READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road. No better way to start the day than a stroll through this "Oasis in the Desert." Power walkers and joggers pass us by as we saunter along, wowed by the wonders of nature surrounding us. Even at a slow pace, those hills are enough to get us huffing and puffing as we endure the eight-mile marathon. (Technically, the trek to the top is 7.6 miles round trip--but we give ourselves a bonus for making it up the 610-foot incline). Couch potatoes can take it all in by narrated tram tour, before settling down to the picnic they hauled in the easy way. Whether on foot or wheels, we are frequently treated to a glimpse of the local inhabitants. Rendezvous with reptiles are most common. Leaping lizards, there's a Gila monster! Along our path, curious squirrels and dallying ducks boldly beg for treats. Even though most residents, like the docile deer, prefer to keep their distance, we have had surprisingly close encounters with bobcats, mountain lions, a javelina family complete with baby in tow, and most recently a rather surly badger. We keep our eyes peeled along the paved road that leads us across nine stone bridges over a creek that vacillates from barely a trickle to a raging river. Mother Nature has earned our respect, teaching us to be aware of flash floods during monsoon season (and to always carry our cell phones) or we might have to be rescued by helicopter--again.
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