Winter weekends in Tucson apparently bring everyone out to play and crowds were swarming today. I left Saguaro N.P. because trails were packed and it was the same story at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Came here because I wanted to finally see a rattlesnake and mountain lion in person, and because everywhere I went people told me it’s a cool spot to check out. Only had a couple hours before closing time but it was very much worth it.
The park itself is split into several different exhibits and I won’t cover them in exhaustion on this blog, but here’s some photos I took for a virtual tour. Grab your ticket and let’s go!
Reptile, Invertebrate, and Amphibian Hall
After crusing through the main entrance and briefly checking out one gift shop and the aquarium (which was kinda empty), I spent a little time checking out the lizards and snakes. There are several small rooms with glass cases full of different snakes, spiders, scorpions, and lizards. It got crowded here quickly and people were moving slow so I jumped ahead.
This was a very unique white-colored rattlesnake and I think it was a Mojave species but not 100% sure. If it was, I likely took a photo because they are widely considered the most toxic rattlesnake variety in the entire country.
Earth Sciences Center
I had very few expectations of what to find here, but I must say finding an entire underground earth science exhibit wasn’t on my list. History of the planet, space, geology, caves, and you can even touch an actual rock from the moon!
There’s a large portion of the area dedicated to geology and minerals from the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona, Sonora and Baja, California. Many colorful samples are on display including Wulfenite, a bright-orange crystalline type structure and the state mineral of Arizona.
Back outside and following the loop trail I took some time in the Mountain Woodland area observing a rather large mountain lion who was content lounging on the highest rock. Most other animals in this area were sleeping or hiding so not much to see right now.
One geat thing about the park is the layout. You really can’t get lost and each area transitions nicely to the next. Almost the entire park is ADA accessible with great boardwalks and viewpoints like this tent-covered area overlooking the desert grassland section.
Most of the mammals here were also sleeping. I’m guessing the huge crowds probably wore them out. This tiny Ocelot was one of the few I could actually see. Ocelot do have native habitat in Arizona but are listed as Endangered and are quite rare to see in the wild due to loss of habitat.
Life On The Rocks
An area called “Life On The Rocks” is home to 46 different species of animails including birds, mammals, insects, spiders, and snakes. I was able to ge a great up-close view of a huge Western diamondback rattlesnake who was very good at posing for the camera. It was much larger in real life than expected and I find the scales and colorings quite fascinating. Quite unique to see one face-to-face without the feeling of immediate danger!
Desert Loop Trail
A large part of the park is a loop trail that runs through the desert landscape. Why the need for such large spaces? I’d imagine it’s to give the larger mammals room for roaming about. No idea why some other species like the wolf, sheep, and mountain lion are kept in smaller caged areas – maybe because they would be hard to contain out here?
This drowsy coyote was one of the larger ones I have seen before and seems well-fed. Not much action in this quadrant during mid-afternoon.
Like many others, the javelina (aka peccary or “skunk pig”) were soundly napping. They are native to Arizona but this is the far northern limit of their range.
Birds of the Sonoran Desert
The park is widely known for several of it’s unique programs and one of them is called “Raptor Free Flights” where you can see different large birds quite closely. Today I caught the tail end (no pun intended) of the guided show and got to see a group of Harris’s hawks.
Here you can see the park’s falconer catching the bird who came to them when persuaded with a bit of a treat. Fun fact: these hawks hunt as a family, the females are larger and the dominant member of the group, and due to their intelligence are easier to train and popular to use for falconry.
Another feature I totally didn’t expect to find here was a huge hummingbird aviary. Fun fact: before today I don’t think I have ever seen a wild hummingbird in all my life. I can confidently say I spent a very, very long time in here playing with the camera in hopes to capture a good photo. This one came out pretty darn good if I say so myself. Believe this is a Costa’s hummingbird (female) but not completely sure as they are hard for a novice like me to identify; could also be a ruby-throated or broad-billed but colors vary so closely I can’t be sure. Amazing how tiny these birds are, I can’t believe they are real!
Susnet over the Sonoran Desert
After chasing the birds it was closing time. One last view of the sunset across the desert and mountains. I have to say the scenery here is hard to beat and I definitely like the Tucson vibe more than Phoenix.
For funsies I tracked my “hike” through the park on my Gaia phone app. You can see I reached nearly every part of the park even though I don’t have photos of it all to share. Only missed a couple of the small connector trails.
2.1 miles total distance over a couple hours and as you can see the elevation barely changes. It’s extremely easy to walk and accessible to everyone. Great place to visit for all ages.
Lat = 32.2440681 , Long = -111.1665878 -- Show at Google Maps
Author’s Note: Due to many reasons – none of them very good – I’m posting this from the future in March 2022. Actual visit date/time December 7, 2019 4:33pm. I’ll backdate it later so as to maintain chronological order. I’ve got an overwhelming backlog of photos to process which is probably why I procrastinate. Hope you enjoy them all the same.