Thursday, December 30, 2021

Desert Museum

I suppose we should start out here by thanking Cousin David for driving us up Mount Lemmon a part of the Coronado National Forest, right up above his house, that story told tomorrow. But before that…he took us to see the Desert Museum to the far side of Tucson. Quite the tour guide.

It seems the museum is actually world famous so of course I was blissfully unaware of its existence until I got a text, obviously, from Tennessee.  GaryTheTourist said it was a place not to be missed so we didn’t. The street called weirdly enough, Speedway, which traverses Tucson:

Our record for museum visits had slipped a bit owing to a failure to park in downtown Tucson. The city center is reserved for permit holders apparently unless you draw no more than six feet two inches so you can park underground. We draw nine feet six inches and had no permits (Sunpass Pro from Florida doesn’t count) so we missed the gem museum. We did not miss the desert exhibits in this museum which included some gems. 

The place is quite vast and laid out in a shape that you could say resembles the spokes of a wheel from a hub. You walk in a circle stopping off at various environments along the way, cat canyon, a river bank, aquarium, a vast bird cage, cactus garden and so forth, each illustrating some aspect of desert ecosystems. 

All impeccably done of course! 

With my camera on full magnification - the 400 mm lens doubled by Panasonic’s iZoom computer to 800 millimeters- I could just about spot the observatory at Kitt Peak in the Quinlan Mountains across the valley floor. 

The whole arrangement is perfectly laid out and is wheelchair accessible too. No pets allowed which seems sensible to me. We left Rusty at home snug in the van. Our first attempt at driving away saw him running after us in heartbreaking fashion so I turned on the air in the van and closed him in. Cousin David's wife Mary Jane kept an eye on the sleeping dog. I did miss him, I always do when we are apart. 

First stop was a cave explaining how fluids drip from the ceiling and create extraordinary sculptures. 

Layne always the good sport tested the absurd bat ears. She said she heard no better "wearing" them than not.

There was a room dedicated to an explanation of the formation of the earth over billions of years with particular emphasis on how Arizona's plains rose out of the shallow sea they started in, thus explaining the presence of sea life fossils caught in the rocks. As you can see it was quite elaborate and carefully laid out.

From our stop in Boquillas when we crossed the Rio Grande at Big Bend National park I remembered this little gem and sought it out:

An astonishing display of such brilliance!

The museum has a mission to educate and certainly to help young minds focus on the science involved. Jigsaw puzzles that defeated both my wife and I attest to the high standards, I suppose...Assemble bones or fossils (replicas) into proper order -fail!

I developed a terrible track record of spotting and worse, photographing most of the creatures in the museum which is I suppose half zoo. A sunning lizard was a simple capture:

Humans looking for mountain lions in Cat Canyon were simple enough. This was on Christmas Eve so imagine the crowds.

I forget which cat got a newspaper stuffed into a cardboard roll which I assume was some sort of toy. The information explained the ocelot, mountain lion and bobcat all live and hunt by themselves but I was somewhat saddened by the limitations of cave life for these magnificent creatures. I understand the concept of a gilded cage but is a cage nonetheless and for one recently liberated to go where he pleases this part of the experience did not sit too well with me. Cousin David suggested possibly they were saved from injury and unable to be returned to the wild. A nice thought.

Layne stuck her head in an owl mask and we kept moving. More lizards, observed unusually from above:

From the observation platform you could look out across the Sonoran Desert. There is also a dirt loop trail out into the wilderness which we skipped on the grounds we had that back at David's home on the edge of the parkland trails that pass by and through his 20 acres.

An actual live road runner, unable to run anywhere.

I did manage after several minutes waiting to snag the tail end of a cat sneaking back to its lair. It was pretty noisy in Cat Canyon but I did see a gray wolf from above through mesh netting (probably to prevent people throwing debris onto the animals I suspect), though unable to photograph the lonely creature pacing back and forth in its area.

Lunch or a snack, apparently discarded for the time being by one of the cats:

There was a cactus garden with more plants than I could reasonably photograph. I did get this one of the odd name and peculiar appearance.

Time for a pretty flower or two. basically plants in this ecosystem are watered and artificially induced to flower or sprout leaves, so we saw more phases of life than I would typically see in the desiccated plants outside David's irrigation range.

The board cage was a huge structure and the theory of sustaining injured creatures gained some credence with the sight of this dove with a growth over one eye:

Watermelon lunch above and unidentified birds below.

We met two properly masked visitors, irresistible in their attire. They allowed as how she had made them and she said they weren't too difficult.

Well worth a visit if this sort of thing interests you. And why wouldn't it? I would plan a longish day with a pause to eat at one of the caf├ęs and give yourself time to take in the information, lounge and wait patiently for animals to appear  and take time to absorb the lessons.

The road back took us over Gates Pass with numerous trailheads and turn outs. The rules say no dogs on the trails and no loitering at trailheads. If you travel in a van looking for spots to spend a quiet night you know what that means...

Luckily we are connected and can park our Promaster in regal seclusion behind a locked gate high in the hills. That even ing Mary Jane got her booster and felt under the weather so David took us to meet his neighbors, a fascinating couple, over burgers at The Garden Pub. It was a lovely pre cold front evening and funniest of all, the woman in the couple also lived in my home town of Dorking in England, many years after I left to live with my sisters in Italy. Coincidence is everywhere.

Home sweet homebred in the brush.

Tucson, Arizona

Our final destination on our journey west was Layne's cousin's place in the hills above Tucson. From here we go south to Mexico.

I could call this moochdocking in Paradise but David and Mary Jane are what make this stop special. They welcomed us and gave us all the apace we needed to prep the van, make our photocopies and apply for Mexican Tourist Cards (FMM). They have wined and dined us and Rusty has explored every inch of their twenty open acres of desert.

The views across the desert floor to the city of Tucson are tremendous made better by sunrises and sunsets in the bright desert air.

Imagine a week spent here lounging for the holidays.

And yes we tested the infinity hot tub and it works quite well in case you were wondering.

Rusty found his feet in the desert and explored all David's and Mary Jane's twenty acres. Oddly enough he didn't die, get eaten by coyotes or covered in cactus thorns. He is smarter than the average human.

David took us on a walk up the canyon with his five Shih Tzu dogs, a father and four sons. They astonished me those little dogs, here being petted by some passing hikers.

The two women took the high trail as this land beyond David's home is public parkland.

Rusty showed the little guys his moves which you've seen before on the beaches in the Keys, flying and swerving through the seaweed. Here he leapt from rock to sand and scooted round trees and put on a show for an astonished David.

Lord of the Rock.

Those little guys explored like their legs were six feet tall. I was astonished. 

The Wild West:

David showed me the various cacti and one in particular.

A snack for a javelina (wild pig):

Mary Jane has rebuilt to original specs a cabin that came on five of the acres they bought. No modern conveniences, just a fireplace and extraordinary views. Gorgeous and available for me to sit in and write or just to...sit.

Different kinds of dog walks:

Before the naysayers speak up let me say it is not the season for rattlesnakes and Rusty can move through the cactus with all the agility he demonstrated running through the mangroves. He has had a blast.

The admiral is enjoying the stop too, shopping, nattering, cooking, resting, planning for Mexico, up next. Today in fact though this page is still a couple of days behind...

Thank you David and Mary Jane. Great fun.