Saturday, July 22, 2023

Tucson Adventure - Day 4

[Composed: July 9, 2023, High in Tucson: 104°F]

This morning I found out Shira and I are sharing our bathroom with a friend. A very large, very furry spidery friend. He was perched near the AC vent in our bathroom, no doubt looking to catch some breakfast. I made a deal with him: you hang out up near the ceiling, and I won't run from the bathroom shrieking looking for something to bludgeon you with. I love me a good wildlife sighting, though apparently, I prefer them outside.

Our first stop of the day was at the impressive  Gates Pass overlook. D, J and I immediately trudged uphill to a crude shelter situated a hundred yards or so away to check it out. Shira and the girls hung out closer to the car. The view was amazing, and everywhere you looked were amazing cacti. I was stoked. The kids were happy to get back to the car's air conditioning. After hitting up one overlook, we headed to another turn off and did another short excursion.

After some outdoor time, we made our way to the International Wildlife Museum. I tried to set the kids' expectations on this place given the guide book's description. I promised we'd see animals *and* we'd be inside in the AC. But, I explained, the animals on display are all, well, dead. The museum showcases taxidermy, not live animals. There were skeptical, as was I, but we all agreed we'd give it a try.

We walked in and made our way to the cafe area where we could grab a snack before starting the museum proper. This room had a few posed animals; the kids--and I--were immediately smitten. The kids were in awe, and when they came across a model that said they could pet the hide of the animal, they were fully sold. Any concerns that this would be creepy or somehow not kid friendly were quickly dispelled. We ate some lunch and then toured the full museum. Everybody loved it. I'm guessing because we're here off season, the place wasn't busy at all. So not only did we get to experience this remarkable museum, but we got do it without crowds.

When I originally read that the museum was filled with taxidermy, I imagined it might be some hunter's personal collection or the like. But that's not it at all. The museum works with zoos, governments and other organizations to take hides of deceased animals and use them for educational purposes. In this context, I think the museum is offering an impressive service: they're providing an educational component from a resource that might typically be discarded.

After the wildlife museum, we headed over to the Tucson museum of miniatures. This museum is packed full of miniature scenes. From historic doll houses, to modern artistic creations, to everything in between. This museum let us take the kids to an art and history museum, without having to say that we're going to an art and history museum.

The miniatures universe reminds me a bit of the living history world. On the surface, with living history, you're playing dress up. But to fully embrace the hobby, you have no choice but to learn history, design, engineering, military strategy, and so on. The same goes for miniatures. If the gold standard in miniatures is to capture a scene with as much accuracy as possible, then the artists needs to be fully versed in the time period, the materials involved, period correct techniques for making materials, and so on. I have just enough appreciation for all of this to know that these miniatures were a big deal, with vast amounts of effort put into them.

The kids obviously saw this collection through their own lens, and but could find something special to take in. The fact that the museum included some pop culture miniatures, like the Adams Family and Star Wars didn't hurt. 

We all agreed that the most impressive creations in the museum were crafted by Salavat Fidai. Faidai's medium is pencil lead. Not drawing with pencils, but actually sculpting the lead in the tip of the pencil. His sculptures are impossibly small and detailed. You have to see them to believe they can even exist.

The museum also offers a clever scavenger hunt. Throughout the museum there are something like 5 small fairies situated among the exhibits. The kids found 4 of them without issue and we spent a good 15 minutes tracing and retracing our way through the museum to find the 5th. We were eventually triumphant, and found the 5th fairy. It was a good time all around.

After the museums, we made our way back to our airbnb where were all enjoyed a cooling dip in the pool. As sunset approached, we made the snap decision to try to catch sunset at Gates Pass. We zipped over to one of the overlooks at the pass, and managed to catch the sun going down. We got one last burst of desert photos for the day; which I simply can't get enough of.

All in all, this was a terrifically fun day in Tucson. If the weather had been 20 degrees cooler, I'm sure we'd have done different activities. But the activities we found to do were all special and I can't recommend them highly enough.

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