Though glimpsed by many people for the first time on an episode of The Amazing Race, the desert acres traversed by Fort McDowell Adventures are steeped in millennia of Yavapai Indian history. Guides lead visitors across the Arizonan foothills on a range of outdoorsy and sometimes anachronistic adventures, such as cattle drives and Segway tours through the Sonoran desert, kayaking adventures on the Verde River, and nature walks with Yavapai Indians. These excursions often end in nighttime wiener roasts, s'mores, and cocktails, a break from the frontier tradition of telling campfire sci-fi stories.
Activities at Fort McDowell Adventures’s four venues further immerse guests in the American Western experience. They gather for Dutch oven–style cowboy cookouts and depart for wilderness excursions from The Stables. At La Puesta del Sol, guests pass through a Spanish mission entrance into a dining hall, saloon, stage, and dance floor, and at Rosa's Ranch, they gather under the stars and around cookout fire pits nestled between rustic wooden ranch buildings. Groups dine at The Boulder House, named on the National Registry of Historic Places, whose rock walls bear evidence of petroglyphs, Native American occupation, and ancient spelunking expeditions.
Pinz celebrates classic ten-pin competition with open hours throughout the week, league opportunities, and cosmic bowling each weekend. The newly renovated facility is now outfitted with synthetic bowling surfaces, glow-in-the-dark carpeting, and flat-screen television sets. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the lanes take on glowing hues that emulate the experience of bowling under the Northern Lights without the inconvenience of getting frostbite. Pinz’s onsite kitchen dishes up quick specialties to fill bellies, and the facility’s game room is equipped with pool tables, air-hockey tables, and a digital jukebox capable of plucking old 45s from the far reaches of the Internet.
Just two blocks from Fountain Hills' famous 560-foot fountain, Fountain Bowl stands as a monument itself, celebrating strikes, spares, and even the occasional split. After its 2009 renovation, the family-friendly alley now boasts shiny new lanes, pin-spotter machines, glow-in-the-dark carpeting, and flat-screen TVs. With two friends and a frenemy, 10-pin fans can fill up four seats at one bowling lane, throwing slashes and Xs for as many as three rabble-rousing rounds.
Fountain Hills Oktoberfest
has plenty of beer, though the festival's German founders also celebrate all aspects of Bavarian culture. They pour four Warsteiner brews from taps all day long, including a seasonal, pilsner, a hefeweizen, and a dark dunkel. You'll also find grilled footlong bratwursts, sauerkraut, pretzels, and homemade apple strudel. All that food and drink fuels dancing to live tunes from the band Die Echte Waldbuam, who are flown in from Germany and specialize in traditional oompah music. The organizers also offer up prizes for the best polka dancers, the person who produces the best note on an alp horn, the person who can hold a beer stein at arm's length the longest, and the person who was skillfully a wolf wearing a person costume the whole time.
It's hard to say which is more distinctive: the karts zipping around Octane Raceway or the track itself. During each lap on the 1/3-mile course, drivers zoom through an indoor area, then weave around an outdoor section that's covered by a permanent steel canopy, making for a hybrid experience rarely found in American go-kart tracks not owned by bored supervillains.
An equally rare find in the U.S. is the raceway's fleet of 32 Sodi RTX karts, all imported from France, whose electric motors give off zero emissions while reaching speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Drivers who can stay in control at these top speeds are in for success: the winner of each race is determined not by who finishes a given number of laps first, but by who puts up the fastest single lap time, a result that's posted both at the track and online for posterity.
Races take place in a 65,000-square-foot space that doubles as a gathering place for parties and corporate events for up to 500 attendees. In addition to racing, the raceway is also home to off-track activities that include shooting pool in the billiards room, scaling a 21-foot rock-climbing wall, and melting burgers and pizza into rocket fuel at the Trackside Bar and Grill.
Founded in 1989 by fourth-generation cowboy Lloyd Bridwell, Arizona Cowboy College abounds with all the atmosphere one would expect from a real Western ranch, with one very modern distinction: it was the setting for CMT's reality show Cowboy U. The program highlighted the often-rocky journey of city dwellers and a fame-hungry pony who came there to win attempting to adjust to life on the range, all led by senior instructor Rocco Wachman and his teaching staff.
After years of handling horses and new riders of all ages, Wachman and company were well-prepared to wrangle reality-show contestants, and once the cameras stopped rolling, they went right back to the tough but rewarding business of ranch-running. At Arizona Cowboy College, that includes private and group lessons as well as trail rides through picturesque natural forests, with programs aimed at nurturing ranch hands, serious riders, and more casual horse-lovers alike.