Desert Museum

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Just at eye level

Not concerned about intruders

Driving south towards Tucson in the early morning I listened to the heat advisory on the radio, a warning to stay indoors after 10 am due to excessive temperatures. June is our hottest, driest month, a time when desert plants and animals employ survival techniques perfected over a millennium, and people just try to stay inside. Many of the desert plants such as brittle bush, palo verde and elephant tree have already dropped their leaves. The creosote and ironwood fold their small leaves inward and perpendicular to the sky, to minimize exposure. Animals become nocturnal or limit their activity to early morning and evening, hiding in shady thickets or underground burrows when the searing sun rides high.
It feels good to get out though, and I leave at dawn to visit the Sonoran Desert Museum. This combination of botanical garden, zoo and natural history museum is a celebration of desert life forms; 392 acres lovingly cared for on a picturesque ridge overlooking a wide blue valley west of Tucson. Two miles of paved pathway wind through habitats found in the Sonoran desert; desert scrub, grasslands and riparian corridor. Each biome houses enclosures holding representative wildlife from the area. I just missed the mountain lion cub, but saw wolves, prairie dogs and javelina.
The museum’s rich habitats also attract wildlife that comes in on its own, lizards, snakes and birds. On this scorcher of a day nearly as many docents walked the grounds as visitors; and one kind volunteer offered a special sighting. She led me through the riparian corridor and pointed into a palm tree where an oriole nest was stitched to the underside of a frond high overhead. Two babies were visible in the pendulum nest, their oversized beaks wobbling atop scrawny necks.
In the walk-in aviary a gold finch posed as if on stage and poured out a melody. A mom sat stoically on her tiny nest in full view of passersby in the hummingbird house, while a profusion of glittering hummers zoomed from blossom to blossom tanking up on nectar. On my way out of the museum, just after 10 am, a vivid red cardinal caught my eye. Cardinals eat insects, seeds and berries. This gaudy visitor surely appreciates the unique natural history museum as much as anyone.


3 responses to “Desert Museum

  1. I am constantly amazed at the folks who think nothing lives in the desert but cactus and rattlesnakes….this makes me want to make the trip to the Museum….haven’t done that in a long time, and it is long overdue! Thanks for the reminder.

  2. sally falkner

    Diddo! Sally

  3. cheri o'brien

    love to read what you write, Gail…wish I could be there with you for some of your adventures..hugs, cheri

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