Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson

by Oct 6, 20182 comments


…coyote, wolves, bear, lowland leopard frogs, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs! …

Story and photos by Karin H Wilson

I just got back from a great girls’ trip to Indian Country in Arizona and New Mexico. We hit a few things that have been on my list for a while. This blog is about a stop in Tucson before we joined the group tour. We spent the day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and then drove down to Kartchner Caverns for a night headlamp tour. Future postings will have the rest of the trip.

The saguaro cacti are just majestic, so tall and proud with their arms raised to the sky. In some areas they look like an army covering the hillsides. The ocotillo cactus had new green growth on them and were glowing in the morning sun. We drove out to Tucson after monsoon season. We were struck by how green the countryside was. Usually most of this area looks like it never gets water and is mostly brown as far as you can see.

Vivid green Ocotillo Cactus in Sonora Desert
Photograph ©2018 Karin H Wilson
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a combination of a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, museum and aquarium on 98 acres. Most of this museum is experienced outdoors! Their website claims that part of their purpose is to make “…the Sonoran Desert accessible, understandable, and valued.” I believe that they do a great job of that! The Desert Museum has something for every age and interest level. 

The first one to greet us was this inquisitive mountain lion. His name is Cruz and he was pressed up against the window — clearly looking for something, or someone, specific. We learned that he really likes to interact though the window with the children. He was eager to spy them coming up the path.

Mountain lions are also known as cougar, puma, and occasionally panther. Looking at this friendly cat it’s easy to forget that they are great hunters that only eat meat. Their range is from the Rockies to the Pacific coast, and from Canada through Mexico. They are rarely a danger to humans but do not corner one if you come across one in the wild. Back away slowly, look large and make a lot of noise. 

There is a Desert Loop Trail which takes you out into the natural desert. We took that path first since it was already warm, and it was going to be hot later in the day. We saw coyote, javelina, lizards and birds along this delightful trail. This loop included an example of tiered walls for gardening by the ancient Indians. The walls helped retain water from rainfall.

I was surprised to learn that the exotic looking ocelot is native to southern Arizona! They are mostly nocturnal so that would be a lucky sighting for sure.

The variety of animals was great and included coyote, wolves, bear, lowland leopard frogs, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs!

The Desert Museum covers various geographic locations with both animal and plant specimens. This is probably the closest Most of us will get to seeing desert bighorn sheep!

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The collection of agave and cactus make for some wonderfully graphic images with their bold lines, unusual shapes, spikes and colors.

The hummingbirds are some of my favorite birds to sit and watch. They are hard to photograph because they’re so fast. But it is worth the wait for them to land. There are so many different kinds too. Arizona is in a migration path and sees many different kinds of hummingbirds passing through.

We spent most of the day at the Desert Museum. Midday we took a break for lunch at the Ocotillo Cafe. The food was really good and the cactus lime drink was super refreshing! We saw just about everything except the aquarium because we ran out of time (and we live near some really nice aquariums so we were ok with that).

Late afternoon we headed down to visit Kartchner Caverns. We had a reservation for the Saturday Helmet & Headlamp Tour. You are given headlamps and they turn off all the lights in the cave. The idea is that you are seeing the cave like the original explorers of the cave. They do have flashlights to point out specific features to the group — so don’t worry that you might miss anything. It was a great experience.

They do not allow you to bring anything into the cave, including a camera, so there are no photos of that adventure. But it’s a worthwhile and fun thing to do. The museum has some great photos, descriptions of the cave geology and its history. If you arrive early there is even a movie that further explains the history and geology of the cave.

I did discover after our trip that the caverns offers a once a month photo tour. I will look into that in the future!

Use the links below to plan your own trip and further explore these great locations. Both sites have a lot of information to share about the Sonoran Desert and Kartchner Caverns.

Enjoy the journey!

Karin H Wilson

Karin H Wilson

Artist | Designer | Photographer | Traveler | Storyteller

I am Karin and I just love to share a good story — preferably with snacks! I’m particularly interested in capturing the world’s beauty and wonder in photographs.

Recently I created Photos for Artists, packs of images for artists to use in their collage and art projects. You can find a detailed description and photos on my Footprints and Photos Etsy store.

Besides my blog, Footprints & Stories, you can also find my images on Zazzle products. I have two stores — one with Gifts for Travelers and Nature Lovers, the other with Gifts for Gardeners and Lovers of Flowers. Items include notecards, wedding invitations, tote bags, mugs, journals and more. Every product is backed by the Zazzle guarantee.

Please use the links provided as it helps me buy better snacks (and funds the website)!