Finding beauty even in scary things

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2011

“I guess that’s a statue,” I said to my friend Billie as we stood at an observation point at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson. I had just snapped a picture of a bighorn sheep in an enclosure below us and turned my attention to a rock ledge high above us. One of the museum docents was on my right.

“No,” Billie said. “It’s real. I just saw it move its head.” I stared at the magnificent animal, again looking still as a statue. It struck a majestic pose atop that ledge. “Oh,” I mumbled, a little embarrassed at my comment. The docent laughed. She said they often stood like that atop the rocks, gazing straight ahead. While we watched, the bighorn I had photographed below disappeared behind some rocks, then came out and stepped its way up to the top ledge as naturally as a human walks a level path. At the same time, I saw several spiny-tailed iguanas running around on the ledges.

Billie and I were on our second visit to the museum which is actually a zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, combined. It was just too much to take in during our first four-hour jaunt mostly outdoors. It features displays of more than 300 animal species, many of them live, and 1,200 kinds of plants native to the Sonora Desert region. I especially enjoyed a display and a docent’s presentation on the saguaro cactus which had so fascinated me on my arrival in Tucson.

We saw a bobcat curled inside a ledge and a gray fox in a woodland area in the Cat Canyon.

I wanted to revisit the humming bird aviary where the tiny birds whizzed overhead and zipped by our faces. We hit this exhibit at the right time. We spotted a hummer on a nest which was a joy in itself. When the hummer flew off, an attendant angled a mirror on a pole over the nest. Two miniature eggs reflected in the mirror.

Another aviary was all a ‘twitter with the sound of bird calls. Arizona’s favorite bird, the quail, caught our attention, along with doves, cardinals and others I couldn’t identify.

A brief visit to the Earth Sciences Center in a limestone cave revealed stalagmites, stalactites, and collections of minerals and gemstones.

We gazed, thankfully through glass, at some of the 13 species of rattlesnakes found in Arizona. (It’s the state with the most rattlesnake species, by the way.) A docent gave us a close-up view of a tarantula. I quickly backed off. He laughed and insisted that scary-looking tarantula was beautiful.

I close this tale of my Arizona adventure with mention of a visit to the San Xavier Mission Catholic Church, known as the “White Dove of the Desert.” Founded in 1692, construction was completed in 1797. I was awestruck by the beautiful paintings and the unbelievable number of marvelous carvings restored through the years by master artists.