Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeology Park
Excellent exhibits (five miles east of downtown at 4619 E. Washington St., 602/495-0900 recording or 602/495-0901, www.pueblogrande.com, 1-4:45 p.m. Sun., 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Mon.-Sat., except closed Mon. in May-Sept., $6 adults, $5 seniors 55 and up, $3 children 6-17, free on Sun.) depict how life may have been for the Hohokam. Archaeologists have learned much about this ancient society by studying the plant and animal remains, artifacts, and burial sites uncovered at this large site. They know, for example, that the average Hohokam man stood five feet four inches tall, weighed 130-140 pounds, and had a 40-year life span. Many of the artifacts, along with a platform mound bearing what appear to be solstice markings, suggest that the Hohokam had a rich ceremonial culture.
A short video introduces the site and its former inhabitants, and a giant map shows the tribe's intricate canal system—one of the greatest engineering feats of prehistoric America. Tools, decorated ceramics, jewelry, and other finds show how skillfully the Hohokam lived in the desert and what crops they grew. The gallery's shows change about twice yearly and spotlight archaeology, Southwest cultures, or contemporary Native American arts. A children's area invites hands-on exploration of archaeology.
After looking at the indoor exhibits, you'll better appreciate the ruins outside. Signs along a two-thirds-mile paved trail describe features of Pueblo Grande's construction and excavations. The Hohokam began construction of the platform mound at Pueblo Grande about A.D. 1150 on a terrace overlooking the Salt River. From the top of the mound you can see an oval-shaped depression thought to be a ball court; a trail leads over to it for a closer look. On the way to the ball court, you'll pass a reconstructed adobe compound and a pithouse cluster with furnished interiors. You can borrow a Desert Plants of Pueblo Grande to identify species along the trails.
The museum sponsors events, tours, and hikes for both children and adults; staff also have information on other Southwest activities and places to visit. A research library can be used by appointment. On the second full weekend in December, Native Americans present entertainment, arts and crafts, and food at the Annual Indian Market, held at the Activity Center in South Mountain Park.
The museum store sells Native American jewelry and other crafts, children's items, and books, including the excellent Desert Farmers at the River's Edge: The Hohokam and Pueblo Grande. Picnic tables lie outside near the museum entrance.
Arizona Military Museum
The collection (northeast corner of E. McDowell Rd. and 52nd St., 602/267-2676, www.azdema.gov/museum/index.html, 1-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun., donations needed) traces Arizona's military history—and where its soldiers have fought—from Spanish days to the present. Maps, photos, weapons, uniforms, and other memorabilia represent each period. During World War II, the adobe museum building served as part of a prison camp detaining German submariners. A model depicts the daring "Great Escape" on Dec. 23, 1944, by 25 German officers and sailors. (They were all recaptured.) One hall features a well-armed UH-1M helicopter, shot down three times in Vietnam. An outdoor exhibit displays vehicles and artillery that range in date from World War I to the latest Iraq conflict. A library holds many books and some videos on military history.
The museum is part of the Arizona National Guard complex about seven miles east of downtown. Turn in at the main gate on McDowell Road and look for the large building "Arizona Military Academy."
Desert Botanical Garden
If you're curious about all those strange cacti and other plants so abundant in the deserts of Arizona, this is the place to learn about them (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy. in Papago Park, one-half mile north of the Phoenix Zoo, 480/941-1225, www.dbg.org, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily Oct.-April and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily May-Sept., the Desert House exhibits and Garden Shop close at 5 p.m., $9 adults, $8 seniors 60 and over, $5 students, $4 ages 3-12). A stroll through the extensive gardens will show how much life and beauty the desert holds.
The one-third-mile-loop Desert Discovery Trail winds past thousands of plants, including more than half the cactus species in the world. Short trails lead off to the Cactus and Succulent Galleries and to the Agave Yucca Forest. Learn about other aspects of desert life on the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail (how early inhabitants met their needs from the desert's resources), the Sonoran Desert Nature Trail (relationships between plants and wildlife), and the Herb Garden (demonstrations of desert-adapted medicinal, culinary, and tea plants). The one-third-mile Desert Wildflower Trail begins near the Garden Shop and loops past wildflowers from the four deserts of the U.S.; interpretive signs explain how wildflowers and pollinators interact.
All of the trails have plant identification signs and have been graded for wheelchair access. If you arrive in spring, you'll see many plants in bloom. Lighting on the main trail and late closing hours allow for the unusual experience of strolling through the desert at night, though it's necessary to come during the day to read the plant labels and to take the side trails. Inexpensive booklets offer more information on the trails and Desert House. Sculpture exhibits in the Garden change every 6-8 months.
Major events include the Butterfly Pavilion (hundreds of butterflies enclosed in a garden habitat) mid-March to mid-May, Las Noches de las Luminarias (over 6,000 luminarias with music and food) throughout the month of December, concerts (varied programs) on Sundays in spring and autumn, jazz concerts on Friday evenings in late spring and summer, and landscape plant sales in mid-March and mid-October. Arcadia Farm's Patio Cafe serves breakfast and lunch. The Garden Shop offers natural history books, gift items, and cactus and succulent specimens.
More than 1,300 animals from Arizona and all over the world inhabit 125 acres of rolling hills and lakes at the Phoenix Zoo (455 N. Galvin Pkwy. in Papago Park, 602/273-1341, www.phoenixzoo.org, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Sept.-May and 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily June-Aug., $12 adults, $9 seniors 60 and over, $5 children 3-12 with adult). You'll see pronghorn from Arizona, oryx from the Arabian Desert, orangutans from Southeast Asia, baboons from Africa, and spectacled bears from South America, among many others. Breeding programs have increased populations of such endangered creatures as the Arabian oryx, on the brink of extinction when brought to the zoo in 1963, and the chacoan peccary, thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 1972 in its native Paraguay.
The zoo uses moats and steep inclines instead of cages, where possible, to provide the animals with an open and natural setting. Native habitats recreate tropical rainforest, desert mountains, savanna, wetlands, and temperate woodlands so each animal will feel at home. "Behavioral enrichment programs" make life more interesting for the animals: wildlife may have to forage for hidden food or chase and catch their dinner. The Arizona Trail section reveals many rarely seen mammals, birds, and reptiles, including some surprisingly beautiful rattlesnakes. Special free programs include animal encounters, storytellers, and zookeeper talks. Kids have playgrounds and lots of things to do; on the Children's Trail, they can feel sculptures of wildlife, pet tame animals in Harmony Farm, and walk through a wallaby habitat. The narrated Safari Train ($2 all day) will save you some walking. In the hot months it's best to come early to see the animals when they are most active. The zoo's gift shop offers books, posters, clothing, and toys. Snack bars sell light meals and fast food. More than two million lights decorate the grounds for ZooLights in the evenings from late November to the beginning of January; call for hours.
Hall of Flame
In the old days the position of volunteer firefighter carried great prestige. Men eagerly joined the local fire brigade, which also served as a social club. Firefighters competed in drills and marched in parades alongside their glistening machines. Here (opposite Papago Park at 6101 E. Van Buren St., 602/275-3473, www.hallofflame.org, noon-4 p.m. Sun., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., $5.50 adults, $4.50 seniors 62 and up, and $3 students 6-17) you'll see what may be the world's largest display of fire-fighting gear. The pieces, many works of art in themselves, come from all over the world.
The first gallery contains hand- and horse-drawn pumpers, hose carriers, and hook-and-ladder wagons from the 18th and 19th centuries. A second gallery displays antique motorized fire trucks. The third and fourth galleries feature historic fire-alarm systems (including the world's first computerized dispatch system), a fire-safety exhibit, and additional fire trucks. Photo and print collections on the walls show firefighters past and present. The National Firefighting Hall of Heroes honors those who lost their lives.
Another gallery explores the world of the wildland firefighter—smokejumpers, hotshots, helitacks, air tankers, engine crews and ground crews. You'll see a replica of a 1930s lookout cabin, interactive exhibits, and videos of firefighters in action.
The theater screens videos about steam fire engines, great fires, and the people who fight them. A gift shop sells souvenirs.
Salt River Project History Center
Exhibits (1521 N. Project Dr., near the Hall of Flame, 602/236-2723, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., free) by the Salt River Project illustrate Hohokam life and their canal system, then tell of the construction of Theodore Roosevelt Dam and other endeavors that tamed the Salt and Verde Rivers.
Arizona Historical Society Museum
This spacious museum (1300 N. College Ave. and Weber Dr. near the southeast corner of Papago Park, 480/929-0292, www.arizonahistoricalsociety.org/museums/tempe/, noon-4 p.m. Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat., $10 adult, $8 seniors 65+, 6 ages 7-17) portrays central Arizona's modern historyŚthe dynamic transformations of the 20th centuryŚwith some 19th-century background. As you walk into the courtyard, you're greeted by the sound of rushing water. The dolomite blocks, generator, and freight wagon here come from the early days of Roosevelt Dam; exhibits nearby and inside illustrate how the dam made possible the Valley's agricultural and industrial development. A wide-screen video introduces the people and geography that influenced this region. Kids will like the museum's many projects and interactive exhibits. Other offerings include a research library (check for hours), gift shop, guided tours (by appointment), and special programs.
From Phoenix, you can take the 202 Loop (Red Mountain Freeway), exit north on Scottsdale Road, then turn left on Curry Road or Weber Dr. to College Avenue. Alternatively, you can head east on Van Buren St., turn left on Curry Road, then left on College Avenue; if coming on Washington St., continue east (it becomes Curry Road), then turn left on College Avenue. From Tempe, head north on Mill Avenue, turn right on Curry Road, and left on College Avenue, or head north on Rural Road (becomes Scottsdale Road) and turn left on Curry Road or Weber Drive. From Scottsdale, head south on 68th St. (which becomes College Ave.) or you can go south on Scottsdale Road and turn right on Weber Drive.
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