Note: The previous version did not seem to provide the correct link in the email; trying it another time. Sorry for any duplication.
Today we spent a fantastic day at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, where we learned so much about the Sonoran Desert, in a beautiful and informative outdoor museum. We arrived in time to take a guided tour through a big chunk of it, with Aubrey, our very knowledgeable docent. In the1.5 hr tour we learned so much about how the plants and animals survive and thrive in this seemingly harsh environment, and also how the plants were used by the native populations. It was fascinating and too much information to share here, but we are getting close to being desert experts. The more we learn, the more we are amazed at this very complex, fascinating and beautiful ecosystem.
The Sonaran Desert is one of 4 deserts in the USA, Arizona actually has all four, but the Sonaran represents the largest area for this state. It’s a maritime desert, due to the influence of the Sea of Cortez and surprisingly as five seasons:
- Spring (Feb – April) – warm and dry, most flowers,
- Foresummer (Dry Summer) (May-June) – very hot, very dry. Saguaro produce flowers and fruit (nocturnal blooming),
- Summer (July – mid Sept) – “Monsoon” rains very localized (short heavy rainfall) bring wildflowers and most animals breed
- Fall (Mid Sept – Nov) – Hot and dry again, second growing season
- Winter (Dec/Jan) – cool days and second rainy season. Most plants are dormant
Total rainfall is usually between 3 and 12”, sometimes as little as 3/8”. With the rain that we had over the last couple of days, the area received about 2.5” of rain, so we timed it perfectly but I’m sure it was welcome moisture. 😉
After the tour, and a picnic lunch in the sun, albeit only about 11C, we took a walk around the extensive grounds of this outdoor museum. It lives up to its tag line of “The Desert Museum is a fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery & classes, natural history museum, and aquarium” It’s got lots to see for all ages, and we loved every minute of it.
We saw lots of animals: A cougar was happily lying in the sun grooming herself. Javelina, which are ‘pigs’ related to the peccary and not pigs at all, were busy foraging and feasting on vegetation. They are quite happy to eat prickly pear and other vegetation by grinding the protective prickles with their strong back teeth. There were a couple mountain sheep, a bobcat, river otter and the coyote and ocelot were not visible today.
We enjoyed the hummingbird aviary, seeing these tiny birds up close. There was even an aquarium with fish and other sea life from the sea of Cortez
After lunch we really enjoyed the walk around the grounds. The Cactus Garden had so many different species of cacti that we had never heard of; it was fascinating to see so many shapes, sizes and colours.
There was also a “Desert Walk” trail that meandered about a mile through a landscape that held so many of the plants with which we are now becoming familiar. It also gave us spectacular view over the Tuscon valley to the mountains in the distance. The weather was improving over the rainy days we had previously, and the sun, when not behind the clouds was warming; when it hid, we were a bit chilled in the cool air. There was some haze in the distance but we could see quite a bit and enjoyed the various shades on the mountain.
We drove home through the western sector of the Saguaro National Park, stopping at the visitor centre to get expert advice on the best hiking trails. We have them identified, so in the sunny, but cool weather tomorrow, we hope to take a couple wonderful hikes among the towering saguaro, and up on some ridges for views.
Back home in time for sunset, we quickly climbed the small hill behind our house and enjoyed the setting sun and the colours it provided on the landscapes around us.