Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum

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The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, which is really a ruggedly picturesque zoo showcasing native flora and fauna, is reached by a leisurely jaunt through the Saguaro-covered hills west of Tucson, Arizona.  Situated on 21 acres of desert, with most exhibits gracing two miles of outdoor walking paths, this living natural history museum of the Sonoran Desert region exudes a spare beauty that is simply breathtaking.

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[ View from the parking lot ]

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[ The trail ]

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[ Looking west ]

We picked New Year’s Day for our visit and were rewarded with a chilly, crystal clear day – perfect to be outside in the desert.  Due to the cooler temperatures, some of the animals weren’t on exhibit and many of the gardens were bare.  Despite that, we found more than enough interesting things to fill our day.  We wandered among plants and cacti with names like Shindagger, Creosotebush, Baja Fairyduster, Strawberry Hedgehog, and the Wait-a-Minute Bush.  More iconic varieties were also well-represented.

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[ Teddy Bear Cholla (pronounced choya) ]

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[ Fish Hook Barrel cactus ]

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[ Organ Pipe cactus ]

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[ Saguaro cactus (pronounced sa-whar-o)- Granddaddy of them all. ]

The botanical stuff was interesting and we got a chuckle out of some of the crazy names, but the animals were really the highlight of our day.  They seemed very content in their world-renowned habitats and many were taking the opportunity to nap in the warmth of the sun.

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[ Mountain lion through a glass window ]

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[ Mexican wolf ]

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[ Javelinas (pronounced havelinas) ]

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[ Bobcats ]

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[ Where they were actually sleeping ]

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[ This lucky fox had his own heat lamp and comfy wool rug ]

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[ White-tailed deer ]

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[ Irresistible prairie dogs – we couldn’t get enough of their silly antics ]

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[ Having a bit of a sit-down ]

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[ Bighorn sheep ]

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[ The Bighorn sheep habitat ]

One of the most magical places for me was the hummingbird aviary.  I could have stayed all day watching the little jewel-toned birds dart here and there.  Unfortunately, their quickness made them difficult to photograph (but I had fun trying).

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[ I love the iridescent quality of this little guy’s feathers ]

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We participated in a live show called Raptor Free Flight which showcases untethered birds that fly so close to the audience that it is possible to hear the whoosh of air and feel the brush of feathers as they cruise overhead.  It’s a little unnerving but definitely a one-of-a kind experience.  Such gorgeous birds, don’t you think?

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[ Unfortunately, I don’t remember what variety of owl this is ]

DSC_1294[ One of a family group of falcons that hunt together ]

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[ Another member of the family – there were three in the group ]

The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum contains over 200 animal species, 1,200 plant varieties, and an incredible regional mineral collection.  Who would have thought that such a seemingly barren landscape could produce and maintain such an incredible variety of life?!

We stayed at the museum until closing and then drove the short distance to Signal Hill in Saguaro National Park West.  We were just in time to watch the sun set (a post for another day).  In every respect, it was a lovely, lovely day in the desert.

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