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).
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.
If you are in the Payson area and have some time to kill. Here are little gem. Its about 20 minutes from Home Depot off a road called Houston Mesa. The road has a gorgeous view of the Mogollan Rim. There’s even a sign for Water Wheel parking after your cross a large concrete bridge.
The hike was about 1 1/4miles that I did. You stay along a tributary of the Verde River. Our experience of the first features is a Box Canyon which terminates with a sixty foot ribbon waterfall. The sides of the canyon are polished granite. The same water below has ride high up these walls and across to smooth the granite.
At the top of the Box Canyon,we have a much more open landscape. Plenty of water flows from multiple sides. Willow trees mix in with Sycamore and pines. There are several cascades that wind around close to the waters edge. They call out to you. I took advantage of dry conditions to explore at least 15 different cascades and third waterfall about 20 minutes from the end of the box canyon. The hike is probably closer to moderate with notrouble a lot of shade. Bring water or drink well before and after.
There are critters calling this home. The tarantula here is about three inches long and blends in really well. Several small lizards run rock to rock. I even saw a butterfly in November. There were few birds.