My Traveling Tales by Michelle
If you are not familiar with The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I suspect that to an outsider such a destination might sound like a rather drab way to pass a day. You might feel differently if the name for the "number one tourist destination" in Tucson included the words zoo and botanical garden. Over the twelve years that I have lived in Tucson, I have visited the Museum approximately twice a year and it is safe to say, that on every visit I have encountered something new. In addition to the 230 animal and bird species that live on the grounds, the Museum continues to add new exhibits, including the recently opened Warden Aquarium.
|A Harris Hawk is easy to identify by the white on their tails.
|All the raptors fly free and are not tethered in any way.
|The "Raptor Free Flight Show" is scheduled twice daily from late October through mid April.
Before you embark upon visiting the Museum, it is worth spending some time in front of your computer reviewing the museum's website to discover what is on the upcoming schedule, including "behind the scenes" opportunities, such as: zookeeper for a day, a private tour of the Warden Aquarium as well as the hummingbird habitat. For the more adventurous, like my sister, Juliette there is a private tour related to reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates (also known as snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, spiders and insects) that live in southwest. These tours are offered by appointment only and require an additional fee.
If you happen to be visiting in the summer where the temperature is often in the triple digits, consider visiting the museum on a Saturday, the only day of the week when the museum is open at night. The Cool Summer Nights events run from June through August. In the heat of the day, many of the animals are not visible, choosing dark secluded places to take a siesta during the hottest part of the day. In addition to the animals being more active after dark, the museum features special events each Saturday night. The themes vary from learning how to capture lightening storms in photography to music programs to astronomy. Check the website for the current schedule. Plan to arrive in time to see the sun sink into the mountains as it sets. I have witnessed the most incredible, intensely colored sunsets while visiting the museum.
If you happen to be going at night, or even in the day for that matter, and you have children with you, be sure to discuss a plan on what to do if someone gets lost or left behind. This happened to us one night. Our friends' daughter lingered at the Life On The Rocks exhibit and everyone else moved on. Thankfully, the little girl stayed put and didn't leave. It took about 15 very long minutes to find her. When she saw her dad she began sobbing uncontrollably and could not be consoled with hugs and kisses and kind words. The only fix was ice cream. It's true, ice cream makes everything better.
|Life On The Rocks exhibit.
|Much to the girls' chagrin, I insisted that they wear substantial hats (borrowed from me) on
such a sunny day. This is my Wes Anderson inspired shot. The film director
always seems to feature quirky characters and binoculars.
|The elusive coati finally needs to quench its thirst.
Sun screen should be liberally applied to face, body, hands and feet, especially if those feet are wearing flip flops (I know that there will be people that ignore well intended shoe advice). In fact, sunscreen is so important that it is offered for free in most restrooms at the museum. I'm one of those gals that is particular about brands. Also, it is better to get everyone lubed up before you go, if nothing else for convenience, and to make sure that all the bits are covered. Slather it on. Oh, and I almost forgot to recommend that you wear a hat. You can probably tell that I'm not a sun worshiper.
|Bighorn Sheep as viewed from the upper deck.
|This sweet doe wandered over to me to say hello.
|The mountain lion is the iconic symbol of the Museum. As a family, it is
the 4th largest cat predator. Fun fact: mountain lions do not roar as
they are more closely related to house cats than to lions.
It is not unusual for odiferous Javelina families - ranging in packs from 10 to 50 members - to appear at night in suburban neighborhoods searching for food. What is one person's trash is a Javelina's comeuppance. Last summer there was a Javelina family romping in my neighborhood park, just steps from my house. We hopped in the car and drove to see them, staying safely inside while we got a better look.
I always carry a water bottle with me even though there are several drinking fountains and refreshment stands scattered throughout the park. If you have small children that are walking on their own without aid of a stroller to rest tired legs, you might want to all together avoid the Desert Loop Trail. There's plenty of exciting things to do without wandering down that long and meandering dirt trail that offers little relief from the sun, at least in the hotter months.
|The playful otters can be viewed below ground and above.
|A beaver prepares for an afternoon nap in a cool cavern visible through glass.
Now if folks would just stop poking the light.
I wonder how the coyote(s) fared. I read in the paper not too long ago that a beaver killed an eastern European man in Belarus. Insert your own inappropriate angry beaver joke here. The moral to the story is don't mess with beavers. They can be incited to violence and deadly when provoked. Other than that, they are really cute, especially for being a rodent.
|King of the hill for a mere few minutes until the matriarch shows herself.
The Prairie dogs are overflowing with personality and are entertaining to watch.
|Two miles of walking paths meander through the park leading visitors to each exhibit.
|This thistle reminds me of Horton Hears A Who.
If you have a difficult time with zoos, I suspect you will like the Desert Museum, just like I do. In fact, the Desert Museum, founded in 1952, set precedence for housing animals in enclosures that resemble nature. My hope is that for animals that cannot return to the wild, that they can live in a zoo like the Desert Museum and that visitors can learn from the scientific and educational programs so people can better understand and appreciate the Sonoran Desert and its inhabitants. And, commune with nature where humans can cohabitate with predators. A favorite novel that explores the subject of predators is Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, a former resident of Tucson.
|Lantana lends beautiful color to the desert. Not just purple, but yellow, and red, too.
|This is the gorgeous bloom of a spindly ocotillo cactus. Its hidden green
leaves appear with the onset of rain.
During the summer months, the Ocotillo Café is open for dinner on Saturday nights and reservations are recommended. By the way, Ocotillo is pronounced Ock-oh-tea-oh, not Ock-oh-till-oh. It never fails to amuse me when I overhear a tourist "slaying" the word. That's okay. When I was in France butchering the French language, the locals were openly bemused by my failed attempts. What goes around comes around. Back to the fine dining restaurant. The menu is regionally focused. Try the Prickly Pear Margarita or the Prickly Pear flavored iced tea.
|The shrubby Cholla cactus can be quite mean, littering the ground with
barbed nodules. Watch where you step.
|I'm drawn to the whimsical nature of the mallow flower.
|Tall saguaro cacti flank blooming prickly pear, a traditional food of the
Tohono O'odham.The prickly pear has three edible components:
the paddles, flower petals and fruit, referred to as a pear.
Prickly pear cactus are abundant in the Tucson area and many people get into the spirit of living in the Sonoran Desert by harvesting the fruit in August and preparing jam or syrup or other sweet treats. The juice is used by many restaurants in town to make a specialty margarita. I've always been a little leery to work with the prickly pear fruit due to the protruding needles, but perhaps this year I'll take one of the classes offered at the museum that provides instruction on how to prepare the fruit.
I remember when my daughter was small, she and her best friend Maggie decided during a dinner party that they would take it upon themselves, unbeknownst to me or Maggie's mother, to harvest prickly pear fruit to make jam. Yes, this does fall under the category of "What were they thinking?" Maggie's mom and I were busy putting the finishing touches on dinner when the girls made a dramatic, teary-eyed entrance into the kitchen. Little hands were full of tiny stickers. That night I learned the Elmer's glue trick thanks to Maggie's mom. We flooded the girls' hands with Elmer's glue and waited for it to dry. Once the mass was solid, the girls could peel off the glue thereby removing the stickers. The famished girls were not first to the table that night but they did eventually eat dinner with tender, red, aching hands holding heavy utensils. Maddie sums up the tragic experience in three words: "It was horrible!"
When I reminisced with my husband about our daughter's experience, Jay reminded me of a similar story involving his mom and brothers. The family moved from Wisconsin to Arizona in the mid 1960s. Joan was an amazing cook and could be quite adventurous in the kitchen in her younger years. Upon moving to the desert she was inspired to make prickly pear jam, so she loaded up her mischievous sons and boldly drove into the desert on a hot August day to harvest pears. The carefully collected fruit was placed in the back of the station wagon. The car didn't have air conditioning, so the windows were rolled down all the way for the drive home. The wind caught the fine needles on the fruit, and like down on a thistle spread throughout the car and got caught in skin and upholstery. Jay said the needles nearly ruined the interior of the car. The family members felt poking needles for months afterwards which were angrily plucked from skin and fabric and then discarded.
|A Great Horned Owl meets an adoring public. This bird is a silent flyer,
the better to catch its prey.
|I captured this photo with a 50mm lens, which means I was so very close to the hummingbird that
I could have reached out and touched him. He gallantly cooperated for the close-up portrait.
|The hummingbird exhibit is always the first stop for me and I spend a good
deal of time watching the birds.
In addition to the Hummingbird exhibit, I like to take my time slowly wandering through the walk-in aviary. There are benches to take the load off and I enjoy sitting a spell watching the birds go about their daily business. The birds are fairly tame because they encounter nearly 2,000 visitors a day. On the afternoon that I took the photos of the parrot, it got to the point where I felt like a stalker. Poor bird. He'd fly away and then I'd follow him. He seemed to enjoy the attention some of the time, but that's probably just me projecting my feelings upon him.
Once upon a time there was a flock of parrots housed in a metal aviary in the Mountain Woodland's area of the museum. I questioned why the cage was empty and was told that the parrots had to be removed because wildlife neophytes (also known as idiots) were poking fingers through the bars of the cage. This situation falls under the category of things that make me say, "Hmmmmm." Sounds like a bad idea to me, but apparently some of those carefree, unsuspecting folks discovered the hard way that a parrot's beak can easily separate a finger from a hand. Repeat after me: for every action there is a reaction. That must have been a gruesome scene. Which leads me to share with you a fun fact that a flock of parrots is also known as a pandemonium. That's what ensued after the finger got bit off. Some people can only learn through experience, whereas smarter folks can heed warnings. Keep your fingers to yourself, especially around animals and birds. Whether wild or domesticated it matters not, unless directed otherwise by an expert.
|Walk through the aviary to see a variety of birds in a natural habitat featuring
mature trees and a man-made stream.
|Mrs. Roadrunner fusses over building a nest and uses her beak as a tool to transport the feather.
One of the more difficult exhibits for me to adjust to is the reptiles house where visitors can see eye-to-eye with a variety of rattlesnakes, Gila monsters and other vemenous things that go bump in the night. All the reptiles and critters are displayed behind glass but depending upon your comfort level, the tour can still be disconcerting but nonetheless very interesting and educational. The exhibits are done in such a way where the viewer can see just how well the snakes and insects blend into their environments, often rendering them almost invisible. There are exhibits outdoors where lizards live in walled areas and are easy to spot such as the following beautiful - yes beautiful to me - lizard in the photo below.
|I pursued this lizard for awhile waiting patiently for him to cooperate
with his portrait. He finally gave in.
|Yes, you can touch the gopher snake, if you wish. I opted for the side of no.
|I won't be planting this tree in my yard. The red insects swarmed
the tree and made a loud humming noise.
|Our favorite thing: chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve ice cream
cones enjoyed while sitting under the covered patio.
Inspired by our visits to the Desert Museum, my goal for this post is to make homemade ice cream that is similar to soft serve ice cream. There is a particular mouthfeel to soft serve ice cream that I find appealing. I know I am not alone. Soft serve ice cream also achieves its particular texture because it has a considerable amount of air whipped into it, which is a natural byproduct of making ice cream at home with inexpensive equipment.The key here, which was a revelation to me, is adding nonfat milk powder to the vanilla ice cream. It acts in the same manner as adding cocoa powder to the chocolate ice cream. The consistency changes, but in a good way. Both flavors turned out thick and creamy without compromising the homemade consistency. Because the powder helps to reduce iciness in the ice cream, as does the addition of a small amount of alcohol, the prepared ice cream will easily keep in the freezer for two weeks making it an excellent dessert to make ahead for a dinner party.
I had an unsuccessful experience using cornstarch in the past. The cornstarch was supposed to give more of a premium quality to homemade ice cream, but for lack of a better description, the final outcome just seemed gummy. For any recipe that calls for cornstarch, I would swap the same amount with the nonfat milk powder.
According to my research powdered espresso will act the same way as cocoa and milk powder. I'm intrigued with trying my hand at making a cappuccino flavored ice cream as it is one of my favorite gelato flavors, but for today we'll stay focused on making really excellent chocolate and vanilla ice creams, which taste great served side by side in a frosty glass. You can make your own swirl.
Really Excellent Chocolate Ice Cream