On the Riptide slide, brave park goers grip small, yellow rafts as they descend down a nearly vertical 35-foot drop into a long alley of water. This thrilling ride is one of the Breaker Water Park's main attractions, joined by the twisting and turning Bonzai Pipeline—which propels bodies through a large jumble of pipes—and a massive wave pool filled with more than 1 million chlorinated gallons. The sprawling Breakers compound also has two food and refreshment stands and plenty of space for dining or relaxation. Sunbathers and those afflicted with wicked-witch syndrome can plant their beach towels and collect sunshine at one of many seating areas, and families with children too small for larger water slides can escort the tykes to Captain's Kidd's Surfari. A designated kids' area, the Surfari gives littler kids an oversized and waterlogged playground outfitted with wading pools, tamer slides, and elaborate sprinkler fountains.
Across Disruptive Paintball’s six battlefields, teams splatter blotches of color across 18 acres of dry desert landscape. Amidst the shrubs and sparse trees, they slink behind giant wooden spools and up stairs into watchtowers, where they pick off opponents belly crawling up dirt mounds. Players can also post up inside a dilapidated helicopter and various forts or challenge their aim and reflexes on the small speedball court furnished with large inflatable obstacles. Because the center's varied and exciting arena attracts players of virtually every age and skill level—from 7-year-old girls and boys to elderly grandparents—staff members divide participants by skill level to ensure every player has a safe and fun experience. Disruptive Paintball also hosts airsoft nights, a game similar to paintball that uses soft pellets in place of paintballs.
Three baseball cages and three softball cages housed in the indoor Batters Box facility hurl their best stuff into the strike zone so that baseball players can polish their cuts. Various settings enable all levels to improve, serving slower pitches to younger and less-experienced players and transforming into hecklers so experienced players can master their game faces. Batter’s Box also employs a couple of decorated instructors in Jerry Hairston Sr., a 14-year major leaguer and father to two current pros, and Autumn Champion, a former standout at the University of Arizona and current record holder for the fourth-highest softball batting average in the nation.
When Randy Long and his family recently went on spring break, they didn't laze around on a beach staring at the sea. Instead, they trekked around the world to China. The choice of destination isn't surprising given Randy's extraordinarily adventurous spirit—the former travel agent has trotted the globe a few times, dog sledding in Alaska and scuba diving in Bermuda along the way.
Despite his eagerness to explore, Randy probably surprised even himself when he was caught by an unexpected wave of inspiration during a 1986 Rotary Club meeting in Illinois. When hot air balloonist Harold Lovelace spoke to the club, Randy was so transfixed that he immediately offered to buy one of Harold's balloons. By the end of the year, Randy had his pilot's license, was flying in the world's largest hot air balloon event, and became a pro at photo-bombing the portraits of landscape artists. Within five years, he sold his travel agency and set up shop in Arizona as a full-time balloon pilot.
Since founding Arizona Balloon Safaris, Randy has maintained a perfect flight record, successfully piloting more than 2,000 flights for more than 20,000 passengers (including Shakira and J.W. Marriott). His colorful balloons ride the Sonoran Desert's breezes, gently carrying passengers as far as seven miles while maintaining a feeling of near motionlessness. From any corner of the balloons' sturdy wicker baskets, people can scan all 360 degrees of the desert panorama without a single visual interruption. Whether skimming the tops of cacti or reaching the flight's 5,000-foot apex, groups will likely spot—and sometimes hear—deer, coyote, and jackrabbits during the 45-minute ride. Passengers can bring a camera to take pictures of these sights along the way. Upon landing, the chase crew welcomes groups back to Earth with celebratory glasses of champagne.
With more than two decades of airborne experience under their wings, Scott Johnson and his wife Terri teach students the fundamentals of sport piloting during tandem paramotor and trike flights. After mastering the helm of a trike or the cords of a paramotor on the land, pupils and teachers soar over the stunning vistas of southern Arizona's expansive landscape for hands-on experience. Scott draws from his time spent helping film nature documentaries for the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet to help students identify shorebirds and sandhill cranes midflight. Arizona Trike School also deals in new and refurbished sport aircraft as well as piloting necessities such as parachutes and headsets that play the Top Gun soundtrack on repeat.
A small group of explorers stands beneath an open dome of night sky as pinpricks of starlight glitter against the expanse's dark blues and blacks. Each spot of light even seems to look much clearer from here—likely because the group is standing 9,157 feet above sea level. At the Stewart Observatory inside Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter at the mountain's summit, scientists guide visitors through the use of gear such as a 32-inch Schulman telescope—the state's largest public viewing telescope—to probe the far reaches of space to learn about celestial phenomena and take in magnified images of the universe just above.
Days and nights at the center bring a slew of learning experiences to budding astronomers. Accompanied by University of Arizona scientists, Discovery Days lead explorations of topics such as tree rings, hummingbirds, and meteorology, frequently beckoning students into the surrounding outdoors. During nightly SkyNights programming, groups summit Mt. Lemmon for a five-hour evening of dining and stargazing at the observatory. One-on-one time with heavenly bodies comes courtesy of Astronomer Nights, wherein site staffers grant singles or pairs lodging, private access to the Schulman telescope, and the chance to contribute directly to the field upon discovering a supernova, nebula, or handlebar mustache on the man in the moon.
Periodically, the scientific team also expounds on specific topics, such as digital celestial imaging, with the public in multiple-day workshops. Each participant builds on the Stewart Observatory's list of achievements since 1970, which include furthering infrared astronomy, surveying the moon for Apollo lunar landings, and searching for near-Earth asteroids.