Everyone then split up into smaller groups to explore the museum's exhibits. My group went down to the Aquatic exhibits, which showed different animals from the Colorado River and other locations around Arizona and had plaques with details about them. My favorite fish name was definitely the flannelmouth sucker. The aquatic exhibit left little impression on me except that I noticed that water scorpions look nothing like land scorpions.
The Reptiles and Invertebrates section was much more interesting. Either Dr. Holtz or Dr. Merck renamed the Isla San Esteban Chuckwalla the Homer Simpson lizard. In other words, it was big, round and stupid.
Dave finally got to see rattlesnakes, which he spent the entire trip looking for and which, alas, he only found in captivity. The exhibit held Western Diamondback rattlesnakes, Catalina rattlesnakes, and coral snakes, among others. The snakes had pits on the side of their heads which Dr. Holtz and Dr. Merck explained were a kind of infrared imagining system which enabled snakes to neurologically register heat as sight. The snakes were kept in small areas which seemed barely large enough to contain them but when I asked if they needed more space, Dr. Holtz said they probably didn't, as they don't move around much. Krista brought up the subject of animorphism, or people projecting their wants and needs onto animals. Dr. Merck joined us and told us the following rhyme, which can be used to protect oneself against snakes.
"Red to yellow, kill a fellow,
Red to black, venom lack".
Using this ditty we could tell that the milksnake and kingsnakes displayed were not venomous.
However, this rhyme only works in the continental United States. Once out of the region, snakes' colors can be more deceptive. Dr. Merck told us a story about a professor he knew of who had held a venomous snake, thinking it was not poisonous, and had been bitten. Although the professor recovered, he permanently lost his sense of taste.
After the reptile exhibit we came to a display of flowers from around the state. I recognized a prickly pear plant and an ocatilla, and in the arthropod exhibit immediately following we saw scorpions that glow under black light.
Then Dave and Dan and I went with Ms. Shaw and Dr. Merck down a path which led to a puma curled up asleep behind glass, which was incredible to see.
We then went to the cave, which turned out to hold a timeline from 4 billion years ago to the present, in various increments. It had different kinds of plants and stuffed animals under domes for each time period. We wandered through the mineral hall and ended up in the sunlight and back on the path. Dr. Merck pointed out a gila woodpecker, which lives on saguaro cacti, and we reached an area obviously aimed at children. There was a kind of sandbox area where there were brushes and a sign asking "Can you find the fossils?" Another station had scrambled pieces of dinosaur bones to piece together. Dave commented that he had a similar task in his practicum.
We headed into the mountain woodland zone and saw parrots, two Mexican wolves, and skulls of cats before moving into the desert grassland area, which showed many of the same plants that we had seen earlier in the arboretum.
Cat Canyon was one of the highlights of the museum. There we saw an ocelot, two sleeping bobcats, and the puma again from a different perspective. The cats were all in stone enclosures and most were almost hidden in some nook or cranny. We looked for javelinas in their exhibit but couldn't see any.
We made our way over to the bird show, which was my favorite part of the museum. The handler lady explained that although the birds had been trained to be around humans, they would act almost completely naturally. First a roadrunner came trotting out of the distance and posed on various stumps and tree branches as another employee of the museum regaled us with interesting facts. Did you know that the roadrunner can hunt and eat rattlesnakes (maybe that's what happened to all of the poor rattlesnakes we never saw) and can run up to 17mph? I certainly didn't, but as I watched that bird scurry around I definitely believed it. However, I was slightly disappointed that roadrunners do not in fact make a "beepbeep" sound. My childhood illusions have been crushed.
The two following birds were both owls, one a barn owl and the other a great horned owl. They were beautiful and interesting to see up close, but I was more impressed with the roadrunner, probably because I had never seen one before.
After the bird show most of the Merck van (or should I say the DACTA J van?) headed off to lunch. Much to our dismay we found that the Ironwoods Cafe no longer served prickly pear juice or shakes, which Dr. Holtz had recommended. We had to make do with fries and excellent burgers.
Edd said we had to check out the aviary, so in the little remaining time we headed to see the birds. We think we may have missed seeing many of them, judging from Edd's pictures, and went to one enclosed area where we saw some quail and mourning doves walking around. Then we joined Dr. Merck and Jake and Krista at the amazing hummingbird exhibit. All kinds of the tiny birds were flying around, and one in particular liked to fly around, hover inches in front of people's faces and then return to the same branch. It was spectacular.
We met up with the rest of the group afterwards and headed on out to Saguara National Monument.
[note to ed: Harrison and I split up the day a little bit oddly, so he has the Nat'l Monument]
Dr. Merck and Dr. Holtz realized that some people still had the energy to hike, so we drove to "Cholla Mountain", where from a great vantage point Dr. Holtz gave a short lecture on the horsts and grabens that we were viewing. The good doctors then set everyone loose, with one van full of people returning to the hotel to chill for a while and one staying for an hour and a half to pick up the climbers.
I decided to be a non-conformist and neither climb farther nor return. Instead, I hung out in a little stone cabin at a point not far from our lecture and sat down to read my book. The view was too gorgeous, though, so I ended up gazing out into the distance until Dr. Holtz and Dr. Merck passed my way and we chatted until the erstwhile hikers came back. Of the hikers, only Dave remained unscathed. Edd, Justin, Jake and Krista were attacked by chollas, and Dan narrowly escaped sitting on one. At least one member of the party who had previously disregarded claims of chollas literally jumping to prick people changed his view. Though we were nearly all exhausted and some were in pain (a cholla had poked through Krista's strong hiking boots), everyone seemed to have had fun.
After freshening up a bit at the hotel, we headed to the Tucson mall for some quality food court dinner. The hikers showed off their battle scars and never has Panda Express and Chik-fil-A tasted so good. We then wandered around, window shopping and terrorizing the local populace with bouncy balls.
After a long, tiring but eventful and interesting day, the troop headed back to our incredibly frightening hotel. Even though our hotel wasn't exactly peachy, my wonderful roommates, Krista and Sara, and I managed to fall sound asleep, ready to wake up early the next morning.
Day 6 - Road trip to the Chiricahuas
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