Every visitor who we have to Tucson usually must
do at least two things: a) eat some really exceptional Mexican food, because honestly, there’s no better place to do it in the States than here and b) go to the Desert Museum.
The word “museum” usually brings to mind austerity, at least for me. Shushing and walking around looking at stuff on a wall usually go along with it. I, for one, am a big museum-goer, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The Desert Museum is misleading in this way. Don’t picture it as an enclosed space where you go around looking at pictures of desert plants or taxidermied desert animals. Think of it more like a zoo, but specific to our Sonoran desert region.
Having grown up in Tucson, I lost count of how many trips I’ve made there
long ago. But I revisited last week, when my Italians were here.
We took the scenic drive west through Gates Pass, along the winding road flanked by blooming palo verdes until we pulled into the parking lot. It was a weekday afternoon, so although we didn’t necessarily beat the early May heat, we beat the weekend crowds.
The Desert Museum is a well oiled machine of an institution. Educational outreach, knowledgeable docents, an art institute, a digital library and more are all part of its programming. More than 100 mammals, 241 birds, 360 reptiles, 120 amphibians, 10,700 fish and 840 arthropods call the Desert Museum home, in addition to the 40,000 plants.
Exhibits about Arizona’s geography, summer evening events
, gems & minerals and more supplement the flora and fauna on display. To detail every aspect of the place itself would be folly, and one of the longest posts ever. You should just go check it out! Read more, though, for highlights of our outing there.
We started in the humming bird enclosure, where the babies had recently been born. THEY WERE SO TINY. They also needed to be fed a lot, since their metabolisms are so fast; the mama bird who was gathering food for her baby, we were told, would feed it again in another 20 minutes.
Hummingbirds are kind of ridiculous. Here are a few fun facts about hummingbirds:
1. They are the only type of bird that can fly backwards (sweet!)
2. Depending on the species and whether they’re courting, a hummingbird can beat its wings from 25 to 100 beats PER SECOND. Per second, people!
3. The Aztecs and other ancient civilizations believed hummingbirds to be symbols of potency and energy, and of course we can see why!
|She’s on the feeder! Do you see it?
We wandered through along the paths to the aviary, which houses other types of birds. It was en route there where I took this photo.
As we ambled along the dirt path, we learned and read about the plants surrounding us.
Next stop: Bighorns! Bighorn sheep have big horns (duh) that can weigh up to 30 lbs! They also have an interesting relationship with Arizona. By the year 1900, the desert big horn sheep population had plummeted, largely due to hunting and disease. Cue the Boy Scouts of Arizona in 1936! They worked for a few years to help set up areas of conservation for the desert big horn, essentially saving them from extinction. We saw them hanging out under the sun.
|It was like they were modeling just for us!
Although the desert isn’t always associated with water–more like with the lack thereof–we still have it! And we have critters who like it, too! The beavers were putting on a show for us that afternoon, swimming and washing up. Here’s one of our watery friends:
Cat Canyon featured desert kitties, including a pair of sleepy mountain lions who had little interest in us. In fact, most of the animals were having their siesta by the time we got to them. The javalinas were napping under the bridges, a coyote slipped beneath a bush into its cooler underground burrow as we passed, and the black bear was barely (sorry! Couldn’t resist!) visible lounging by a rock wall.
The prairie dogs were out en force, though! I love these little guys. They poke their heads out when there’s a disturbance. If they were in a horror film, they’d be the dumb guy who went looking for the killer when everyone knows he’s just around the corner.
Whenever I think of prairie dogs, I always think of this video:
By the time we got through most of the acreage at the ASDM, we were spent. Before heading home, I took a shot of the landscape I’ve been raised in, grateful to have been so. The desert will always be home for me, and I will always value the fact that I can identify cacti, and know how to pronounce gila monster (tip: the g sounds like an h). I value the time I’ve spent, and time I will spend, showing others all the beauty the desert offers. Driving back home through the saguaros and colorful blooms made the long journey feel a lot shorter.