Tracking through Arizona

Published 12:27 am Saturday, April 2, 2011

On the morning after I arrived in Tucson to visit my friend Billie, I slept late, while she took her walk on her property. She was already back in the kitchen when I joined her. As she took cereal out of the cabinet and milk out of the refrigerator, she announced that there were fresh horse tracks in her yard. “Want to track a horse this morning before I take you sight-seeing?” she asked.

Surprised, I nodded. Why not? It was certainly something I’d never done before. After breakfast, we stepped outside and Billie showed me some hoof marks. She led, I followed. As she walked along closely observing the ground, she mentioned the names of the native plants that spread out before us. We passed several of those saguaro cacti that had so fascinated me when I saw the first one at the airport. I paused long enough to take a good look at the base of one, as well as to inspect the spikes. I also noted that it had some of those woodpecker holes in it. Then I saw a bird Billie identified as a cactus wren fly out of one. She pointed out several varieties of cacti. Among them were a few purple ones and some that were just a few feet tall, but fat.

Billy was disturbed about the mesquite trees on her property. Mesquites are spindly, yet extremely hardy trees, since they are drought-tolerant and can draw water from the water table through their taproots. However, due to the 13-year drought in that area, even these hardy specimens suffer. She gestured toward one that had turned black and collapsed. It was on the side of a drop-off and I saw where its roots had snaked along when it was vibrant with life. As we continued walking, we came across others that seemed destined to the same fate.

Billie had a lot of creosote bushes or trees on her land, too. They had green foliage, but their yellow blooms had not broken out. It was the time of year there when things should have been budding, but I saw only a cactus with some yellow blooms where we walked that day.

The horse tracks faded close to a place where Billie said an occasional vehicle came in without permission. We had tracked out.

We plodded back to the house and got ready for our visit to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Billie said most of the museum was outdoors and insisted that I needed a hat. She handed me one of hers. I plopped it on my head. We laughed. It was too little. As we waited for tickets at the museum, a docent told us all about a beautiful raptor she held. Once past the ticket booth I purchased a sun hat at a gift shop. We were ready to explore this combination of a natural history museum, a zoo, and a botanical garden. Details follow next week.