Challenger Space Center Arizona is on a mission: to excite and educate its visitors about science and the vast wonders of outer space. That excitement starts as soon as guests walk onto the entrance's elevated gantry bridge to see a four-story, space-themed mural painted by Robert McCall. Then it's on to the museum, where the center's affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution enables it to offer top-notch exhibits, which range from a model of an Iridium satellite to three separate meteorite exhibits. Beneath the planetarium’s night sky, stargazers can learn about the stars or test their wishes out on different constellations. Regular Family Star Nights encourage families to bond over stargazing presentations, a simulated shuttle launch, and other activities.
To immerse themselves in the space experience, groups can also sign up for two-hour simulated space missions that unfold in three spaces: a mission control room designed after the Johnson Space Center; the Spacecraft, which simulates a room onboard the International Space Station; and the Earth Space Transit Module, which helps crew members dock there.
Desert Caballeros Western Museum traces its origins back to 1960, when local leaders including Barry Goldwater and H. K. MacLennan founded the non-profit "to collect and preserve the history, learning, lore and mementos incident to the development of Wickenburg and the Arizona Territory." What started as a small-town museum blossomed into a regional institution full of artifacts of the Old West and Arizona culture. Thanks to the tireless work of local historians and curators, as well as hundreds of volunteers, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum draws droves of visitors to Wickenburg with its insightful art collections, historical exhibits, and hands-on learning opportunities.
Visitors can take in the picturesque landscape of the nearby Boyd Ranch as they converse with real-life cowboys and horses, or decorate their homes with paintings and sculptures made by Western women at the Cowgirl Up! exhibition. Regular exhibits enrich minds of all ages, dazzling guests with intricate artwork and pottery, the natural beauty of the gem collection, and the tiny, tiny people living inside the historical dioramas.
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.
The Hall of Flame Fire Museum showcases the history of firefighting with nearly an acre's worth of exhibits and restored pieces of firefighting equipment that date as far back as 1725. Visitors can check out a Rhode Island fire engine from 1844 that was capable of pumping 250 gallons of water per minute to put out fires or 250 gallons of sarsaparilla per minute to fuel citywide block parties. The Hall's 400 fire helmet collection presents 400 protective headpieces from around the world, and in the museum's sixth gallery, the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes honors firefighters who were decorated for heroism and those who have died in the line of duty.
At Deer Valley Rock Art Center, visitors walk a quarter-mile trail that leads to thousands of Native American carvings. The ancient artwork includes more than1,500 petroglyphs, which were created between 7,000 and 500 years ago. Inside, a museum teaches about the prehistoric population who once inhabited the area.
For lunch, visitors can head over to outdoor picnic tables or an amphitheater area. They might also spot local wildlife such as roadrunners, jackrabbits, and red-tailed hawks.
The Arizona Science Center crams four levels of interactive exhibits and activities, a five-story IMAX theater, and the Dorrance Planetarium (featuring the first NanoSeam dome ever installed in a science center) into one amazingly educational facility. Test your gray matter's mettle with the applied-science activities of Get Charged Up!, which lets you take yourself on a pulley-powered chair ride, catch some Zs on a bed of nails, or construct your own electrical circuit or Doomsday device. Inquisitive minds can also experience the full force of a miniaturized Mother Nature in the Forces of Nature exhibit and donate screams for scientific study in Goosebumps! The Science of Fear.