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Top Ten: Models & Miniatures

“It’s a small world after all.” ~Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman

1. Thorne Miniature Rooms – The Phoenix Art Museum owns 20 Miniature Rooms which were created by Mrs. James Ward Thorne, an Indiana native. Only 99 such pieces exist, a majority of which are kept at the Art Institute of Chicago. Thorne began to collect miniature furniture and household accessories during her travels to England and the Far East shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Beginning in 1930, Thorne devised the ingenious scheme of having these interiors made to hold her growing collection of miniature objects. Many of the rooms are exact replicas of existing houses in the United States and Europe. The remaining rooms faithfully depict the architecture and interior design of their periods and countries. Some of the rooms even contain miniature period-style rugs that Mrs. Thorne had woven specifically for each space. The rooms are lit to look very natural, with light spilling in through a hallway or through carefully placed windows. The rooms are made at a scale of 1:12 (one inch in the room equals one foot in real life).

2. Arizona Doll and Toy Museum – This small museum is located in the historic Stevens House on Heritage Square at 602 E. Adams Street in downtown Phoenix. The miniature turn-of-the-century schoolroom with antique dolls as students and teacher is a favorite exhibit.

3. Children’s Museum of Phoenix – Toddlers love the little supermarket where they can push around tiny shopping carts, load them with toy groceries, and check those items out at miniature scanning stations. Coming soon will be a whole room filled with blocks of many shapes, sizes and colors, where kids can spend all day building miniature cities. Everything in this museum is designed for small children, babies to age 8. The 2-to 6-year-olds will enjoy it the most.

4. Picture Rocks Miniature Horse Ranch, Tucson – Your children can hug a miniature horse, pet a dwarf spotted goat, feed some Bantam roosters and chickens, and enjoy a packed lunch in one of the shaded picnic areas at this ranch, nestled in the rugged foothills of the Tucson Mountains. Miniature horses stand 38″ at maximum, and most are significantly shorter than that – a perfect size for small children to feel comfortable around. Be sure to bring a camera and bread to feed the animals. The ranch is open daily but you have to call ahead for an appointment. Their phone number is (520)682-8009. The address is 6611 N. Taylor Lane (20 miles west of I-10, Ina Road exit). Also, north of Phoenix at Spur Cross Stables in Cave Creek they have miniature horses and other small animals including a mini Dexter cow, mini donkey, pygmy goat, and pot-bellied pigs.

5. McCormick-Stillman Railroad, Scottsdale – Located in the heart of Scottsdale, the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is the most unique park of its kind in the country. When the park was originally designed, its purpose was to provide the ultimate in family fun and education, through the preservation of Arizona’s Railroad Heritage. The park continues to provide a safe environment for family fun and learning. Millions of visitors have enjoyed the park since it opened in 1975. Its centerpiece is a 5/12 (5 inches equals one foot) reproduction of a Colorado narrow gauge railroad, the Paradise & Pacific, which carries passengers throughout the park on a one mile track. A second smaller train ride by the Scottdale Live Steamers has approximately 3,000 ft of 7.5″ gauge track surrounding a Xeriscape arboretum featuring desert plants and two authentic Navajo Indian Hogans. In addition, a model railroad clubhouse has comprehensive models, layouts, and displays on the history of railroads in Arizona. (There are similar miniature train concessions at Freestone Park in Gilbert, Encanto Park in Phoenix, Desert Breeze Park in Chandler, and the Daisy Mountain Railroad in Anthem. In addition, Old Tucson Studios, Trail Dust Town in Tucson, Rawhide at Wild Horse Pass, and Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek have miniature railroads. Most of these are 16-24” gauge trains. But the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is the granddaddy of them all!)

6. African Safari Train, Litchfield Park – A small scale train ride that deserves its own entry because it is so different from the rest of the above. This one takes you on a tour of the zoo! The Wildlife World Zoo’s Safari Railroad was established around 1997. The 16″ gauge railroad runs 5/8 of a mile through two different animal enclosures that allows passengers a close encounter with a number of the zoo’s residents. Travel on this 5/8-mile, 8-minute long narrated ride through the plains of Africa and see antelope, gazelles, ostriches, oryx and more.

7. Adobe Mountain Desert Railroad Park, Phoenix – The Adobe Mountain Desert Railroad Park, located in North Phoenix at 23280 N. 43rd Avenue (just south of Pinnacle Peak Road) is home to the Maricopa Live Steamers Railroad Heritage Preservation Society, Arizona Model Railroading Society, Arizona Garden Railway Society, and the Sahuaro Central Railroad Heritage Preservation Society. The Maricopa Live Steamers is a 30-year-old organization that had a small layout at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale for many years before relocating to the spacious Adobe Mountain Desert Railroad Park. These 7.5″ gauge enthusiasts have an impressive operation with more than 8 miles of track running through the desert. There are working signals, a turntable, many trestles, etc. scattered throughout the layout. The park’s other residents provide additional railroad ambiance with grand scale static displays and garden scale layouts. The Adobe Western Railroad is the largest miniature railroad setup of its kind in the country. It’s so extensive that I recommend visiting their website to view a detailed map of the railway system.

8. Botanical Garden Railway, Tucson – Another unique model railroad is located at the Tucson Botanical Garden. It first started as a holiday railway exhibit several years ago. Then a dedicated Tucson Botanical Gardens’ volunteer, Thorne Pierce, started learning how to build trains and he created a permanent garden railway from pieces donated by the Tucson Garden Railway Society. With the help of Gary Martin, who created the rock work and waterfall, the Tucson Botanical Garden now has a complete miniature train town that is set to the backdrop of beautiful gardens.

9. Barrett’s Village, Quartzite – In the back parking lot of the Quartzsite Historical Society Museum is a miniature village of stone buildings made by local resident Walter Barrett and donated to the museum. The structures include houses, churches, windmill, general store, and a castle.

10. R/C Aircraft Fields – Around the state there are quite a few miniature runways and flying sites for radio controlled model aircraft. One is located in North Phoenix about ½ mile west of the intersection of Cave Creek and Jomax roads, within the Cave Buttes Recreational Area. Another such flying site is located at Adobe Dam Regional Park. Both of these have 600-ft. long paved asphalt runways and shade ramadas. Additional sites can be found in Mesa, Apache Junction, Tucson, Flagstaff, Chino Valley, Yuma, and other places. In most cases, use of the facility is limited to members of the local r/c airplane club, but they will usually let non-flying spectators come and watch.

Honorable Mention:

Biosphere 2, Oracle – In the 1980’s, a Texas oil billionaire named Ed Bass decided to build what you might call a life-size terrarium in the desert just north of Tucson. Biosphere 2 was supposed to be a miniature version of Earth (a.k.a. Biosphere 1). It would be a living laboratory for learning about our planet’s natural ecosystems. By 1990, the glass-and-steel computer-controlled sci-fi greenhouse was completed. At a size comparable to two and a half football fields, it remains the largest closed system ever created. Biosphere 2 was used in the early 1990’s in experimental missions that sealed several people inside for up to two years at a time as an exercise in developing self-sustaining space-colonization technology. In 1996, Columbia University took over management of the site. The interior portion of Biosphere 2 was opened to the public in the spring of 2002. Biosphere 2 is now run by the University of Arizona and serves as a research lab. Tours of the facility, exhibits, and gift shop are available daily. The tour begins in the human habitat. Here you will see one of the apartments where the Biospherians lived, the farm area where they grew their crops, and the kitchen where they cooked their meals. Your guide will then lead you through the airlock door into the wilderness areas of Biosphere 2 where you will experience firsthand the environments of this engineering marvel. You first enter the tropical savanna. The trail system then travels along the 40-foot ocean cliff where you look down into the million gallon saltwater ocean. As you move along the trail, you descend into the lower savanna, along the mangrove wetlands, through the tropical thorn scrub, and into the coastal fog desert. From the desert, you now go into the technosphere. The technosphere is where mechanical systems such as a wave machine control the Biosphere 2 environments. From the technosphere you venture into the recently opened tropical rainforest which contains over 150 different species of plants, some more than 60 feet tall! Finally, you’ll descend through a tunnel into one of two “lungs,” the large geodesic domes that originally prevented Biosphere 2 from exploding or imploding.

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