about the same as Blink at some stations to free at other stations — some businesses eat the cost of charging to bring in customers and strut their environmentalist cred.

Using Blink charging, Volta and free charging at work to run my Toyota RAV 4 EV, I’ve paid less than $1 in the last month for charging away from home. That accounts for about 75 percent of my charging.

If the other charging networks are even remotely smart, they need to attack Blink Charging and its high rates.

blink charging
The Blink Charging Network is riding the wave of contracts with municipalities. When they expire, Blink will need to step its game up to survive.

What’s the Future for Blink?

I have no idea how long Blink Charging will be around. They’re still priced high relative to other networks. The quality of their stations varies greatly (some have displays you can’t read during daylight hours). The stock price was pretty well in the toilet when I wrote this, but it bounced pretty high in late 2020. They don’t have a good reputation with EV drivers.

Working in their favor, Blink got ahead of the curve and managed to snag long-term deals with quite a few public institutions. Here in Arizona, they’re ubiquitous on the Arizona State University campus, City of Phoenix buildings, City of Chandler buildings, and more than a few others.

Once those deals dry up, though, Blink is either going to have to try a lot harder or risk being the Edsel of charging stations.

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Papago Plaza is “Dilapidated.” And That Was the Plan.

Papago Plaza in Scottsdale is all but abandoned these days. And don’t think for a second that’s not by design.

The exodus of businesses from this once-cool throwback plaza pretty much started with the closing of Papago Brewing. It was the major anchor, a role never fulfilled by a huge nightclub space that constantly changed names and had a bad reputation.

And now, we’re getting news headlines like "’Dilapidated’ Scottsdale Papago Plaza Set For Major Redevelopment."

papago plaza

Right. As if Papago Plaza is getting redeveloped because it’s dilapidated. It’s dilapidated because its owners wanted to make it such as eyesore that residents and the city would be completely OK with whatever they wanted to do.

Of course, that is likely to be a generic bloc of anonymous buildings. A hotel. A "high-end" cluster of apartments because why not?

What Should Happen to Papago Plaza

Well, the owners let it fall into disrepair. At this point, there’s probably no way to save it.

And Papago Plaza’s looks have always polarized people. I love it. It has sense of place and character, unlike most of the shopping plazas sprouting up. If they’re going to redevelop it, why not design it with some nods to the original?

papago plaza

Also, I’m concerned about the rush to slap the "high end" label on everything. Is it not possible to make it fit in with the South Scottsdale character? That means a little less sizzle, a lot more steak. This neighborhood is relatively affordable, with some families that have lived in the area since the 1950s. North Scottsdale has its glitz. Why not keep things here more affordable and accessible?

Who wants condos that will sell for $500,000? We already have those up the road at 68th Street and McDowell.

Bring Back Some of the Papago Plaza Past

Just about five years ago, Papago Plaza was home to one of the state’s pioneering craft beer hangouts. It would be great to have it back. It had a hot yoga studio, a small gym, a Korean restaurant, a tailor. In short, some rather nice stuff. These all seem like they would fit into a future development.

papago plaza

I simply doubt developers care enough about maintaining the local character or doing right by residents. It’s all about what they can build now. What happens 20 years from now when we’re stuck with a generic-yet-dated plaza? I mean, Papago Plaza has a dated look to it -- but its late 1960s Arizona vibe is at least distinct.

And the development attorney quoted in the article had this to say about why he thinks the redevelopment needs housing: "If this is too much retail, and we’ve seen vacancy time and time again in this shopping center, what can we do to breathe new life into this corner, and yet make some retail appropriate and successful?”

Again, the vacancies were by design. Ask anyone who was a tenant at Papago Plaza in the last 15 years what it was like getting the owners to upgrade and repair. That’s the sort of landlord that chases tenants out. And their intent was clearly to sell it for redevelopment.

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Chevron and its Push Against Electric Cars

Chevron is using retirees to scare people away from electric vehicles. That’s according to a story in The Arizona Republic. You should read the story.

But just to catch you up for this blog post, it goes like this:

  • One California lobbyist for Chevron
  • A bunch of retired oil industry execs who live in Arizona
  • Writing form letters to "to Arizona Corporation Commissioners not to require electric companies here to build electric-car charging stations."

Here are a few thoughts about Chevron’s incompetent effort to stop a major shift in transportation.

They’re Using Retirees. Of Course.

People who like technology often use the initialsm FUD when they talk about people who fear change. That stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Who better to FUD things up than oil industry retirees?

chevron electric cars
There are certain people who can’t handle how the world is changing.

Look, I don’t want to be ageist about this. But why should retirees have the biggest voice in this conversation? This is the same demographic that kept saddling Maricopa County with Joe Arpaio as sherrif, which pretty much says it all.

An Attack on EV “Subsidies”

Of course the retirees attacked the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. The reporter (good on him, by the way) directly asked one of the retirees about oil industry subsidies. The person denied knowledge of what kind of money his long-time employer received from the federal government. Either the person didn’t actually work for Chevron, or he knew about government subsidies for the industry. That means he was lying.

Let’s answer the question ourselves, then. According to The Guardian, oil companies receive about $20 billion from the US government in subsidies. That’s in just one year. One year.

The electric vehicle tax credit is nothing next to that. I’m not the guy to crunch these numbers, but what would gas cost if they had the same level of subsidies as electric vehicles? The answer is "a lot more. A lot."

Chevron Retirees Say Electric Vehicles are Too Expensive

This connects back to the subsidy point. But it’s clear, also, that none of these people involved with the Chevron electric cars effort have any clue. Used electric vehicles are widely available.

I’ve seen some as low as $12,000. It’s possible to get an extremely capable electric car for less than $20,000. And it’s funny how people will spend $50,000 on a pickup and be perfectly fine with it. But a brand-new $30,000 EV like the 2019 LEAF? Too expensive.

2018 Nissan LEAF

Keep in mind that electric vehicles are a technology in their infancy. What do you think the average horse owner said when rich people in the late 1800s/early 1900s started rattling around in cars? "Too expensive -- playthings for the rich," right?

That sounds familiar. And it won’t age well in regard to electric vehicle adoption.. Battery technology, the most-expensive part of an electric car, is plummeting in price. Parity with gas engines is coming. And quickly.

The Chevron Electric Cars Gambit is Stupid, Anyway

People who don’t actually drive electric vehicles think charging stations are the be-all end-all for EV drivers. Wrong.

All we really need is a 120-volt outlet at home and at work. That’s because EVs come with charging devices of their own. The device is called an EVSE (not a charger, which is actually built into the car itself). An EVSE is designed to plug into a 240-volt outlet ton provide what is called Level 2 charging, which usually gets you 10-18 miles of charge per hour.

chevron electric cars
A close-up look at an EVSE plug. With the right adaptor, this can charge an electric car from a 110-volt outlet.

But EV drivers can use an adaptor to plug their EVSE right into 120-volt outlets and get 3-6 miles of charge per hour. That’s more than enough for the typical commute. And next time you’re in a parking garage, take a look around. You’ll notice at 120-volt outlets are more common than you’ve ever realized.

That said, it’s nice to have a 240-volt outlet at home on its own dedicated circuit. But it’s a nice to have, not a necessity.

And this all means one thing: The oil industry can’t even organize its opposition to do anything that’s remotely relevant.

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This is a huge electric vehicle charging problem. Here’s how to fix it.

It’s easy to ignore a problem that you can’t see. People who live in the Phoenix area can’t deny the brown cloud that sometimes — too often — settles over the Valley. The culprit behind the brown cloud is also hard to deny: gas and diesel-powered vehicles "by a large margin," according to Scientific American.

So we can see the problem, but what can we do about it? It’s obvious. Get some of the gas and diesel vehicles off the road with electric vehicles taking their place. There are two big obstacles to getting more drivers into electric vehicles — the initial cost and figuring out where and how to charge them.

The first one is up to the auto makers. As they figure the technology out, prices will start to drop. They already have, actually. The Tesla Model Y will be unveiled tonight, and it will be the least-expensive electric SUV/CUV by a long shot. You can bet that more automakers will unveil EVs in this class.

arizona electric vehicle charging
The VW ID Buzz is a sign of EVs to come.

The second issue — where to charge — is something Arizona’s elected officials can address. But they haven’t, likely because they’re not connecting the dots.

The Overlooked Electric Vehicle Charging Problem

Here’s the shocker about charging an electric vehicle: The costs vary wildly. Putting 25 miles of charge into my car can vary from being absolutely free all the way up to about $6 at one of the Blink charging stations that have sprouted like barnacles near city and state buildings. Can you imagine the price of gas fluctuating that wildly?

The state of Arizona has no regulations governing EV charging prices. That’s nice at the free end. But at the high end, it completely kills a major incentive for getting out of a gas/diesel vehicle and into an electric vehicle.

Arizona’s Electric Vehicle Charging Costs are a Mess

The ubiquitous Blink network charges members 4 cents per minute to charge. That’s $2.40 per hour, which usually gets me about 15 miles of charge. That costs more than the average price of gas per mile for my old Subaru — at the current $2.23 per gallon, I’d go about 25 miles in the Subaru. Considering that even a less-efficient electric vehicle like my Toyota RAV 4 EV gets the equivalent of 77 mpg, Blink makes it more expensive to operate a cleaner vehicle.

Arizona electric vehicle charging
An old-generation Nissan LEAF getting some electrons.

Charging at home is your cheapest option. You’ll need an EVSE (aka ev charger), a 110-volt adapter and possibly a 240-volt connection if you want to charge faster. But we still need options away from home, and they need to be priced consistently.

Why Arizona’s Electric Vehicle Charging Prices are All Over the Place

Arizona doesn’t have kilowatt-hour pricing like some states. That allows networks like Blink to set any price per minute that they like. For some reason, cities like Phoenix and Chandler along with educational institutions like Arizona State University have contracts with Blink, despite its high prices (and reputation for unreliable charging). In states with kilowatt-hour pricing, Blink prices still tower over the average cost per kilowatt hour; sure, Blink should be allowed to profit for their services. But in California, the average price per kilowatt hour is 15.2 cents, while Blink charges 49 cents per kWh. I wonder what the utilities who actually provide the power think of Blink’s markup.

In Arizona, the average kWh cost is 11.1 cents. Blink’s charging costs about 48 cents per kWh (based on a charging cost of $2.40 per hour, which gets you about 5 kWh of power). It’s clear that charging at a Blink station costs more gasoline, based on the average mpg of gas-powered cars. Another comparison: gas stations average about 5 cents per gallon in profit. That would be like Blink charging 53 cents per hour rather than $2.40 (based on my RAV 4’s 77 empg, 40 kWh battery, charging speed and kWh price for SRP). Put another way, if gas stations marked up at the same rate, your gallon of gas would cost $10.09 per gallon (based on $2.23 per gallon of gas).

arizona electric vehicle charging
Signs like this get ignored way too often. (photo by Mariordo, aka Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz)

Sidebar: Are EVs Cleaner?

EVs have their doubters -- people who ask "are EVs really cleaner?"

Some will even recite talking points about rare-earth minerals (which are not actually that rare) used in batteries, and the environmental cost of manufacturing the batteries. People who raise these issues would like to believe that gas-powered vehicles and their fuel are made from unicorn milk that somehow has no environmental damage.

But hey, as it turns out, the Union of Concerned Scientists has addressed their questions with a very conservative "cradle to grave" analysis comparing EVs to ICE (internal combustion engine) cars. The results are conclusive: EVs are cleaner, especially as electricity grids get cleaner.

I’d also add that areas like Phoenix particularly need EVs. If vehicle emissions are the main source of our air pollution, we must put more of them on the road (I also favor more mass transit options, but that’s a topic for another time).

Fix the EV Charging Problem, Fix the Brown Cloud

If Arizona’s elected officials want to clear up the air, they need to encourage more people to drive electric vehicles. That means preventing networks from gouging customers, especially since the networks don’t even produce the power.

The clear solution: Craft legislation that sets kilowatt-hour pricing, and caps it at a reasonable level. Put it on a level playing field with gas — which is also heavily subsidized, which will ignore for the moment — and electricity wins every.single.time. This will help put more EVs on the road, which will, in turn, fix the brown cloud.

Arizona could offer more incentives to buy electric vehicles. Cities could also do more to ensure that gas and diesel vehicles don’t block charging stations. But those are issues for another post. Fixing the pricing problem helps the consumer/driver without costing the state, cities or residents money.

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A Few People are Upset About Scottsdale Bike Share Services

Something new happened in Scottsdale, and already a snobby sliver of the population is complaining. The "something new" I’m talking about is the rise of Scottsdale bike share services. In the last few months, brightly colored bikes for rent via a smartphone app have sprung up around the city like mushrooms after a good rain.

People are using the hell out of Scottsdale bike share services – according to a KJZZ article, 3,600 LimeBike users had ridden more than 7,100 miles as of mid-December 2017 (you can also rent a yellow bike from Grid Bike Share, but that company uses traditional docking stations).

Why do People use Scottsdale Bike Shares?

I imagine most users run errands. Some do quick commutes. Maybe a few would rather hit the bars via bike than by car. Some probably just ride for the pure fun of it because bikes are fun and make people have it. Just the other day, a trio of tweens cruising the bike lanes on LimeBikes cheered at me when I zipped passed them on my old Lemond Zurich. Every time I leave my house, I see people using and enjoying the various flavors of Scottsdale bike shares.

But wait! Not this guy. He HATES them, he does. Here are a few of his reasons:
scottsdale bike shares

The LimeBikes don’t have to be returned to a specific place (Of course, the writer didn’t sweat the details of figuring out which bikes are dockless and which aren’t). They sometimes get left on sidewalks or -gasp!- your property!

I’m glad he’s calling this out. It’s a known fact that unattended bicycles emit the radioactive isotope strontium-90, which has caused neighborhoods across the country to become uninhabitable wastelands. Oh, wait -- that’s actually not true. I made it up.

Bike Share: More Good Than Bad

But the truth is that your neighbors and their kids probably leave all sorts of stuff on your sidewalks and maybe even in your yard. People park their cars with their tires protruding inches into the sidewalk. In short, this was already happening before Scottsdale bike share companies -- just with stuff that isn’t a garishly colored bike that someone is making money from.

That actually seems to be the crux of the original writer’s problem. I can see a smidgen of a point there, but I’d spend my time going after for-profit prisons instead. Now THAT’S a huge public-private moneymaking misadventure, and it doesn’t take any cars off the streets.

Do Bike Shares Damage Lawns?

How, exactly? Will they make lawns stop growing? Hey, park a bunch on my lawn so I can talk my wife into xeriscaping! And provide some evidence – saying something is happening doesn’t make it true. And something happening doesn’t make it a problem until you can put numbers to it.

scottsdale bike shares
Objections to the Scottsdale bike share are straight out of the movie Hot Fuzz. If you haven’t seen it, go immediately to Netflix. You’ll thank me.

"And, if we didn’t design our landscaping to go with green, yellow or orange; that’s clearly lack of foresight."

That’s an actual quote. They don’t match the landscaping! Seriously, I don’t think The Onion could conjure a quote this funny. This is the very essence of toxic NIMBYism. This guy is actually worried that the color of the bikes clash with the landscaping. This is why people invent words like "Snottsdale." This. Is. Exactly. It.

Scottsdale Bike Shares Don’t Bother Me

Maybe I just don’t care about this stuff because I live in a south Scottsdale neighborhood where people park on my street to go to their kickball leagues and whatnot -- and here, we don’t mind interacting with people we don’t know and dealing with what things that are, at their absolute worst, minor inconveniences that are far outweighed by the benefits.

In the case of bike shares, they’re a great, affordable way to reduce the use of cars. So get down with your bad self and leave it in front of my house if you need to. I promise someone else on the block will give it a spin at some point.

My advice: Calm down and quit being one of the worst things about Scottsdale. Worry about the big stuff. Ride a bike once in awhile. And go after bigger problems than a Scottsdale bike share.

 

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A Look Back at Defunct Sports Teams

defunct sports teams
Yes, the Great One, Wayne Gretzky himself, played for the Roadrunners during an exhibition game.

The upcoming hockey season has me thinking about all the defunct sports teams from Arizona’s history. Yeah, I don’t get very excited about the Arizona Coyotes, a team that’s done just about everything possible to antagonize and alienate its potential fan base. I’d trade them in a second to have our minor league Phoenix Roadrunners back. This made me think of all the other great teams from Arizona’s past. And yes, it’s the Roadrunners who lead the list … it’s the team and sport I love best. But I think you’ll enjoy the rest, too. Alright, let’s go back in time!

Phoenix Roadrunners

A blast from the past – Phoenix Firebirds baseball.

The Coyotes have not a single fan collective that can hold up to the 207 Psychos, the uber-loud, often drunk bunch of genial louts who held court in Section 207 where they tried their best to psychologically scar visiting teams. For me, they are avatars of everything that was great about the ‘Runners. Well, them and the Polka Boys. Fans loved the unpretentious players, the low ticket prices and the enthusiasm of their fellow fans. But there just wasn’t enough of them. The team went through several iterations in the East Coast Hockey League (2005-09), the International Hockey League (1989-1997, arguably the franchise’s Golden Age), the Western Hockey League/Association (1967-74, 1974-77, respectively) and the Pacific and Central hockey leagues (dates unconfirmed). The team went from playing at Oceanside Ice Arena to sharing a spot with the storied Phoenix Suns at the U.S. Airways Center. Wayne Gretzky once suited up for the ‘Runners (as fans called them) during an exhibition against Gretzky’s LA Kings. NHL regular Robert Long of the Czech Republic got his start in the U.S. as a member of the Roadrunners.

defunct sports teams
I would’ve been a big Scorpions fan had they not played in Glendale.

Phoenix Firebirds

Even though I don’t like baseball, it was impossible to be a Phoenician and not hear about the Firebirds. They were a popular draw, making bank on the minor-league formula of cheap tickets and true fans who love the sport, not the chance to be seen loving the sport. Swimming pools in the outfield? Not for this crowd. The team started off as the Phoenix Giants (1958-59, 1966-1985) before adopting the locally relevant Firebirds name in 1986. The arrival of the Arizona Diamondbacks prompted the owners to take the team to Tucson and call them the Sidewinders.

Arizona Sandsharks

This franchise was pretty abject – ridiculously named, to boot. It got battered in the Continental Indoor Soccer League from 1993-97, never once advancing to the playoffs. Of course, the soccer purist in me thinks soccer leagues should only have playoffs to get promoted to a higher league. And for that matter, that indoor soccer is closer to hockey than real soccer. In fact, Fake Turf Hockey has a nice ring. This one kind of deserves to be a defunct sports team.

Phoenix Inferno/Pride

defunct sports teams
And THIS is why nobody would name a team the (City Name) Pride today. This is one of the top results for an image search on “Phoenix Pride.”

There’s never been a better-named team for Phoenix than the Inferno. And a never worse-named team for just about anywhere than the Pride – at least in the parlance of current times. Like just about every indoor sport played in the 80s, the Inferno/Pride franchise of the Major Indoor Soccer League plied their trade at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, aka The Madhouse on McDowell. They only lasted from 1980 to the end of the 1984 season, when MISL folded. Wikipedia says the team had an average attendance of 7,500 in 1984.

Arizona Heatwave

Think it’s hard to get people to watch soccer? Well, just try to get them to watch minor league women’s soccer. My wife and I got to the matches regularly, chasing the team to a variety of high school fields that served as their home. We tried to prevent them from becoming a defunct sports team. The standard of play was pretty good, but the crowds mostly consisted of soccer moms trying to inspire their rather disinterested daughters. It’s a shame – I enjoyed the Heatwave, which played in the United Soccer League’s W-League from 2003-05.

Arizona Sting

So the city of Glendale had a shiny new hockey stadium, and nothing to put it in during the summer. In 2004, the National Lacrosse League franchise formerly known as the Columbus Landsharks became the Arizona Sting (which probably annoyed Chicago Sting soccer fans from the old days). It was actually pretty successful on the field, winning the West Division title before losing to the Toronto Rock for League honors. Apparently, the Sting was so ashamed of its inability to overcome a name with such a silly name: It was culled form the league in 2007.

So, what defunct sports teams are from your own home? What good Arizona stories of sports failure have I missed?

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The Worst Things About Living in Scottsdale

A recent tweet by Arizona Central, the online home of The Arizona Republic, got me thinking about the worst things about living in Scottsdale.

The tweet linked to a study about Scottsdale’s neighbor, Tempe, ranking 43rd in a list of the best small cities to live in.

That’s one small tweet, on giant tweet for encapsulating what’s wrong with Scottsdale. Let’s break it down.

worst things about living in Scottsdale
Valley Metro light rail – not allowed in Scottsdale. (Steven Vance)

Still Putting the Brakes on Light Rail
The same tired Scottsdale mouthpieces have managed to keep light rail out of Scottsdale. Everything they say flies in the face of the increasing ridership on the current light rail line. Nobody with any electricity firing between their brain synapses can figure out how light rail will increase traffic congestion and pollution. If anything, Scottsdale should break its back to figure out a way to do light rail better than the current street-grade system. The cost will be worth it in the long run. In the meantime, enjoy the not-at-all convenient trolleys and buses.

worst things about living in Scottsdale
The Poisoned Pen – One of Scottsdale’s all-too-few bookstores. (Wikipedia)

Can I Get a Bookstore?
South Scottsdale has one bookstore – the highly specialized Poisoned Pen. I love the store, but its mystery niche is very narrow. Scottsdale Fashion Square, we have to infer, serves illiterates since there’s not a single bookstore in its cavernous interior. Even the Scottsdale Pavilions, just across the border in the Pima-Maricopa community just east of Pima Road, doesn’t have one anywhere in its footprint. Aside from the Poisoned Pen, all we have is a Barnes & Noble at the 101 and Shea and yet another B&N at Kierland Commons (and no, antique/religious/New Age bookstores don’t count).

Lagging Left Just the Tip
Traffic is one of the worst things about living in Scottsdale. It’s a long, narrow city -- and it seems city officials time the traffic lights to obstruct by any means necessary. It’s rare to catch a break on the lights while doing anything close to the speed limit. And that lagging left turn – Scottsdale clings to it like a helicopter mom clutches a college student. Oh, sure, it can produce all sorts of studies to tell you how great it is. But the proof is in the commute – just take a drive around the city and see if you can maintain your sanity. I dare you – I double-dare you!

worst things about living in Scottsdale
Scottsdale is still bent on preserving its “Most Western Town” persona. (Photo credit: ed 37 ~~)

Fear of a Tall Planet
Scottsdale hates density and loves sprawl. Just let someone propose a tall building, and NIMBYs will crawl out of the woodwork to howl about their mountain views and property values. I’m still dismayed that two tall buildings stand just south of Fashion Square Mall. The only things wrong with those condo towers is they’re ridiculously opulent and expensive -- and there’s not nearly enough of them. They could become great residential/transportation hubs. I admit Tempe fumbled initially in its attempts to get developers to build upward. But it’s recovered, and Scottsdale can learn from its lessons.

What’s Good About Being Western?
Scottsdale loves to call itself the "West’s Most Western Town." I honestly just don’t care about living in a Western town. Why Scottsdale sees this as any sort of virtue in 2013 boggles my mind. Want to set a good goal? Maybe try being the "Southwest’s Most Northwest-Pacific Town." That might imply good public transit, a creative- and tech-heavy economy, a cosmopolitan flavor -- Bottom line, Scottsdale’s Old Guard might care about this slogan, and it’s not even accurate. Look, I know the city’s Botox-and-boob jobs reputation is a slight exaggeration. But it contains elements of truth that don’t square with being the West’s Most Western Town. I’m also embarrassed that Scottsdale and the nearby town of Cave Creek might have a slap-fight in court about this slogan (My take: Scottsdale can’t out-Western Cave Creek on the most-Western day of its existence even if it had an electrified Westernizing machine). This slogan is one worst things about living in Scottsdale. Let Cave Creek have it.

UPDATE: SPRING 2019

Over the past few years, more and more businesses (usually bars) have started using golf carts to ferry people around. It’s good to keep people from behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking too much.

But those golf carts are annoying: loud, smelly, slow. Sometimes, they get into the bike lane, which annoys me as a cyclist. I’d like to see the city take a harder stance on this.

I’m also annoyed by people carping about the scooter and bike shares. They’re not perfect, usually because people who use them are pretty clueless (I’ve seen some epic wipeouts). The biggest complaint about them is that they’re unsightly when not un use — talk about a First World Problem!

But they get cars off the streets. I’m all for that.

What would you add to this list?

I know I’ve really gone off on the worst things about living in Scottsdale. There are actually some things I like, too. In a future post, I’ll tell you all about them. Stand by!

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CategoriesfeaturedFitness

Boost Your Mountain Bike Cred – 6 Easy Steps

mountain bike cred (Photo credit: Malingering)
This guy’s beard would get him major mountain bike cred. (Photo credit: Malingering)

Mountain biking can make you look cool. You don’t even have to be fast or even good at it. Just learn which style buttons to push. Follow this advice and trick everyone into thinking you’re a mountain bike Bodhisattva.

Ride an unsuspended single-speed 29er – Who needs fancy gadgets to soften the ride? Just roll over everything with your big wheels. And gears? Forget ‘em. They’re noisy, heavy, finicky. The older and more battered your ride, the better. I promise not to tell anyone that your usual ride only goes as far as Starbucks. Your secret is safe with me.

Grow a great big bushy beard – Nothing enhances mountain bike cred like rampant facial hair. It confers wisdom … and the requisite lack of personal hygiene. You’re no wage slave – but a man of the mountains. Bonus points for adding dreadlocks to the equation.

Live in your vehicle … which should be cheaper than your bike – A ratty old VW Minibus is the gold standard, naturally. But if you can shoehorn your bike and other worldly possessions into into an AMC Gremlin, so much the better.

mountain bike cred
1974 AMC Gremlin – a fly hoopty to build your mountain bike cred. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speak in silly mountain biker lingo – "Wicked" must be your standard adjective. Pair it with words like "gnar-gnar" and "shred." Hell, make up your own words. If other mountain bikers can’t understand what you say, they’ll think you’re that much more plugged in. Instant mountain bike cred bonus!

Claim orphan status – You’ll be far less cool if people know mom and dad still have you hooked up to the cash tap. Claim you never knew your parents (which might be true, from a certain point of view). Deny your country club, gated-community roots or prepare to be forever shackled with the "Trustafarian" label.

Wear a roadie-style cycling cap everywhere – Under your helmet, over your dreads, in the shower, to bed at night. You’ll get bonus points if it’s from a defunct team from the last days of some breakaway ex-Soviet republic.

I originally wrote this for the Trailsedge.com blog. Since that blog is now kaput, I figured it would be a travesty if I failed to give newer readers a look at this fun content.

  • Have we reached peak beard?
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Why I Won’t Commute by Bike in Phoenix

commute by bike
This is why think Helsinki is a world leader in getting people to commute by bike.

There’s no way I’ll commute by bike in present-day Arizona. A post at the Architecture Travel Writer blog made me think about why it’s not one of my transportation alternatives.

Fellow blogger Nichole talked to Phoenix city planner Joseph Perez about improving bike commuting options. His ideas (bike shares, smartphone apps, consultants and developer input, to name a few) show why Phoenix lags  in the movement to commute by bike.

commute by bike
I don’t expect credible ideas that encourage people to commute by bike to come from Phoenix City Hall.

You’ll notice my lengthier-than-typical comment about an open state of war between motorists and bike commuters. My view comes from my past attempts to commute by bike. Here’s what I faced:

  • Disappearing bike lanes – I’d be in a great lane for a mile or two. And then it would disappear. Transportation alternatives need routes users can count on.
  • Debris-strewn bike lanes – Dirtiness and grit that love puncturing tubes.
  • Openly hostile motorists – I’ve had people throw stuff at me, yell at me, cut in front of me and try to bump me with their mirror. Other cyclists will say the same.
  • Clueless motorists – Some motorists think it’s a good idea to blare their horn as they approach cyclists from behind (hint: we can hear their engines). Then there are others who get to a four-way stop first, hesitate and give the "after you" wave. Guess what? The safest place for cyclists is behind you. Obey the law and the four-way stop protocol – your misguided "politeness" doesn’t help.
  • Other bicyclists – The "don’t give a shit about rules or good sense" variety puttering against traffic, ignoring traffic flow and just general being self-centered jerks. These riders deserve a special place in hell – they make drivers paint all of us with the same brush. They make cycling lose political clout among the transportation alternatives.

Too many near misses put me back in my car. Not the heat, not the lack of bike parking, not the scarcity of showers in most commercial buildings. It was the motorists – the antagonism, or just the casual disregard for a cyclist’s safety over their convenience.

English: Picture shows a bike path or ciclorut...
Phoenix also lags behind Bogota, Columbia, in bicycle infrastructure  En detalle la cicloruta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What would get me to commute by bike as one of my  transportation alternatives again? Physically separating bike lanes from roadways as much as possible. The canal bike paths are a great start – Step One would be to widen them. Next, get some physically separated connectors to the canal.

The bike infrastructure in Helsinki, Finland, and its below-grade bike superhighways provide the perfect example. The U.S. is decades away from Finland’s harmonious relationship between motorists and cyclists -- but we can at least separate bike lanes.

Apps and consultants are half-measures to make it look like Phoenix city officials take seriously the need to commute by bike. None will make a true difference – and they’re not meant to. Phoenix revolves around car culture and sprawl – and looking like it’s trying to change while not actually doing so. City officials seem to have no clue about one fairly easy change that could make its streets more pedestrian friendly – how can we count on them to be any better with bike commuting if they can’t implement scramble crosswalks? I offer a vote of no confidence on bike commuting to current and past administrations.

I expect naysayers to sputter “but, but, we can’t.” People, this is nothing next to light rail. It would take a fraction of the time and money. It could happen … if we approach it with a “how?” attitude. There’s a way to do it if we can overcome the lack of political will.

If you want to see other interesting ideas to make it more feasible to commute by bike, check out the Copenhagenize blog.

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24 Hours in Turku – A Visit to Ruisrock

Nightwish concert
Nightwish performs at Ruisrock (Photo credit: tiendan)

It’s a warm summer weekend in Turku, Finland. I just stepped off the VR train from Helsinki to check out Ruisrock. This is a swift, convenient, punctual train trip that I’ve never seen equaled in the U.S. – for some reason, we’re a nation that hasn’t grasped the benefits of high-speed rail travel.

Now, it’s time to wander Turku. We have a good eight hours to kill before we head to Ruis Salo, the island that hosts Ruisrock. Today’s lineup ranges from Nightwish – the day’s headlining band and Finland’s best-known musical export – to Children of Bodom, Apocalyptica and The Cardigans.

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CategoriesfeaturedGear

Backpack Tips for New Travelers

backpack tips
Your backpack can be your best friend – or your worst enemy.

I saw a soon-to-be first-time traveler ask online about backpacks – specifically, which one he should take for a three-week trip. The question opens a massive can of live eels. Let’s see what I can do to offer some quality backpack tips.

1. What kind of backpack traveler do you want to be?

Your backpack can just be a suitcase you wear on your back from hotel to hotel. Ot it can signal intent to camp, ability to cook on the fly and a desire to go hiking a lot. So which are you? Be honest with yourself. If you’re the first option, you’ll have more room for extra shoes, evening wear and various fancy city shit. If you choose option 2, your tent, sleeping bag and cooking/eating gear will eat up space when you load your backpack. Plan accordingly.

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Australia and New Zealand – Not the Same Continent

Resident of Australia – not New Zealand

To my friends in Australia and New Zealand,

If you felt a disturbance in The Force earlier, blame my co-worker. She said a few things about you that weren’t true. I was there, though, to step up for you both. To set the record straight. To make your antipodean world clearer and more real … one person at a time.

You see, I overheard two co-workers talking about skydiving. One of them was talking about going to San Diego to skydive.

Being the tireless travel advocate I am, I said “If you really want to get into some adventure, go to New Zealand. It’s the place where adventure sports are born.”

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CategoriesfeaturedFitness

Heavy Metal Hammerfest: Thoughts from a Spectator

In cyclocross, the bike sometimes gets a lift on your back. (Photo by Brandee Lepak)

I just went to my first cyclocross race. And after seeing it in-person, I have to agree with Dr. John’s assessment: “Words hardly do it justice.”

The race I saw was the first in the Heavy Metal Hammerfest series in Arizona … so maybe I should say “words hardly do it Justice for All”. It was the first chilly night in the Phoenix area, perhaps brought on by the sport’s roots in European winter cycling (I told organizer Brandee Lepak that she should try tricking the weather gods by holding the event in late September so we get some relief from the heat). Aside from that, here are some thoughts about the first-ever Heavy Metal Hammerfest race and cyclocross in general:

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Hike Destinations: Landmannalaugar Versus Tongariro

hike destinations
Unearthly and unbelievable – a few miles away from Landmannalaugar in Iceland.

Bacon or chocolate? A pint of craft beer or a wedge of aged gouda? The family dog or cat?

Picking my favorite hike destination is just as hard. I can narrow it down to two:

The stretch of the Laugavegur trail (which the Best Muffin Blog calls the “oh wow” hike) that goes from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker in the remote highlands of Iceland. I once described the hike as a rip in the space-time continuum, especially in the perpetual gray of summer. The Technicolor mountains, volcanic fumaroles, lava plus and ash-dusted snow just adds to it.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. If I overhear any so-called “traveler” blather about how everything worth seeing in New Zealand is in the South Island, I stop listening. Tongariro is why. From a barren, blasted volcanic hellscape to verdant rain forests, you’ll see some incredible stuff. Oh, and my ratings are for those who take the side trip up Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s just an incredible hike destination.

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CategoriesAdventuresfeatured

My First SCUBA Dive Experience (Guest Post)

first SCUBA dive
Want to learn how to SCUBA dive? Thailand might be your place. Photo credit.

SCUBA diving is an amazing sport and trying to explain the underwater experience to someone that has never dived before is hard – if not impossible.

My first SCUBA dive was in Koh Samui, Thailand. And from start to finish, the experience was amazing. I’ll do my best to explain to you what happened during my first dive. I hope it encourages you to get your mask and fins together and book a SCUBA vacation.

Koh Samui

Koh Samui is a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand that is perfect for beginners. There are dozens of dive schools on the island offering Professional Association of Dive Instructors and SSI courses to guide you in your first SCUBA dive. And you won’t struggle to find a school that can teach you to dive in your native language. I learnt to dive with a friend of mine who was working as an instructor on the island at the time. I was paired up with a Thai girl who was also undergoing her first dive experience. After studying the theory and taking part in an enclosed water session, we headed from Koh Samui to Koh Tao for our first open-water SCUBA dive.

first SCUBA dive
Who wouldn’t want to see a whale shark? Photo credit.

The Fear Sets In

Most of the dive companies in Koh Samui take their students to the nearby island of Koh Tao for their first SCUBA dive. This is because the visibility is much better, as are the reefs and the range of marine life. It took us about 40 minutes to get to Koh Tao; as my dive buddy and I got closer to the dive site, the nerves started to set in. Neither of us were willing to jump from the boat into the water. Both of us hung around until we were the last people on the boat. After another five minutes or so of deliberating, my dive buddy and I eased into the water to see how we felt. After all, we could always return to the boat if we didn’t enjoy the experience.

Descending

The dive site that we visited was called Aow Leuk. It lies in the middle of the protected marine park of Ko Tao, and it’s just eight to ten metres at its deepest point. Along with my instructor and dive buddy, I descended and practiced some of the skills we had learned on the bottom of the ocean floor. Once we had the OK from our instructor, it was time to swim to the nearby reefs and explore the site a little bit more.

Within minutes, neither myself nor my dive buddy felt an ounce of fear. Our first SCUBA dive experience was absolutely amazing.

It is really hard to describe just how awe-inspiring SCUBA diving is … the underwater world is just so unique. Shoals of fish swim past you whilst eels poke their heads out of small cracks in the rock. The more you look around, the more you see – blue spotted rays, clown fish and even turtles. Unfortunately we did not encounter any of the whale sharks that often swim in these waters

By the time we had returned to the boat, my dive buddy and I could not wait to re-enter the water for our second dive. Since then, we have been the best of friends. My dive buddy has just completed her PADI rescue course and I completed my Instructor course 3 years ago – both of us were hit by the SCUBA dive bug. If you ever get the chance, you will completely see why.

This guest post was written by Rutger Thole, a member of the BookYourDive.com team. Find out more about him and get great diving tips and ideas at his Google Plus profile. 

If you’re thinking about visiting Thailand to scuba dive, check out the divein.com guide to plan your trip.

CategoriesAdventuresfeaturedTravel

Scary SCUBA Advice – Truk Lagoon to Turtle Tomb

turtle tomb
Turtle skeletons lurk under the water (courtesy of PADI)

When I run the world, Halloween will be a quarterly holiday. I’ve been known to have multiple Halloween costumes each year. I use a Dremel tool to carve pumpkins.

But as much as I like Halloween, my friends at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors have one-upped me. They take Halloween underneath the sea – and they’ve exposed us to a submerged world of turtle skeletons, the World War II-era wrecks at Truk Lagoon and even underwater pumpkin carving (I guess I can’t use my handy Dremel underwater …).

Here’s what PADI has to say about its top picks for Halloween-themed SCUBA dive destinations:

truk lagoon gas mask ghost fleet
Remnants of the Ghost Fleet wrecks. (courtesy of PADI)

Turtle Tomb: This creepy dive spot in Sipadan, Malaysia is covered with a thick layer of white sand and dust composed of numerous skeletons of turtles who were unable to escape the winding underwater passageways. I have a measure of sympathy for the dead turtles … but that might up the creep factor a bit.

Ghost Fleet wrecks: Dive into a graveyard of more than 50 Japanese vessels that found their final resting place at the bottom of Truk Lagoon in the Eastern Caroline Islands.

Night Diving: Scared of the dark? Face your fears with a night dive. Your flashlight will be the only thing keeping the dark at bay as you dive deeper.

 

Add a new challenge to carving pumpkins by doing it underwater. (courtesy of PADI)

Spooky Scuba: Check your local dive center this Halloween for spooky specials, like underwater Haunted Houses, SCUBA dive costume contests and underwater pumpkin carving!

I have to give props to PADI for some imagination in fusing Halloween and SCUBA diving. If you’re looking for the same sort of thrill you used to get out of Jason and Freddy Krueger, this might be your ticket. Now, I just might take up SCUBA just to see the Truk Lagoon wrecks!

 

 

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Darwin, Australia: My Guide to the Top End’s Top City

Morning on Sandy Billabong – just hours from the Northern Territory city of Darwin.

I’ve never talked to people about travel to Australia and had them say “you know, I’ve always wanted to visit Darwin.”

But ever since my visit to the city on the Indian Ocean, I’ve touted it to everyone who asks me about Australia. I don’t know how many people I’ve swayed with my pro-Darwin raving – but I’ve at least put it on the map of those who previously hadn’t thought much past the opera house and the monolith in the desert. Here’s everything that’s cool about Darwin, and everything you need to get the most out of your visit to the Northern Territory (aka the Top End) – outdoor adventures, dining and snagging a hotel room after a few days of camping.

Launchpad for Adventure

The promise of three nights of camping in the Outback brought me to Darwin. Tour companies vie for the chance to cart visitors into the Never Never. Trips can last mere hours or stretch into weeks. You’ll wind up fording rivers in off-road trucks, sometimes in water reaching the top of your wheel wells. You’ll hike to Jim Jim or Twin Falls. And animals? You’ll never stop scanning the water for salt-water crocs. The tours generally head to Litchfield Park or the monstrous slab of Outback known as Kakadu National Park. Wherever you go, have your camera batteries charged and plenty of room on your memory card.

Enjoying a sunny day in Darwin, NT.

Small City, Big Nightlife

Darwin is no Sydney. Heck, it’s not even Cairns. But its residents know how to have fun. Clubs and restaurants line the main streets. There’s no kind of food you can’t find. I was sad to hear that Lewinsky’s, my favorite wine bar in the world, closed a few years ago. But don’t fret too much. There’s plenty else to eat and drink. My favorite find was the Darwin Wharf Precinct; you can pick from a number of different selections at its food court. Being the culinary Indiana Jones I am, I picked the camel schnitzel. And I was pretty stoked to see a box jellyfish swimming near the pier.

Don’t Go Homeless

Darwin fills up pretty quickly. It’s remote, but is the place to be to see the Northern Territory. That kind of demand can make hotel rooms pretty scarce. So book a hotel well in advance. You’ll find everything from hostels to fancy four-star sorts of accommodations in Darwin. Even the low-budget choices can sting the wallet next to other Australian cities. Early planning can help your cash go further.

Want to see really Australian wildlife? Then get to Darwin and book a tour.

Shopping and Stuff

The Aboriginal culture takes front and center in Darwin. Numerous galleries sell art and Aborigine-made goods. Obviously, it can descend into kitsch – but you’ll see some genuine talent. And a few miles outside the city, you’ll find the Didgeridoo Hut – that’s where I snagged a beautiful eucalyptus didge -- and for a far lower price than I found in other cities. You can shop for the usual trinkets at the Parap Village Market, too. But the real reason to go there is for the food. Darwin is home to a diverse group of people, many from Southeast Asia. Parap Village Market is where you can get some great tastes of their cuisine. My favorite: Thai papaya salad with a hit of fiery flavor balanced with sweetness.

This post is sponsored by Accor Hotels. With over 4,000 hotels in more than 90 countries stretching across all continents, Accorhotels offers you a huge choice of destinations.

There are over 400 hotels and resorts in 18 countries across Asia Pacific. Choose from a range of hotels, from Sofitel to Ibis, Pullman to Novotel. Accorhotels offers accommodation to suit all budgets.