Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Saguaro National Park

This is my last post to share from our trip to Tucson.  On July 4, after a visit to the Arizona-Sonora desert museum, we decided to drive through Saguaro National Park.  I'm a huge fan of the national parks, and wish I could visit all of them.  There are so many I haven't seen!  Because Pierce was a 4th grader this past year, he had a pass to get himself and his family into any national park for free.

The saguaro cacti were everywhere!  Little birds often live inside the cacti, and I enjoyed watching them flit about.  We had fun visiting the gift shop, and Pierce got his National Parks Junior
Passport stamped.  Then we went driving through some scenic loops.

It was stunningly beautiful, and remote.  We did see a couple of other cars out, but it didn't seem like a good place to break down!  Hiking trails were everywhere, and I hope we can go back one day when it isn't quite so hot to check out some of them. 
This dirt road came to a sign that said high clearance vehicles only, and we ended up turning around because we were in Paul's parents' Honda Fit.  Definitely not high clearance! 

The rest of our scenic drive was on pavement, but certainly no less impressive in beauty.  After all this fun, it was lunchtime.  It was certainly a grand way to celebrate July 4th. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

When we were in Tucson, we left early one morning to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  The drive there was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Happily, the museum opened at 7:30 am, and we were right there at 7:32, ready to go.  It gets hot quickly! 
I've been to a lot of zoos and museums in my life.  But this was by far one of the best.  Stunning beauty, natural scenery, and lots of hands on experiences for the boys.  They started with a cave exploration, and the boys had so much fun I thought we'd never get them to move on to the next exhibit.

All of the animals in the museum can be found naturally in the Sonora desert.  The boys were very interested to see the wide variety of rattlesnakes.  Luckily, this mountain lion was behind glass.

We did the half mile desert loop hike next.  You will notice that the boys are geared up with their own water sources, hats, and sunglasses.  Even though it was already extremely hot, we were able to manage the heat just fine thanks to these preparations.  They had free refillable water sites in the zoo and they even had sunscreen in the restrooms! 

The desert hike was so beautiful.  We saw numerous birds, little lizards doing push ups, and javalina.
The terrain is so different from what we are used to in Virginia.  We never got tired of checking out the plants.

Later, we found a cactus garden, and we hiked through that, too.

Paul took a fun picture of different cacti in the cactus garden.  I especially liked the little stumpy hedgehog cacti (not pictured here).

Pierce looked out at the views through an owl's perspective.

And Cort navigated a tunnel designed just for kids - no adults could fit through those narrow crevices:

The boys had the most fun at the stingray exhibit.  It was cool with hands in the water, in the shade, and the stingrays had such personalities!

One stingray, dubbed Slappy, would flap water in your face as it passed.  They did not seem to mind the gentle touch of human hands.

We wrapped up our visit with a hummingbird garden.  It was an amazing morning, and if you happen to find yourself in Tucson, I'd say it is a must-see! 

Readers, what is your favorite museum or zoo?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oracle, Arizona and Biosphere 2

While we were in Arizona, we took a trip to Oracle.  There, we toured an historic ranch house at the Oracle state park.
The boys enjoyed seeing the big ice box used by the original family.  I liked some of the paintings and decorative details. 
Here, the boys are attempting to match the skull to the animal track.  They did a fairly good job.

Branding irons, hanging on a wall.  I knew what they were immediately, due to all the time I spent in Texas riding horses on a ranch. 
After our tour, we headed to Biosphere 2.  This facility was a closed experiment where a group of eight scientists attempted to live self-sufficiently for 2 years.  They did make it 2 years, but air quality was compromised, and they lost significant weight because the food they grew had to be rationed so much. 
 Impressive, isn't it?  Perhaps you remember the mid 90s movie Bio-Dome, with Pauly Shore?  I watched it in college.  It was one of those intentionally stupid movies that were a hit with college kids.  It was certainly based on this experiment (sadly, they were not playing Safety Dance on repeat inside).

During our tour, we learned that their coffee bean plant only grew enough beans to brew each of them one cup of coffee once every two weeks.  Rough, huh?  It does make you think about the limited resources on earth and how the future might have to adapt.

They tried to create different ecosystems inside.  This is a picture of the ocean, which has waves, but they sound kind of mechanical. 

Today, since this is open to the public, it is no longer a closed system.  However, they still do much scientific research here.  The picture above is from the rainforest section.  When the scientists were locked in, it had animals like monkeys and lizards.

Going down through the basement was eye opening.  The pictures I took didn't come out that well, but one of the strangest parts to the structure is a huge lung to expel air, should pressure build up too much. 

Finally, you can see a rain barrel system they have set up.  This was in the desert section of the structure.
The tour was lengthy (90 minutes - long especially for little boys) but I did find it informative and thought-provoking.
Me, personally?  I felt a little stir crazy in there.  I like having access to the outdoors!  But I'm glad I got to see it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona

My in-laws live within a couple of miles of Catalina State Park in Arizona.  One morning we got up very early for a hike there.

 Yet again, I was stunned by the beauty.  I don't think I would ever grow tired of these amazing desert landscapes.

 It was very hot, even though we got going early.  Pierce seemed to struggle the most in the heat.  He couldn't believe how hot it was!

 Paul invested in a new sun hat, having run over this other one with the tractor by accident.  He was overdue for a new one.

 Reid and Grandpa Bob take a rest and enjoy the overlook after hiking up a bit of a grade.
 Here the boys come up another long grade.  We didn't see as much nature on this hike as the one in Honeybee canyon, but it was also hotter on this day.

Another amazing overlook!  We took along plenty of water, so everyone made it through our hike just fine!  From there, we headed out for some more fun adventures, so stay tuned for next week.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Birding in Tucson

I don't pretend to be a birder, but I do love watching the birds and listening to their songs.  When we were in Tucson, I was continually amazed by the thriving bird population.  By far, my favorite was seeing a Great Horned owl family when hiking in Honeybee canyon.  I adore owls!  Here is a picture of one of the adults.  The baby was perched up on a rock, and I only had my cell so I could not zoom in to capture it.  Still, so wonderful to see.

A palm tree in my in-laws' yard was hosting this mother dove with her two babies.  Aren't they beautiful?
On our hikes, I loved seeing all the birds living in holes in the saguaro cacti.  Here, a crow sits up top.  He has quite the view.
We also saw tons of roadrunners, but they were much too speedy for my cell phone.  I did catch this one on cell phone at the Arizona Sonora desert museum (more about that in a later post):
Finally, the quail families!  Oh they were everywhere and so cute!  One day, there was a bunch of distressed peeping coming from down in a storm drain in front of my in-laws' home.  We put down a ramp, but they didn't use it, and there were no parents to be seen.  So I got down in there.
 I used a pool skimming net to try to catch the baby quail.  I managed to pull up three before they took off down the drain pipe too far for intervention.

I set them into a region of desert where I had seen tons of other quail families.  I don't know if they were old enough to make it, but no doubt they had a better shot than down in a cement storm drain.
Readers, do you have a favorite bird?