PHOTO BY JESSE RIESER
Tourists in Arizona often describe the landscapes as otherworldly—and the man-made structures here can seem pretty alien as well. Drive southeast from Phoenix and out onto the Pinal Pioneer Parkway (State Route 79), and you’ll pass cactus forests and high desert scrubland—as well as a memorial marking the site of Hollywood cowboy Tom Mix’s death—on the way to the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. After about two hours, you’ll find a complex that looks as if it was built by little green men: Biosphere 2.
The Biosphere’s steel-and-glass buildings rise out of the sand like forgotten sets from Star Wars. They house seven model ecosystems—including rainforest, wetlands, and desert—that mirror those of Earth and are designed to last for 100 years, providing vital opportunities for scientists to research how our planet works. The three-plus-acre facility is best known, however, for a 1991 experiment in which eight “biospherian” researchers spent two years sealed inside in an attempt to discover how humans would do in a biospheric system during space colonization. (The answer: not great. Let’s just say that there were lawsuits.)
The University of Arizona acquired Biosphere 2 in 2011, and today would-be space cadets can choose from a variety of tours, including one aimed at families, one that covers the facility’s construction and history, and one that offers access to the world’s largest indoor living ocean. General admission is $21 for adults; some tours are an additional $8; biosphere2.org
McLaren 720S Spider
If Biosphere 2 is a planet of its own, you might as well take a rocket ship to get there—and few cars are as space age as the McLaren 720S Spider. The British automaker’s 4.0-liter twin turbo V8 can launch its new convertible to escape velocity. (Not really, but SR 79 has been clocked as the fastest road in America, and with a 212-mph top speed, the McLaren sure feels like it can achieve liftoff.) Aside from its performance, the Spider also features super-high-tech design elements such as its folding roof system, which employs electric motors instead of weighty hydraulics, slashing the opening time to just 11 show-stopping seconds—the fastest of any supercar. From $315,000, cars.mclaren.com