Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
2021 N. Kinney Rd.

Tucson, AZ 85743

January 8, 2001

Of all the nature museums that we have visited throughout the United States this had to be one of my favorites. Being from the Midwest my picture of the desert was lots of sand and cactus. Little did I know how much life and how many plants the desert actually supported. Going to the Desert Museum was a little like landing on an alien planet. As we entered the museum's grounds there were, of course, the myriad types of cactus from very small to very large. Each cactus had a nameplate with it so you would know what you were looking at. The first building we came to included displays on reptiles and invertebrates. Now I'm sure that many of you don't care for spiders and snakes, but these were safely ensconced behind glass. The displays were very complete including most spiders, snakes, scorpions, and lizards that you might encounter in the wild. Also in this building were a number of wildflower models that were extremely beautiful. In the next building which was the earth sciences center, they actually had a limestone cave you could walk through. Deep inside the cave was a beautiful mineral gallery, which included one of the finest collections of regional minerals and gemstones anywhere. There was also a number of displays showing how the structure of the land came about. Exiting back out into the grounds, you next moved into a mountain woodland area which included a number of animals, including a mountain lion, in outdoor enclosures which showed them as much as possible in their natural setting. The animals and plants in this area represent those found in the mountain "islands" within the Sonoran Desert region. Next we wandered into the Desert Grasslands area. The antics of the prairie dogs are captivating. It was fun just to stand and watch them interact with each other seemingly oblivious of the "strange looking two legged creatures" looking on. As we continued on we entered the Cat Canyon area. There you can view the region's wild cats - bobcat, ocelot, and jaguarundi. Part of the charm of the exhibits here is the natural setting they have the animals in that allows you to view them with perfect safety but fairly close with no bars separating you. After the Cat Canyon you have the option of going on the Desert Loop Trail (Arizona Upland). This 1/2 mile loop offers an intimate desert walk with sweeping views of the Avra and Altar valleys. Several exhibits are still in progress, giving you the chance to see how Desert Museum exhibits are constructed. By-passing the delicious looking Cottonwood snack area we pressed right along to the Riparian Corridor. The word "riparian" means stream side. Since so much of the desert is arid anyplace where a stream runs produces an abundance of plants and wildlife. Directly across from the Riparian Corridor is an exhibit of the larger birds that inhabit the desert areas. These include majestic raptors, jays, and parrots. The museum has plans to move these majestic creatures to large quarters in the near future. As we were in route to the Bighorn Area we passed by several exhibits including otter, beaver, and coati. The exhibits which included the otter and beaver were very interesting because they were built in such a manner that you could not only view them on the ground but beneath the water as well. If you have never seen a Coati (or Coati Mundi) they are fascinating creatures. They remind me of a raccoon with a very long nose. (Little did we realize that we would see one of these creatures in the wild later on.) Moving along to the Bighorn Sheep, again they were presented in a very natural setting. If you ever see these creatures in the wild they are fascinating to watch. We saw some in Jasper National Park in Canada and it was amazing to see how sure-footed these guys are. We saw a nanny with a kid go up a hill of rock that had to be, at least, a 45 degree angle. The baby was very careful to watch mama and follow exactly in her footsteps. Me, I'm lucky if I don't trip walking on straight ground. Also included with the Bighorns were other residents such as rock squirrels and spiny-tailed iguanas. As we approached the walk-in aviary we passed an area that included tortoise and chuckwallas. We entered the aviary through a series of double doors which allows the visitors in, but doesn't allow the residents (the birds) out. It is an interesting experience to walk among the birds. We had some quail with their funny little topknots scoot by us. As we were better than halfway through we heard a persistent tapping noise. Tap-tap-tap. Looking around we noticed a less than bright but very persistent woodpecker attempting to make entry into a metal exit door. Finally he must have figured out that he wasn't getting anywhere and flew off. Whew! sure glad he did. I was getting a headache just watching him pound on that metal door. As we left this area we entered a Desert Garden area which was filled with beautiful plants in various stages of blooming. After we left the garden, we went through the Life Underground. This was a neat place to see the creatures of the night while they are awake. What they manage to do through lighting is to turn the creatures time clock around. In other words during the day when they would actually be sleeping the lighting makes them think that it is night time and thereby making them active when the visitors are present. Next we went to see the pollination gardens. We found out that a third of our food and 90% of all wild plants depend on animal pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. In this garden you can learn about these complex creatures and their floral partners. After the walk through the large aviary I couldn't imagine what would be different in the Hummingbird Aviary, but believe me it was! I think I could have stood for hours and watched these tiny jet-winged creatures dart to and fro. Sometimes they would hover right next to me seemingly oblivious to my presence. I was surprised that I could actually hear the hum of their wings as they got close. After this, we went into a cactus garden that contained over 100 species of cactus and other desert plants. Finally we entered the building that housed the Gift Shop as well as the beautiful display of native fish. Fish in the desert? Yep, in fact, there are 35 species of native fish in Arizona alone. We had spent quite a bit of time trying to see everything, and I certainly recommend if you come to the museum come early and plan to spend the better part of a day. I can't say enough about the beauty of this place as well as how educational it is. We would certainly come back again if we get in this part of the country, because as we've learned, it is an ever changing display with different sights for each season.

If you'd like more information about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum you can contact them at: (520) 883-2702 or check out their website at: .

Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!