One of the things I’ve been most excited about on this trip are all the new ecosystems we get to explore! We’ve seen many through our visits to the parks, but we’ve also recently visited two other organizations.

I cannot say enough about the Sonoran Desert Museum. It’s like a botanical garden, zoo, and museum all in one. They highlight the various plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert (from Baja California to Arizona). We’ve visited twice, once on our way down to Texas and once on the way back up. The first time was eye opening to the variety of cacti, particularly prickly pear. They were having a talk on reptiles, so we got to see some snakes and a gila monster.

The structure inside these plants is so different from what I imagined, lots of structure that’s almost woody!

The second time we visited they were having a two-for-one sale because it was migratory bird season. We saw lots of lizards (at least five different species!) but only a few birds. I was excited by the prospect of seeing lots of flowering cacti, but alas, only a few were still flowering.

The Sonoran Desert is not actually the main desert we’ve been spending time in, that honor goes to the Chihuahuan Desert (Arizona into Texas).

We also visited Biosphere 2! I remember hearing about this experiment in the 90s and being excited about the possibilities of taking classes there (Columbia University managed it from 1996-2003). Scott says he thought about going to college at the University of Arizona until he realized how hot it was during the summer. They are still doing scientific research here, though it is much different from their original intent to figure out if they could build an entirely closed self-sustaining ecosystem. Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by the small size. They have “the world’s largest enclosed mesocosm dedicated to innovative research and education on coral reef resilience” and it’s less than half the size of a football field (35×20 meters for the ocean vs 109.7×48.8 meters for the football field). Cool but not expansive. Glad we visited but we probably wouldn’t go back.

Lastly, I’ve been using Seek by iNaturalist and more recently Merlin by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We just went for a hike through Zion and I used Seek to identify flowers, such as the golden columbine and firecracker penstemon, a rock squirrel, gambel oak, water birch, and douglas fir. Merlin has this incredibly useful feature that lets you identify a bird by recording a sound. By sound alone, Merlin told me there might be a Spotted Towhee, Grace’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo, and a Western Tanager. We never actually saw these birds, just heard them. We did see and hear two Peregrine Falcon flying together (also identified by their call using Merlin). Scott is not always excited by the fact that when I use these apps I tend to take twice as long to get through the hike. It’s not so much a hike as a meandering walk with a bunch of starting and stopping. I try to find a balance between hiking and identifying.

1 thought on “Ecosystems

  1. Terry Penney

    Great that you’re using two useful app identifiers to be much more enlightened of your observations and sounds. I also visited biosphere when they were just starting but it turned out of be a big disappointment or should I say a much more limited vision of what they set out of achieve. I’m sure they did learn and continue to learn aspects in a “contained environment “. You’re probably also learning about geology – rocks and soils across the states are very different yet colorful as well!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *