Flutter through Wonderland: Experience the rainforest without leaving the desert - East Valley Tribune: Events

Flutter through Wonderland: Experience the rainforest without leaving the desert

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Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2013 8:45 am | Updated: 12:44 pm, Wed Dec 3, 2014.

Finding air-conditioned summer entertainment can be tricky in the Valley of the Sun. It got a bit easier when Arizona’s newest cultural attraction — Butterfly Wonderland — opened last month in Scottsdale.

Sitting alone on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community north of Talking Stick Resort and Casino, Butterfly Wonderland seems unassuming. Nevertheless, it boasts a 10,000 square foot butterfly atrium with rainforest-like conditions. According to principal investor and developer Amram Knishinsky, it is the largest indoor butterfly pavilion in North America.

More than 2,000 butterflies, comprised of 30 species, flutter around the atrium at any given time.

“You are literally surrounded with them. You have to be careful because there are those who like to sit on the sidewalks as much as trees,” said executive director Michael Cox. “Any way you meander through the conservatory you are seeing Mother Nature at her beauty.”

Since a butterfly’s lifespan is only about two weeks, butterfly chrysalis are shipped in every Friday from tropical locales like Ecuador and Costa Rica. When they arrive, they are hatched in the Butterfly Emergence Gallery, where visitors can watch the metamorphosis from pupa to adult.

The adults are then released into the atrium. This lush, tropical environment features plants indigenous to the rainforest, koi ponds and a very humid atmosphere.

“We know what it’s like in this arid desert and now (visitors) put themselves in this humid environment,” Cox said. “It’s all about this rainforest that the visitor is being exposed to and enjoying.”

Once people have toured the atrium and taken their fill of pictures (yes, it’s allowed) they can venture on to the Live Ant Colony, the Honey Bee Extravaganza, the 3-D theater, or the Rivers of the Amazon exhibit and stingray touch tank. After all that, they can commemorate their visit with a trinket from the gift shop or grab a bite to eat in the cafe.

Approximately 7,000 people visited the Wonderland within its first week, Cox said. Many of them were families with kids, which was no accident. The center was purposely geared toward children, who receive a “Passport to Knowledge,” with facts about butterflies, bees, ants and fish, when they arrive. Kids get these cards punched once they visit each exhibit and can then redeem them for a prize from the gift shop.

There also are educational plans in the works to provide curriculum for school tours and programming for adults, including photography and other workshops.

And like the butterflies it houses, this “experiential center” is part of a larger metamorphosis — an entertainment complex called Odysea in the Desert. Eventually spanning 35 acres, plans include retail, an IMAX theater, an aquarium, a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum, 16 restaurants along the international lines of Epcot Center, and a museum called the Arizona Experience, where residents will be able to explore the state’s three ecological zones without leaving the Phoenix metro area.

“With the growth of this community to 4 million plus, it really deserved another such public attraction or entertainment district where people could have a wonderful time 12 months of the year,” said Cox.

The aquarium and the IMAX are schedule to be built next, with a projected opening in 2015.

In the meantime, Butterfly Wonderland provides a new place to cool off and experience a world vastly different from your own.



IF YOU GO

What: Butterfly Wonderland

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Where: 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale.

Cost: $18.95 for adults, $9.95 for children ages 3-11, and $16.95 for students, military and seniors; free for children 2 and younger.

Information: (480) 800-3000 or www.butterflywonderland.com.

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