Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What to do in Flagstaff: The Arboretum

The Arboretum in Flagstaff is a pleasant drive just out of downtown. I've made it a practice now to visit arboretums, conservatories and other natural museums and spaces on my trips.
We drove through stands of Ponderosa and parked in a gravel lot next to a long, squat wooden building with floor to ceiling windows. The light dripped through the needles above and shaded us from the strongest of Arizona rays. 
We had arrived just in time for a wildflower and trees tour by an arboretum volunteer so we eagerly gathered round the already budding group of tourists. Surprisingly many of the tourists, like my uncle, were in fact locals. A Michigan couple, a Florida couple and I were the only out of staters.
We started the tour with the Arizona staple - the Ponderosa. 
The Abert's squirrel lives in and off of ponderosas exclusively so we looked for signs of these long eared plateau natives. We also learned two ways to identify a ponderosa. Each bundle of needles contains three long needles. Another way, smell the bark.
Each of us pressed our faces to the bark and inhaled deeply. 

Next we moved to the Quaking Aspen. 
Fun facts about quaking aspens:
They usually propagate not through seeds but through their roots. Whole groves of aspen can actually be the same tree as they shoot out roots and produce clone trees. 
Their name comes from the flattened petioles of the leaf stem. This allows them to flexibly move from side to side - making them look as if they are trembling or shaking.
The Native Americans used the bark as a painkiller and for its anti-inflammatory properties.

We walked through the herb garden, smelling and tasting and talking about their individual histories and then into the wildflower garden to see the gorgeously blooming yarrow plants. 
The arboretum hosts an impressive amount of native wildflowers.
In fact they have a whole greenhouse and laboratory dedicated to preserving and restoring the plants that are native to the Colorado Plateau. 

Luck just seemed to be with us that day. Shortly after the walking tour ended the raptors tour started. We sat with a group of young school children and enjoyed the show and then patiently waited at the end to take pictures up close. The birds here have been brought to the arboretum for rehabilitation and preservation. Some are released after healing and some stay in captivity if their wounds are such that a long life in the wild is unlikely. 
The show focused heavily on the role birds play in ecosystems and how their habitat is being effected by human involvement in natural places.

What I valued about this show is how the birds are trained. They are never forced to do stunts they don't want to perform and therefor their training is long and slow. One little performer, a tiny zebra finch, wasn't feeling up to tricks and instead hopped off the trainers finger and onto the ground where it hopped around a bit. She let it wander, occasionally whistling to it and offering her hand and eventually it came back to her and then hopped back into it's cage. 

Peregrine Falcon in flight. 

This Eurasian Eagle Owl was keeping a very close eye on me as I took his picture. 

4001 S. Woody Mountain Rd. 
Open 9am - 4pm Every Day except Tuesday
Closed for the winter between November 1st and April 30th
Adults - $8.50
Seniors - $6
Youth - $3

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