Outside of Tucson is a place to see critters and plants of the desert up close. Much like the little kitty above, you can see what lives here. The place is spread out over 98 acres. It’s in a very hot place in the summer (I visited at 105 degrees). It’s a full day to see it all.
They have an aquarium, a reptile & amphibians building, an art gallery, a cave with mineral gallery, two aviaries (one for hummingbirds), a dozen animal enclosures (like above Mountain Lion), cactus gardens, stingray touch pool, and 2 gift shops. Several hourly docent displays are spread out during the day. These include snake touching. Life cycles of the Saguaro cactus. Life in the rivers and streams in Arizona. And they change daily. Well versed people are waiting to explain how the desert works.
The landscape has been planted 55 years ago to represent as much of the Sonora desert that would predate human interference. While not all of these would grow here, they all live in the Sonora desert that covers from the Baja peninsula to New Mexico. Butterfly gardens include non native plants but the butterflies are wild feeding here.
The animals are here by assignment. The Mountain Lion was orphaned. The pair of Mexican grey wolves are a retired breeding pair that was used to restore native range. The Black bear was raised by humans. They live in nice sized enclosures with AC and shade. The 19 stingrays enjoy a covered pool and for $3 you can touch them ($3 more you can feed them shrimp).
What happens when a 150 foot wide chunk of Iron and nickel drops in on the Earth? You get a hole a mile wide and 500 feet deep! Welcome to Barringer Crater, aka Meteor Crater. The crater is located 40 miles East of Flagstaff, AZ. Its right off of Interstate 40.
This is the windest place North of Antarctica! There is a steady 30 mph wind and it gusts well above that. But its the easiest to visit and best preserved crater around. Most craters are eroded by water, in Northern Arizona not much of a problem.
There are three observation areas set up along the rim. Two are slightly below the rim. There is no access within or to the bottom. You get a fairly young (50,000 year old) feature that all the hallmarks an impact crater. This is what the Moon surface is coveted with. The astronauts actually trained here before going to the Moon.
There’s a movie telling the story. There are guided tours subject to weather. The have a small display of other impact craters, meteor types, and video simulaions. You can put your hands on a 1400 pound piece of the meteor responsible for this whole thing.
If you are in the Flagstaff area, its worth a stop even at $18/adult. This is a good add on to Sunset Crater or Wapitaki trips
Usery Mountain Park is at the border of Mesa and the desert. The park is part of the Maricopa County Park System. There are 30 miles of hiking trails, camping (tents or RV’s), and archery range. It does run $6 to get a car load in.
Every month there’s a full moon. Coincidentally, there’s a Range hike too. Be warned, during the winter there will be 200-300 sets of feet crunching sand and gravel. I only had 60 people with me tonite.
The hike itself is fairly level. A distance of about 2 miles should be easy for almost all who can hike. The landscape is typical for the Sonoran desert. Saguaro, chollas, and assorted cacti. Views of the mountains surrounding the park. It’s silver blue in the moonlight.
This is from the road sides along Saguaro Lake. The lake has several access points. It rests within the mountains. Several elevation changes and arroyos (dry river beds) give several different views and plants. The stately Saguaros are everywhere. The blooms are limited by rainfall. This is the second month of blooms here.
211 Million years ago, this was a tree. Today it’s an eighty foot long fossil. Now there are only a few hundred full size and thousands of partial tress here. For $20 pass that is good for a week you get this and the Painted Desert too.
The basics are during the rise of the dinosaurs life was a forest here. Shallow water with a prefect muddy low oxygen shallow waterway… add millions of years and here you are. This area resembles the Badlands with color. It’s in a barren open meadow landscape. Although fairly flat, the dry area and erosion of heavy winter moisture has made for a.surreal world.
There are multiple visit centers. Plenty of history here. Good displays of what preceeded Dinosaurs and the human impact. This spreads over 30 miles of pavement. Good for all ages. You walk among the petrified trees. People sit on a Triassiac tree for family pictures!
Ok eye candy below
This piece of paradise is an hour from Flagstaff and three hours south of the Grand Canyon. I40 runs through the Northern part and Holbrook, AZ had food half hour away.
Saguaro Lake is located 20 miles Northeast of Mesa, AZ. It’s has a marina and several boat ramps. And three roads into the area. There are marked trails for hiking, atv’s and horses. This is part of Tonto Forest area and daily passes are sold off site year round in places like Ft McDowell, Mesa, and Jake’s Corners
And being there at the beginning of March, there are wildflowers. The area is loaded with cacti and cholla.
An oasis in the High Desert. This impounded lake is surrounded by mountains and the stately Saguaro cacti. Located about an hour and a half out of Pheonix this is an unbelievable drive and set of short hikes.
Of course, those with a boat it’s prefect. I have only an inflatable kayak… The wife is funny about going out on a lake 350 feet deep in an inflatable craft. There are 3 boat ramps and they are about 120 get wide and quarter mile long. You can drive down them in a car, just stay out if the way.
There are several roads (some paved) that lead to the water. I mean to the waters edge. Which means be careful because you are alone here for the most part. But several places give you the chance to be alone. The Saguaro cacti are plentiful. The views great on grey days.
I can tell you there are cliff dwellings in a National Monument but they close at 4pm. I missed out today.
The Saguaro cacti take 75 years to start is first “arm”. The one above is probably in the 200-250 year range. It’s maybe 25-30 feet tall.
A grey day in Sedona looks better than a good day other places. A few miles west of the “Y” in Sedona is Dry Creek Road this leads to a bunch of trailheads. But for those who don’t want to walk in cold weather these pictures are all from the road.
If you hike stay on the trails and bring a friend. There are a ton of exposed areas. There were a few puma (mountain lion) prints asking my little solo hike. There were people at the trailhead on my return telling me this is bad place for heat illnesses. Bring water!