It’s easy to get stuck on the merry-go-round of the Valley’s go-to venues, the big-name places where you can ogle acres of plant specimens or “ooh” and “aah” over exotic animals. Marvelous as those places are, sometimes you have to leap off the carousel and test out the monkey bars.
Enter the perfect excuse to try something different: Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day. Print a coupon from the publication’s Museum Day website, and you and a pal can get in free on Saturday to museums all over the state.
It’s a good chance to explore someplace new with minimal financial outlay. Here are our picks for museums worth visiting, both near and outside the usual East Valley radius. For the required free admission coupon and a list of all the Arizona museums in on the deal, go to http://www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday.
Mesa Historical Museum
Located in Mesa’s Lehi School buildings (which are on the National Register of Historic Places), the museum explores the history of Mesa through hundreds of photographs and artifacts. Exhibits include “Thanks for Tuning In: The Wallace and Ladmo Show,” an adobe schoolhouse and old-fashioned farm equipment that was essential to life in the rural Lehi settlement.
Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 2345 N. Horne, Mesa. (480) 835-7358 or http://www.mesahistoricalmuseum.org.
ACROSS THE VALLEY
Challenger Space Center
Space buffs of all ages can hold a real meteorite, take a simulated voyage to Mars, dress up like an astronaut and tour exhibits full of memorabilia, interactive activities and educational materials at this modern-looking museum with a rotunda where 40-minute planetarium programs are held.
Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 21170 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria. (623) 322-2001 or http://www.azchallenger.org.
Deer Valley Rock Art Center
This 47-acre site is home to the largest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the Valley. An accessible quarter-mile trail allows you to view more than 1,500 of them, all made 800 to 5,000 years ago on basaltic boulders. Outdoor tables and an amphitheater area offer ideal places for picnicking, and the preserve is home to roadrunners, quail, squirrels, rabbits, javelina, hummingbirds, owls and hawks.
Open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 3711 W. Deer Valley Road, Phoenix. (623) 582-8007 or http://dvrac.asu.edu.
International Wildlife Museum
This 40,000-square-foot natural history museum features dozens of dioramas with more than 400 stuffed animals from all over the world. The “Big Terror” exhibit features a 650-pound, 10-foot-long Bengal tiger that slaughtered at least eight people in 1960s India. An outdoor pond is home to live threatened and endangered Arizona fish, Tarahumara frogs and Sonoran mud turtles, and a theater plays seven wildlife-related movies per day.
Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at 4800 W. Gates Pass Road, Tucson. (520) 629-0100 or http://www.thewildlifemuseum.org.
The Mini-Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
This 1-year-old museum contains more than 275 miniature rooms, scenes, collectibles and artifacts, from a tiny house built in 1775 to a witches’ compound. It’s styled as a time machine, so visitors can feel like travelers looking in on different — and diminutive — lands and times.
Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 4455 E. Camp Lowell Drive, Tucson. (520) 881-0606 or http://www.theminitimemachine.org.
Zane Grey Cabin and Rim Country Museum, Payson
Zane Grey penned more than 60 books about the American West, including “Riders of the Purple Sage.” Sometimes called “the father of the Western novel,” he spent time on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim from 1918 to 1929. A replica of his cabin displays touches of his life there, including a Morris chair where he wrote his best-selling words by hand. The Rim Country Museum, on the same property, is home to two floors of exhibits, a replica of Payson’s turn-of-the-20th-century Herron Hotel and the top of the fire lookout tower originally located on Mount Ord. Both museums are situated among the rolling hills and lakes of Green Valley Park, a perfect spot to picnic or burn off a little energy before getting back in the car.
Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 700 Green Valley Parkway, Payson. (928) 474-3483 or http://www.rimcountrymuseums.com.