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, amphibians, and carnivorous shrubs. 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.
At Sea Life Arizona Aquarium, you can watch Ziva, a rescued green sea turtle, graciously share the limelight with the 5,000 other oceanic creatures that populate the aquarium's tanks, including white-tip reef sharks and cownose stingrays. Rays swarm in live feeding shows, sea stars wait in tanks to be touched, and crabs don't mind of you hold them in your hand or whisper sweet nothings in their ears.
Mesa Arts Center curates artistic goings-on inside a sleek structure filled with four theaters, five art galleries, and 14 art studios. Graced by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Bill Cosby, the stages of the facility's theaters showcase a cultural cocktail of live music, Broadway, dance, and comedy performances. Grooming the next generation of artisans with the help of advanced equipment, seasoned instructors teach everything from acting and beading to woodworking and welding during art classes tailored to both kids and adults.
For inspiration, students and visitors can stroll through the galleries of the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum for glimpses at a revolving selection of contemporary art from international artists. Speckled with gardens, shapely architecture, and colorful lighting, the facility’s modern grounds welcome guests for everyday visits or annual events and festivals.
Named the Best Arts Festival in 2010 by the Phoenix New Times, the Scottsdale Arts Festival has showcased the fine arts since 1971. This year, nearly 200 jury-selected artists from around the United States and Canada contribute vibrant paintings, glass and ceramic sculptures, photography, and connect-the-dots sketches framed with macaroni. Throughout the festival, artists engage guests with interactive projects. Tunes from live bands swirl past attentive eardrums while mouths are occupied at gourmet food trucks serving such great festival eats as hot dogs, barbecue, pastries, and more. Throughout the day, pintsize patrons and kids of all ages can skip over to Imagine Nation to participate in artistic activities, such as walking down Kid’s Way and creating a paper hat.
The adept aces of aquatic life at Top of the Reef help customers develop and maintain a healthy and thriving saltwater aquarium with a wide spectrum of fish and water-based accessories. Budding marine mavens can select from a number of finned friends, such as the bicolor angelfish ($19–$50) or the False Percula clownfish ($14–$30), to ensure living-room aquariums are as prismatic as a crayon-drawn family portrait.
The giraffe smells a food pellet. He pokes his head just over the railing and starts sniffing for the guest holding his treat. Not far off, some brightly plumed parrots land on another visitor’s arm, spying the tasty apple slices in her hand. Though you can’t get this close to every animal at Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium—such as the lions and the wild Larry Fitzgeralds—the keepers do facilitate animal-human exchanges as often as possible with the zoo’s more than 600 species. They also give visitors novel views of some exhibits by welcoming them aboard the Skyride, the Australian boat ride, and the African train safari. The adjacent aquarium adds to the zoo’s impressive animal collection, housing more than 75 exhibits and enough water to start a new earth colony.
Further attractions include a children’s petting zoo, daily shows, and a baby-animal nursery. Wildlife World also encompasses two restaurants where guests can feed themselves and their own helpless progeny.