We left Phoenix bound for the Sonora Desert Museum located outside of Tucson. Yellow, orange and pale rose flowers, as well as small subdivisions, punctuated the vast expanse of desert on each side of the road. On the horizon silhouettes of mountains, their twisted shapes created by almost unimaginable ages of wind and rain began to appear. The farms that came into view along the road were evidence of man's ability to tame the hot, arid surroundings. As we continued on the mountain silhouettes began to take on definition. I was told they were more verdant than usual due to the recent rains. In the Arizona desert, it seems, green appears quickly, then, just as rapidly, returns to dusty brown accentuated by the other worldly shapes and hues of the ancient stone monoliths and mountainsides.
The museum is part zoo. Desert animals are in glass walled enclosures or outdoors behind wire mesh. A puma paced back and forth, seemingly annoyed by the people lining up to see it. Ocelots and bobcats groomed each other on ledges. A small fox napped in the sun.
Although there are some areas planted to illustrate different types of flora, much like a botanical garden, most of the outdoor park, although manicured, is natural, indigenous growth. The museum blends with the desert, it's location offering beautiful vistas of it's the surroundings.
There is a man made cavern with exhibits focused on life underground. Glass cases contain spiders. Bats hung from the ceiling in one section. In one alcove a recreation of stalagmites and stalactites has been constructed. In one area is a gem collection displaying the minerals and stones that have been mined from the Arizona earth. As I sell jewelry I am extremely familiar with many of the colorful geodes shown. Still, it is wonderful to me to retain the ability to be surprised, to learn or see something I have not before known or experienced. The opal is my birthstone. In one place in the gem room a polished opal sits as a counterpoint to an example of it's raw self. From within a chunk of chalky white rock the brilliant interplay of colors, the trademark of the semi precious stone, peeks out. Azurite, I have two rings featuring this lapis blue like stone, is also on display. I learned that as this stone nears the earths surface it becomes unstable. In one example malachite's green pigment covered with it's black swirls is growing over the underlying azurite. This accounts for the bits of green in the blue stones in my rings.
In another indoor section are the reptiles, creatures almost synonymous with the desert. I have an overwhelming fear of snakes but since these were behind glass my phobia was kept under control allowing me to observe them. Some bear the dull, dusty tones of their surrounding arid landscape allowing them to hide from both predators and prey. Some, like the coral snake, are brightly colored, a warning to predators of their highly toxic venom. One, although relatively harmless, resembles the deadly coral snake, tricking predators into leaving it alone. Amazing creatures they crush or poison their prey, their elastic jaws and bodies allowing them to swallow and digest animals larger than themselves, a process that can sometimes take several days. Occasionally a bulge will appear in their slender bodies, evidence of the fate of some unwary bird or small mammal. My friends have told me of hearing the tell tell warning clatter of a rattlesnakes tail while walking the dog in their neighborhood. To me this makes living in the desert seem strangely exotic, in Chicago the most I ever see is a squirrel.
It was early afternoon. Hot and hungry we decide to skip hiking the Saguaro National Forest and head into Tuscon for lunch.