Greetings and salutations,
The last and only time we previously visited the Desert Museum was in January-February 1985, that’s over 33 years ago for those of us that are mathematically challenged! We spent three weeks in Tucson where I was attending Extension Education classes at the University of Arizona. Our daughter, Melanie, was five years old at the time (daughter Melissa was born later that year). We took Melanie to the Desert Museum and she had a grand time, looking at all the critters. The thing I remember the most was when we went in the bird enclosure, she had a lot of fun trying to catch the birds that were flying around. That all came back to me when we visited the bird house on this trip so I tried to “catch” the birds with my camera!
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was established in 1952 as an interpretive center of the Sonoran Desert and is considered one of the most widely recognized museum of it’s type in the world. It’s often ranked in the top ten museums/zoological parks in the US and one of the main attractions in the Tucson area. It covers an area of 98 acres in the Sonoran Desert west of Tucson, near Saguaro National Park and Old Tucson. Most of the exhibits are outdoors with only a few inside, the weather on the early February day we visited was very pleasant even a little on the warm side by mid afternoon. The Museum entertains about 400,000 visitors per year to walk the up to two miles of paths through the desert environment.
The Museum is funded through endowment funds and grants that are supplemented by fees charged to visitors. A big thanks to one of my Madison based photography friends, Mike Rausch, who gave us two guest passes to the Desert Museum, the regular adult fee is $21.95 that is discounted for seniors, active military and local residents. The fee for children is $8.95. There is no direct taxpayer funds are used to support this fine institution. The Museum has an extensive, well recognized volunteer program who contribute greatly to the museum experience. Here’s a volunteer docent serving as the MC for the Raptor Free Flight, a twice daily (from October to April) birds of prey demonstration.
As a fellow photographer, Mike offered suggestions on where to stand for the best photos during the 45 minute demonstration. We got there early and got some choice spots to view the demonstration. I noticed a number of other serious photographers near me so the word must be out where to stand for a good photographic view. The docent warned spectators that the birds can fly so close to people that one can feel the turbulence from their wings! She cautioned all those with cameras (that’s everyone in attendance!) not to raise their hands above their heads so as not confuse the bird that your camera or hand was their perch! All the birds are native to the Sonoran Desert. Here are some photos of the demo.
The Raptor demo was a real treat to watch as the birds are untethered and well trained. Later on we went to the education building for a talk and demonstration titled “Live and (sort of) on the Loose!” This presentation feature the Gila Monster and Diamond-backed rattlesnake pictured below.
The presenters offered some statistics on how many people US are bitten by poisonous snakes each year, about 7000-8000 but on average only five die per year from the venomous bites. She said that most bites happen to young men between the ages of 18-24 and usually involve an abundance of alcohol! It was an interesting, well done program that generated a lot of questions from the audience. With all the signs around the Southwest warning us to watch for rattlesnakes, this is the only one we saw!
As we made our way through the exhibits, we came upon the God’s Dog exhibit about coyotes. In my previous work with livestock farmers, coyotes were often seen as the bad boys of the animal world. While it’s true they did occasionally kill young calves and sheep, they are majestic beasts often misunderstood and with a purpose in the circle of life in the natural world.
The javelina, on the other hand, doesn’t look to me to be a majestic animal! The javelinas are native to the Southwest and are often confused with those getaway domestic pigs, commonly called razorbacks or wild boars or pigs. Javelinas weigh up to 80 pounds so are quite a bit smaller than wild pigs. They roam the desert in search of roots, grasses, grubs, insects and sometimes small animals. You be the judge on how attractive they are!
We also checked out the mountain lion and a Mexican black bear exhibits, both native to the Southwest.
We also came across this guy watching every move we made. We wondered if he/she was looking for an easy meal or was acting as a security camera to make sure we didn’t mess stuff up!
Then we noticed the sweetness of the love birds (not sure what the name of bird this is) who sat contently watching the people walk through the Museum. It was a scene that made us smile.
The desert scapes were also interesting and educational. The sign pictured below answered questions about how some of these plants can survive on so little moisture and such poor soil.
This still standing but dead saguaro reminds us how strong these plants are to withstand the windy, hot days in the desert. Note the the half moon in the lower right of the photo.
It was a very pleasant visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on a very pleasant day. I can tell you for sure that the Museum has expanded greatly since our first visit in 1985. It’s on all the lists of things you must do when visiting the Tucson area, you won’t regret it. Go early to catch the raptor demo and check out the other talks provided by rangers and volunteers through out the day.
Next week watch for a post on the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.
Until then, travel safe.