Delight in the Desert – The Other End of the Leash

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Today is all photos from our trip to Arizona. We just got back, and it was good to be in my home state for a visit. I admit to not wanting to live in the desert any more (too many thorns, too hot in summer, too little green), but there’s nothing like going back to where you were raised.

There’s something magical about the desert, including the gorgeous sunsets and the rock formations. Here’s a classic pile of boulders outside of Carefree, AZ in the evening, with a huge metal sculpture of a bird perched on top.

The area north of Phoenix and Scottsdale is a riot of rock formations, including this massive one, the size of our barn, that fell from a cliff on the other side of the road.

Here’s a rock formation, called a Hoodoo (and who couldn’t love that name?), on the spectacular drive to Mt. Lemmon, north of Tucson.

Being in Tuscon for the second half of our trip allowed us to visit, twice, one of my favorite places in the world, The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, a botanical park, zoological park, and educational extravaganza about the amazing life of the Sonora Desert.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the highlight for me was the Raptor Free Flight show. They do a fantastic job, using birds trained to fly free but go to perches on cue–handler’s arms or dead snags–just a few feet away from us. They often flew only inches over our heads to go from perch to perch. I am reminded of the work done at Natural Encounters in Florida where several of us were lucky to spend a week with Steve Martin, and Dr. Susan Friedman of Behavior Works, one of the best behaviorists in the business.

This work is 100% driven by the animals: If they don’t want to work, oh well. And if the Ravens at the AZ Desert Sonora Museum decided they don’t want to go back in their cages, then we were warned we’d all stand there until they did. Thus, the repeated warnings to not let a speck of food in sight when the ravens were out. Apparently one incident kept the spectators out for hours. Birds 1. Humans 0.

All the spectators at our visit were obedient, and the two ravens soon left to give way to my new favorite bird in the entire world, the Great Horned Owl:

I’ve seen a lot of owls, but usually perched in a tree, wings folded, eyes maybe or maybe not shut. But I’ve never seen one fly a few inches from my head. This one stunned us all with her beauty.

The AZ SDM is also an excellent botanical garden, here’s a small piece of the cactus garden:

I love how they show visitors what the cactus blooms look like when they are out. Cactus flowers and fruit are such an important part of the ecosystem for everything/one who lives there, including several tribes of Native Americans.

Below is a Crested Caracara, a rare bird in the United States, who, according to Cornell, “looks like a hawk with its sharp beak and talons, behaves like a vulture . . .”. Look at the sun shining on it’s primary feathers and tail! So gorgeous.

Here it is from the front:

If you’re not too tired of birds, let me introduce a pair of Harris Hawks, the rock star performers who closed the show. Harris Hawks often hunt like wolves–going after prey too large for any one of them, strategically surrounding prey, like hares, as a group. They also spend a lot of time on the ground, unlike most hawks. Gorgeous, hey?

This, by the way, is what you see when one flies over you:

Of course, I missed the money shot, but 1) it happened too fast, and 2) we weren’t allowed to raise our cameras over our head. But my brain recorded it, and having a hawk fly pretty much straight at my face is now one of my many highlights of life.

I’ll post some more photos from AZ next time, but for now, we’re hunkered in on that first day home–unpacking, laundry, mail–you know the drill. As illustrated by Maggie, the dogs are apparently exhausted from our trip, which they did not go on.

Here’s to being gone on an adventure, and being home, and living through the airports in between. I hope you had a good week and are not suffering too much from ice, snow, rain, floods, tornadoes, wind . . . We’re lucky here, got six plus inches of snow this weekend, and now a tad chilly (Zero F as I post this), but nothing like what’s been going on in the rest of the country. Be well everyone, and tell us what you’ve been doing; you know we’d love to hear.

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