Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tucson: Saguaro National Park

About 5 miles down the road from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is Saguaro National Park-West.  After checking out the visitor's center and getting a map of the park, we toured their loop road which traverses one of the most scenic sections.  The Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is one of the more popular ways to explore the Tuscan Mountain District's foothills.  This unusual drive gave us just the taste we wanted for a desert experience.  Here's a photo journey of the National Park's Cactus Garden and a drive into the Saguaro National Park's Cactus Forest.

The National Park's Visitor Center was designed to blend in with the tan, harsh landscape.
The short trail that wound through their on-site cactus garden was interesting and informative.
There is no accurate way to determine the age of a Saguaro Cactus without knowing when it started to grow.  The plant's growth rate is determined by rainfall, temperatures and even soil conditions.  It is estimated it takes about 75 years to grow an arm and many live to be about 100-150 years old.

Leaving the visitor center, we find the Bajada Loop Drive, the highlight drive of this Western Park. We pulled into one of several picnic areas on the loop and cautiously walked around to explore the area.  I stayed put but Ronnie walked around a bit.  He used a stick to tap the ground, rocky crevasses and plants as he walked.
This little Cactus Wren was the only animal we saw at that picnic area.

Continuing on the dirt loop road, the desert landscape appears dry, quiet and filled with Saguaro Cactus raising their arms up in the air.  Saguaro Cactus grow to about 15-30 feet tall though some can grow to as high as 50 feet.

The temperatures were very pleasant this day, maybe the mid 70's.  Trying to be prepared, we had 2 large bottles of water and snacks with us in the Jeep.
A few of the individual cactus may live to be over 200 years old and can be over 50 feet high.
This 5 mile loop drive didn't take us but about an hour or so to explore, while we stopped a few times to enjoy the views and take in this amazingly beautiful landscape. I loved it!

 We saw this tee shirt in the National Park's gift shop and thought it gave an insightful description of a Saguaro Cactus' Philosophy, one we could relate. 

 "Advice from a Saguaro: 
Stand Tall,  Reach For The Sky,  Be Patient Through The Dry Spells, Conserve Your Resources, Think Long Term,  Wait For Your Time To Bloom and  Stay Sharp."

We've eased on down the road to Weatherford, Texas.  We'll be here for another day or so to enjoy Thanksgiving and the Ft Worth area. We will move to North Carolina for the month of December where our focus will be family visits and annual exams.  We plan to spend January, February and March in our usual wintering place, Davenport, Florida.

More Later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tucson: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

We spent a week in Tuscan enjoying nice weather, great scenery and some really good food.  This area offers a lot to see and do and we certainly could find ourselves in the future spending a lot more time here..way more than a week. We managed to fit in a drive on the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Highway  through the beautiful Willow Canyon and we explored the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and the Saguaro National Park.  We also experienced some excellent authentic Mexican cuisine and a casino visit too.
Below is a photo-blog of our day at the fabulous Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.  We can understand why folks buy museum memberships here, you get multiple visits.  We would certainly go back to revisit this educational and quite fascinating place again.  It's voted the number one thing to do while visiting Tucson.

Even the entrance evokes the desert and it's quiet, serene feel.

Most interesting to us here was this hermit crab with a clear, Lucite shell.  You could see how it's body fits inside the shell.  Way cool!

Of course, there are cactus everywhere, of all kinds and species.  I didn't even try to remember all the names of them, I just enjoyed their shape and variety of textures.  A Saguaro Cactus reminds me of clay sculpture people with their hands up, saying "Look at me!" or students in class with their hands raised "Call on me, I know the answer!"  There are paved and dirt paths that wind throughout the museum's open air gardens with animal exhibits evenly spaced to provide an experience of wondering through the desert and then coming upon a special sight.

More cactus gardens, these are called Organ Pipe Cactus.

These sculptural ones are called Totem Pole Cactus.

There were butterfly gardens, bee pollination gardens and a labyrinth garden.

One of the most fascinating exhibits to us was the Raptor Free Flight Demonstration.  Here, raptors and their handlers demonstrate the birds' natural behaviors of flight and prey. These birds fly untethered in the open desert.  They associate their handlers as their food source so this deters them from flying anywhere else. This was no doubt a highlight of our day at the Desert Museum. 
A Gray's Hawk caught in motion.
Harris Hawks fly in groups, here you see the handler rewarding the bird with food.
Barn Owl of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
A close up of the Harris Hawk.

We were really looking forward to the Hummingbird Aviary.  I think this is a Rufus Hummer.

Snakes and Spiders ahead

One of the last exhibits we visited was the Reptile, Invertebrates and Amphibians Building.  Here's a few photos of the animals that caught my attention.

Canyon Tree Frog, well camouflaged.

Arizona Blond Tarantula
See it's shed skin too!

One of the many rattlesnakes on display. This particular one was slithering right at the glass window, you could see every detail in it's face.

So many animals and so may cactus.. yet so little time.  We plan to come back to Tucson again one day and this museum will be on our re-visit list.

More later, the Saguaro National Park.
( heads up..more cactus)