Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summer Saturday Evening at the Desert Museum

Those of you who have vacationed in Tucson have also, likely, visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, west of the Tucson Mountains. The mission of the Desert Museum is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert. Inspiring it certainly is, especially when it is open late on certain summer Saturdays, as tonight. I took my oldest and her two best friends, and together we saw a host of interesting critters, including a raised-in-captivity Western screech owl, a curious marguay just bigger than your average house cat, a wicked Western diamondback rattlesnake, sleeping beavers, and a couple ledge-dwelling desert bighorn sheep.

But all of those were in captivity. In the wild, which is more random and therefore more exciting, we saw low-diving bats, a surprisingly fast female tarantula (see photo below), and a large coyote padding along the road outside the museum. We also shined, with our nifty portable ultraviolet (black) light, a number of stripe-tailed scorpions. Under the UV light, they glow green. Shining scorpions is one of my favorite nighttime desert activities, and there's no better place for doing that than along the stacked rock walls near the Museum's butterfly gardens. Photos of one of those (non-glowing), below, as well.

Oh yeah, we also saw---through a pretty great little telescope---Jupiter, which happens to be the brightest object in the sky this evening. With the telescope, you could see some of the planet's bands, as well as about five of its moons. Very cool.

A few photos to share:


A huge storm threatened to unload on the area just before our arrival, but it never rained. Still, it was much cooler because of the cloud cover, both literally and figuratively.
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Not much of a sunset, yet a real evocative sense created by the desert shadows against the textured blue sky.
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If you look closely---squint even, perhaps---you can see a ridge of large saguaros in the distance. In that ridge, dinosaur bones have been unearthed.
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Definitely needed the tripod for this shot of organ pipe cactus, and yet I still think it's a pretty cool photo, in one of those dreaded artsy kind of ways. (Ah, who am I kidding: I try to make most of my shots "artsy" to some degree....)
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I've seen lots of different flowers on chollas, but never one as tropical as this one. It just dares you to pick it. Anyone a risk taker?!
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These flowers are certainly more pickable, and also considerably larger: each about three inches wide. Some sort of desert clematis, perhaps?
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And here's our tarantula. I remember a tarantula from a Desert Museum summer Saturday evening last year in this area. Tonight, a docent happened to be walking by and shined his red light just beyond a raised wall, and there she was. Beautiful and motionless, but then she up and skittered away, causing my daughter---whose nose was about twelve inches from the spider---to "leap out of her pants," as one of her friends recalled.
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Finally, here's a scorpion we saw first by shining with the black light. It's about an inch-and-a-half long. Didn't quite get it in focus with this shot, but they too move shockingly fast once they realize they're the object of your attention. Good fun, though, to watch them under the black light catch a dizzy moth and then quick as an uncoiling spring stab it with their venemous stinger. Better the moth than me or my girls, I say.
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