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The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson

Posted by on May 28, 2012

When we told our six-year grandson that we were going to Arizona and would probably visit the desert while we were there – at this point, we didn’t realize that most of Arizona is pretty much one big, albeit beautiful desert – he was tremendously excited.

“Rattlesnakes live in the desert! You will probably see rattlesnakes! Rattlesnakes are everywhere! Bring me a picture of a rattlesnake”.


He was freaking me out a tiny bit about the rattlesnakes.

I am here to tell you that we only saw a rattlesnake one time.

Yes. There are, indeed, rattlesnakes in the desert.

However, they are there. As evidenced by this sign we saw at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum trail in Tucson which just about caused my heart to seize up into a real-life Southern girl fainting spell. But then I would have been lying on the desert sand where the rattlesnakes were so I got myself together. And we actually only saw a few rattlesnakes. In cages. Thank God.

A rattlesnake which knew of my aversion to him and it's like he was just trying to freak me out.

We had added Tucson to our already extensive Arizona itinerary because I was under the impression that Tucson would be radically different from the rest of Arizona and we must see it, we must! Which really is not the case since Tucson (sorry, Tucson!) is actually very much like Phoenix except for one thing. And, if you live in Tucson, I’m sure you can come up with a much longer list of things that are radically different from Phoenix but we only had a couple of days, so this is what we came up with.

 Tucson is lousy with cactus. I mean, Tucson must be the world capital of saguro cactus. These incredible plants survive only in a small portion of the United States and there are literally hundreds of them in the Saguaro National Park which is to the East and West of Tucson.  We did not know this, so when we drove away from town towards the Arizona-Sonora Museum for the day, we were absolutely shocked to see so many saguro cactus. By this point in our Arizona adventure, we had already seen a lot of saguro cactus. I mean, you see saguro cactus as soon as you leave the airport in Phoenix. But we rounded the curve of the mountain and both of our mouths literally fell open. Tom pulled the car to the side of the road so we could get pictures. “Look at all the cactus”! I exclaimed.

“I know, I see them too”.

“No, seriously, cactuscactuscactus”! I yelled.

“I see them” he said calmly as he got out his camera.

“Cactus! Cactus! It’s a…it’s a…” I groped for a description. “It’s a cactus…forest”.

And it was.

Is that not a cactus forest?

They were growing all the way up the mountains, silhouetted against the blue sky.

There were saguro cactus as far as you could see.

We were both almost on cactus overload when we arrived at the museum but one of the first things we did when we arrived was happen upon one of the guides lecturing to a group about you guessed it saguro cactus.

The Arizona-Sonora Museum is a fabulous place to spend the day.

We learned, to our astonishment, that most of the saguro cactus we had seen since our arrival were more than 75 years old because they don’t even grow those side arms until they are that old. Some can grow to be over 150 years old. They grow lovely flowers and a red fruit that is consumed by a variety of animals, including man and lots of different animals make their homes in holes made in the cactus. They are the state flower of Arizona!

Saguro Cactus skeleton.

After our introduction to the amazing saguro cactus, we roamed around the museum, more and more impressed with the place. It was very interesting for two adults and I think kids would really love it so it would be a great place for a family outing. They have quite a few animals in captivity, including several snakes (shudder) and other reptiles as well as a variety of warm-blooded animals as well. I have a personal aversion to animals kept in zoos but I understand that most of the animals you see were raised in captivity and they are very well cared for. After checking out the snakes (shudder again), we wandered down to the cave area. We actually had to stop and examine the cave carefully because, even though it is a manmade cave, it truly looks very real.

Entrance to the fake but totally believable looking cave.

There’s stalactites and stalagmites anybody else can never keep those straight? along with a realistic looking fake skeleton.

Fake animal skeleton in the fake cave. This fake stuff is just too real looking.

At one point, we were walking through the cave and I looked up and once again came dangerously close to a southern girl fainting spell.

Also fake. Praise the lord.

After the cave, we decided to take one of the desert trails which is when we saw the rattlesnake warning sign and I almost said we needed to go back to the car and leave this place but I persevered. It’s just as well I did because we were staying in a completely modern and wonderful bed and breakfast where, that very evening, we had javelinas running through the yard so we could also have had a rattlesnake crawling through. It’s like the wildlife think they live here too.

The scenery was just gorgeous and we got to see a coyote which, technically, we also have in Kentucky and Tom swears he saw one the other night in the trees right near our neighborhood. But that was not a desert coyote and I’m sure there is a huge difference. Please don’t disillusion me.

He could not have cared less that we were looking at him.

He was completely relaxed and dozing in the sun. He didn’t care at all that we were there. He was all the sun is warm and I am all mellow and relaxed, dude. Say that like a surfer dude because that’s how he was talking in my head. We also saw a few javelinas and I would have paid a great deal more attention if I had known that in just a few hours they would be running through our back yard just a few feet from the door to our room.

The javelinas. Also pretty relaxed.

One of the best things about the museum is that they have lots of guides around, like the one who told us all about the cactus. You can stop and listen as much as you want and they are really very friendly and super knowledgeable. We managed to see two women at two different times who had birds to show, share and talk about. The kids who were at the museum were just fascinated that they had actual, live birds perched on their arms. I was not as fascinated as they were because I’m all wordly and stuff. OK, I was just as fascinated. And so was Tom.

That's an owl! On her arm!


And a falcon! On her arm!

We really enjoyed our day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Their mission is “to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert” and they certainly inspired us and made us appreciate our time in Arizona, the environment and the wildlife.

Except the rattlesnakes.

Nothing will change my perception them.

They are evil, dude. Evil. (say that also in the surfer dude voice)

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3 Responses to The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson

  1. inka

    Would you consider giving me a vesrion of this as a guest post for my Museum Blog? Makes a change from all that art and culture I’m throwing around.
    inka recently posted..Kalaallit Nunaat. What? Greenland!!!

  2. Shermika

    I would have shuddered at seeing a rattlesnake! It was also cool to see an actual owl and coyote in person…I have not. I love going to museums and it seems like this one was pretty fun. That’s a lot of cactus there. Arizona is quite the scorching desert. That cave looks real too.
    Shermika recently posted..Spring/Summer 2012 OPI’s Holland Collection: Red Lights Ahead…Where?

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