Sprawling across 392 acres and home to thousands of unusual plant and animal species, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is far from a standard classroom. Here, people learn through exploration rather than through textbooks; they’re able to smell the plants they study and ask native squirrels for direct quotes about soil quality. Jaunts through the park cover a range of terrain. Butting up against the northern face of Picketpost Mountain, the park encompasses canyons, hills, and trails carefully landscaped to duplicate arid environments from around the globe. The cactus garden features plants both sinuous and spiny, creating a vast collection of shapes and textures nestled into the dusty red landscape. Queen Creek Canyon provides respite from the sun, its towering trees thriving in the cool shade. Visitors pick up tips on how to enhance their own yards in the demonstration garden of drought-tolerant plants, which are relatively easy to care for except for when they demand chocolate milk. Additional education can be found in classes and lectures held at the Smith Interpretive Center.
The Festival of Horses parades rare breeds alongside hitch-pulling draft steeds to celebrate equine diversity, entertainment, and labor. The graceful gaits of breeds such as frisians, spanish barb mustangs, and arizona appaloosas glide across the stallion showcase’s arena, the walls of which are made from wooden remnants of the Trojan Horse tied together with Mister Ed film reels. Rows of commercial booths promote and sell their wares on the trade-show floor, where horse-lovers haggle over trailers, tack, and feed. Trot from ring to ring, absorbing the sights and sounds of horse-human demonstrations from groups such as the Golden West Cowgirls and horse soccer, a contest of skill that has confused jersey manufacturers everywhere.
For the Banzai Physical Challenge, young warriors must face a dastardly foe: mud. Throughout a two-mile course, kids must brave the mess as they scale a hay mountain, take on a technically engineered ¼ pipe, rope swing, and mud crawl. Youngsters ages 7–17 can opt to tackle the muddy obstacle course on their own, with an adult, or with an altruistic pig that can carry them to the end.
After rinsing off at the cleanup area, participants can explore Banzai's other kid-friendly attractions, including tug-of-war, inflatable obstacle courses, and bounce houses. Warriors can unwind with chair massages, adorn their arms with glitter tattoos, groove to tunes spun by live DJs, or replenish themselves with food and drink. There's even a beer garden for the adults.
A marksman steps onto the range and raises a pistol, aligning the site not on a paper target, but on miniature pumpkins. To keep things fresh, the staff at Ted's Shooting Range likes giving both members and the general public a bit of novelty every now and then by furnishing its air-conditioned 75-foot range with targets that range from bowling pins to balloons. Ted's team also trains shooters during classes, such as the Basic Pistol and Home Defense courses.
The zombie-themed Queen Creek Running Dead 5K has a greater purpose than scaring participants into running from the undead hordes hungry for brains. The race—held the weekend before Halloween—benefits local schools by funneling the proceeds to the Queen Creek Schools Education Foundation for scholarships and teacher grants.