Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tucson, AZ

Tucson has always been a city we’ve liked, which is fortunate, since we’ll be here longer than we had planned. We drove by the big Cardinal RV dealer/service center to see about the tire replacement and repairs. It turns out they are closed for the entire holiday – until January 4th.

One of our favorite places in Tucson is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a combination zoo, botanical garden and geology exhibit, with specimens from the Sonora Desert Tucson 026 (where the museum is located) in Arizona, Mexico and similar areas. In addition to the animal and botanical environments and a cave/geology exhibit added since the last time we visited, they now have a raptor free flight demonstration that was absolutely breathtaking.

Tucson 041 A group of Harris hawks have made the museum home, and through conditioning which started when they were very young birds, they do a close encounter with visitors and the staff. The attraction for the hawks is the food they get when they land on the staff member’s gloved arm. It’s quite amazing to have those big birds fly right over your head during the demonstration. We saw several Harris hawks in the wild along the roads during our travels, but not up close and personal as in the museum demonstration. Tucson 046 These hawks are completely free, but they have made the museum their territory, and let’s face it, handouts from museum staff are easier meals than the mice and other small animals they normally have to hunt for.

At the other extreme of bird life  is the museum’s hummingbird enclosure, in which visitors mingle with the little hummers. The first one we saw was hanging around outside the exhibit, which lent credence to the sign asking visitors to be careful with the door since the hummingbirds are accomplished escape artists.Tucson 018

We also visited Biosphere 2 (biosphere 1 is Earth) which is located about 20 miles north of Tucson. DSC_0327 The big glass enclosed environment was built in the ‘90s as a very large experiment to see if a self-sustaining environment could be developed – sort of like a mini earth ecosystem. The plan was for 8 “biospherians”to spend two years with no physical contact with the outside world. They produced their own food, the plants converted carbon dioxide to oxygen, they recycled waste water, etc. It was a grand idea, but it didn’t  work. The plants didn’t produce enough oxygen, the food supply was inadequate, and there were other problems as well. They did complete the 2 years, and a year later another group did 6 months. Science did learn a lot of technical stuff, not the least of which is that whenever humans try to set up a self-sustaining environment on the moon or other planets, it’s not going to be easy.

Today Biosphere 2 is operated by the University of Arizona for all kinds of environmental and life-science research, and it’s open to the public for tours. No more biospherians, but the place does provide controlled environments for the research.


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