Bessie Heard dedicated years of her life to philanthropic efforts throughout the McKinney area, helping plant hackberry trees along downtown streets and establishing an American Red Cross chapter during World War I. However, she accomplished her greatest feat in 1967 when the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary opened to the public. With 289 acres of rolling space, the sanctuary functions as a testament to the diversity of local flora and fauna, educating visitors and urging them to protect those species for future generations.
More than 6.5 miles of unpaved hiking trails wind throughout the sanctuary, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in habitats that range from tall-grass prairie to limestone slopes. The grounds shelter more than 150 varieties of wildflowers and plants, as well as more than 240 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. In addition to the trails, the sanctuary also features an extensive garden of native trees, grasses, and perennials, as well as a treetop ropes course (reservation required; additional fees apply). Indoors, interactive exhibits and collections impart valuable information on north-Texan geology, marine life, and venomous snakes.
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.
In support of her high-decibel new album, Rihanna kicks off her hotly anticipated LOUD tour with emphatic gusto and a sizzling roster of special guests. Like an art show at a sundae bar, the LOUD tour floods the senses, enchanting audiences with lavishly designed sets, myriad costume changes, move-busting dancers, and Rihanna's songbook of Grammy magnets. Crooner Cee Lo Green augments the songful offerings with his own vocal talents, and Roc Nation rapper and rhythm scientist J. Cole further helps resuscitate ear drums traumatized by the outside world's blaring car horns and shrill howler monkeys.
At Casey's SportsWorld, the owners stripped down the ice from an outdoor hockey rink, replaced it with multipurpose, artificial turf, and retained the oval's lights and bleachers to create an outdoor arena that hosts games of soccer, flag football, kickball, and monthly dodge-ball tournaments. Casey's baseball and softball batting cages differ from most in that players can swing for a 200-foot home-run fence while batting from one of three slow-pitch softball cages or seven baseball cages, which sling pitches as fast as 80 miles per hour and feature an arm-style mechanism that emulates human pitchers or talented robots with soup-ladle arms.
Designed to honor a legendary species named the Marsh-wiggle, Casey's SportsWorld's mini-golf course boasts its own brand of folklore. As guests attempt to sink testy putts or manipulate their opponents' scorecard, they can speculate about the origin of the Volkswagen Beetle that is half-embedded into the ground, which denizens of Casey's SportsWorld believe squished the last remaining Marsh-wiggle.
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A flurry of paintballs whiz through the air, splattering their targets with brightly colored pigment. Players at Westworld Paintball Adventures explore either indoor or
outdoor fields, where they can unleash a paintball-pelting fury, rain or shine. At Splatter Ranch’s outdoor enclave, paintballers find cover in gullies or clusters of shrubbery as majestic cacti stand guard a safe distance away. The field and on-site pro shop spread across 20 acres of terrain, which is peppered with a few buildings where players can duck into or play Rochambeau for decoy duty.
At the indoor arena, Xtreme Pursuit, players kick up clouds of dirt as they chase each other around a 33,000-square-foot facility and take shelter in bunkers and buildings amid specialized lighting, a sound system, and fog machines. The facility is air-conditioned and open year-round, with a pro shop supplying equipment to players.
Though a pilot mans each of Hot Air Expeditions balloon flights, the excursions are really guided by Mother Nature. The colorful balloons simply follow the wind, hovering above the cacti and coyote that call the Sonoran desert home before gently climbing breezes to give passengers a full view of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Groups can take morning flights year-round or afternoon flights from November through March, both of which offer spectacular photo opportunities, as well as time-sensitive challenges to any still-life painters on board.
The mutable nature of the flights mean they last anywhere from 45–90 minutes, after which, passengers will enjoy sparkling beverages and catered snacks, such as pastries. Each guest is awarded an official flight certificate as a memento of their aerial journey before boarding a courtesy van that returns them to the launch point. Though the actual flights last up to 90 minutes, groups should allow up to four hours for the entire trip.
It isn’t every day that a student and teacher become partners in business, but that’s what happened after Robin Dickson took his first dance class with Matthew Gann. A friendship formed between Dickson, a special-event planner since the age of 17, and Gann, an award-winning ballroom dancer who already owned studios of his own. After realizing ways their backgrounds complemented each other, the two decided to open Allure Dance Studio right next to Cumberland Mall. Experienced dance instructors cultivate twinkle toes in private and group dance lessons across the studio’s sleek hardwood floor. Up to 25 students practice salsa, tango, or merengue rhythms in front of a wall of mirrors that display each student’s progress and most intimidating dance face. All students of Allure can practice what they’ve learned at various parties and events organized by the studio that provide a place where all types of dance can be performed and celebrated.
Armed with equal parts passion, dedication to the practice, and wisdom gained through teaching certifications, Blissful Yoga Studio's instructors help students achieve lithe, flexible bodies with classes catering to all activity levels. Introductory classes help beginners pay special attention to their alignment and breathing, and hot Vinyasa-flow classes challenge the mind as well as the muscles with a continuous series of empowering postures performed in a room that's heated up to 97 degrees. Instructors also incorporate the studio's specially outfitted wall, using its system of straps to sink students into deeper supported postures during yoga wall stretch sessions, which help them better impersonate the lowercase letter q. In addition to classes, the studio hosts workshops for seniors and those recovering from injuries that cover the basics of the yoga sutras.
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At Jambo! Park, children uncork bottled up energy as they spring across an indoor playground sprawling with jungle-themed rides, family-friendly games, and towering play structures. The fun factory's Phoenix locale manufactures raucous laughter and endless enjoyment with myriad attractions, including the Himalaya mini roller coaster, Monkey Barrels ride, and Spin Tops ride. Families can settle disputes over who's the favorite child in a pirate-themed laser-tag arena or club their way through the six greens of a mini-golf course. Miniature pilots control their altitude as they circle around on the Flying Elephants ride or take a spin on the Jungle Swing ride. Little conductors can take in the views on the Safari Train. A three-level play structure festooned with tubes and slides welcomes climbers and sliders, and more than 90 nonviolent video games jangle merrily in the arcade.
Inside Koko FitClub’s tranquil workout studio, orange-and-white cardio and weight machines wait quietly for a guest's unique Koko key to bring them to life. The key, packed with information about guests' exercise history and goals loads up a 30-minute workout for each visit that's fully customized for each guest's body and goals. Exercises are carefully broken down in easy-to-follow instructions, adapting as guests progress, spouting pep talks when energy wanes, and providing information about individual progress. Personalized nutrition plans ensure the body has the energy it needs for best results.
Designed by experienced trainers, the programs are designed to build muscle and torch fat in all areas of the body. To watch success unfold, guests can chart their progress from a store of information accumulated during each session, which also allows guests to map their performance at home.
Arizona Outdoor Fun lets riders whip around winding lakes, trails, and tight canyons the way nature intended—atop landscape-chewing wheels. When not busy peddling a cache of extreme all-terrain Honda vehicles and dirt bikes, Rhino UTVs, and agile sport quads, their expert guides lead fun, scenic ATV tours around the Verde River and Bradshaw Mountains, sharing tidbits about local Native American culture, plants, fossilized cowboy hats, and wildlife. They also deal in aquatic sports with boat rentals including wakeboard boats, pontoon boats, and fishing boats, small vessels such as jet skis, and kayaks and canoes that run on man power. Master mechanics at the shop’s garage keep all vehicles ready for adventure, drawing on more than 25 years of experience to repair personal ATVs and other recreational crafts, including scooters and go-karts.
By their estimate, Kelly and Steve Fischer have taught thousands of people how to scuba-dive. As the course director and IDC staff instructor, respectively, at Phoenix Scuba, they draw from more than a decade of expertise to lead a team of master dive instructors, certified open-water instructors, and assistant scuba instructors. These coaches all follow the PADI curriculum to teach students basic through advanced diving skills, such as navigating underwater or bartering with dolphins. Open-water and advanced open-water certification courses lead the way with hands-on lake dives, and can open the door to specialized courses such as rescue diver or NITROX enriched air certifications.
Phoenix Scuba's instructors don't just limit their instruction to local waters: the school has also led extended trips to dive sites in the waters of Belize, Grand Cayman, and Fiji, among others.
A 6,641-yard layout sculpted into pond-speckled parkland terrain draws in golfers at Villa de Paz Golf Club's 18-hole course. Throughout the round, golfers will have to prove that their swing is impervious to water hazards, which come into play on 10 holes. Players and husky groundhogs encounter the most difficult hole at the fourth tee box, where a tree-lined fairway dog-legs sharply to the right on its way to a green guarded by a pond in front. Before their round, clubbers can warm up their swings at Villa de Paz's driving range, which has two tiers to accommodate heavy swing-honing traffic and separate territorial head covers.
Course at a Glance: