Established by archaeologist William Shirley Fulton in 1937, The Amerind Museum aims to preserve and protect the legacy and heritage of the indigenous cultures of the Americas through educational programs, lectures, and a collection of tools, art, and materials from a variety of native ethnic groups. Within the stately Spanish Colonial–revival building, visiting traditional artists and an ever-changing gallery foster a connection between the distant past and the present, teaching guests about the still-living cultures that have called the region home for millennia. The exhibits span across the centuries with artifacts and treasures from various peoples and times, captivating curious visitors with displays ranging from late prehistoric Pueblo pottery, Hopi katsina dolls, and even an Apache war bow constructed and signed by Geronimo himself. Even the museum's campus speaks to the storied past of the area, with views of Texas Canyon's breathtaking rock formations and secluded picnic spots amid the natural beauty and lively conversation of ancient granite boulders.
During the course of this 90-minute adventure tour, you'll explore the Colossal Cave, a miles-long system of underground "dry" caves, which means there is not enough moisture for formations to continue growing, and you won't need any special shoes or suction-cupped foot gear. With nothing more than a hardhat and headlamp, you and a small group of fellow spelunkers (7–12 people) will climb and squeeze through narrow tunnels and subterranean passages revealing exquisite stalactite and stalagmite formations. A knowledgeable guide talks about the cave’s history (it had been used for centuries by prehistoric peoples) and legends (it was a bandit hideout in the late 1800s).
As they enter the massive brick building, visitors pass the Watercarrier, a curved bronze statue that lends a first glimpse at a staggering collection of ancient and modern Native American works. Established in 1893, the Arizona State Museum celebrates and records Southwest Indian cultural history with more than 3 million objects, including a collection electrified with more than 25,000 pieces of woven basketry, more than 300,000 catalogued archaeological artifacts, 500,000 photographic negatives and original prints, 90,000 volumes of rare titles, 6,000 maps, 1,500 feet of archival documents, and more than 1,000 sound recordings. The collection forays out onto the museum floor in exhibitions such as Ancient Architecture of the Southwest, where striking photographs frame some of the crumbling archaeological ruins of 1,000-year-old cliff dwellings set against a rugged desert landscape while tastefully photoshopping out the ancient satellite dishes. The Pottery Project spans 2,000 years of Native ceramics with more than 20,000 whole pieces and a lab for hands-on pottery testing. Using artifacts, life-size dioramas, and film, Paths of Life explores the history and contemporary lifeways of ten Native cultures, including those of the Yaqui, O’odham, Apache, Navajo, and Hopi.
Museum staff further engage visitors in events that range from talks with museum curators and Native artisans to learning expeditions, which invite guests to tag along with museum and university archaeologists to survey nearby sites, immersing them in the scientific dig experience nearly as effectively as watching Indiana Jones with your nose to the screen. Educational outreach for public-school and university students immerses them in camps and workshops. At the Native Goods museum store, visitors browse a stock of books alongside basketry, jewelry, carvings, and textiles crafted by artists from Yaqui, Hopi, and other nations.
Aiming to turn the museum concept inside-out, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum contains two miles of paths spread across 21 acres of desert, where animals such as sun-bathing lizards, bobcats, porcupine, and grey fox make their home. However, it is the fusion experience of a zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, aquarium, and art gallery that has earned it a top-5 museum honor by TripAdvisor.
The museum's exhibits intend to display the shared natural habitats of plants, animals, and geology. As many as 230 native live animal species and 1,200 types of plants fill the museum's many exhibits, such as mountain lions, prairie dogs, and river otters, and nearly 20 endangered or threatened species. Birds of prey that roam the skies are the subject of a twice-daily seasonal presentation. The gardens feature over 56,000 individual plant specimens native to several biomes and ecosystems of the Sonoran Desert. Also exhibited is the skeleton of a Sonosaurus, recovered in southern Arizona.
After their stint outdoors, visitors can wander innovative indoor exhibits. Inside a cool, dark replica of a limestone cave glimmer more than 14,000 minerals and fossils, which includes a moon rock on loan from NASA. Amongst an underwater view of beavers' habitat and a venomous reptile presentation, the Warden Aquarium showcases the region's marine residents, and an art institute aims to promote conservation through dynamic visual art.
Housing numerous artifacts and anecdotes that catalog Arizona's near-100-year statehood, the Arizona Historical Society Museum at Papago Park takes visitors on a voyage through pivotal moments in the state's history. The museum's exhibits, like flashlights swallowed by a history book, illuminate the narratives of famous Arizonans—including the first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor—and provide insight into Arizona's Japanese internment camps and Papago Park POW camps during World War II. With a mix of info-rich text, multimedia displays and hands-on learning, the exhibits keep visitors engaged and entertained, much like betrothals performed as rock ballads.
The International Wildlife Museum is a nonprofit institution that works to support various worldwide conservation efforts. More than 400 living and taxidermy-sustained species, plus illuminating exhibits and habitat re-creations, wow crowds of mammal fans and reptile skeptics alike. Visit the Scaly, Not Slimy! reptile exhibit with a significant other to bask in the romantic aura of the naturally top-hatted debonair tortoise, or pick up a family membership to get a year of unlimited museum access, two complimentary guest passes, and discounts on everything from museum programs to items in the gift shop.