Nature Under Glass

Exploring Tucson, AZ provided two very different opportunities to experience nature–Saguaro National Park and Biosphere 2–with one generating more interest than the other.

We reserved a site at Catalina State Park’s campground…

Catalina Mtns

to be equidistant between the two National Park districts: Rincon Mountain (RMD-east) and Tucson Mountain (TMD-west). Why two districts? In the 1960’s, concern over RMD’s cactus forest showing a decline in new growth, prompted conservationists to acquire a stand of ancient saguaros to the west of Tucson, separating the two districts by an hour’s drive.

Leah and I began our journey at TMD, at first, through a meandering exurban road that eventually led to an unpaved, rutted, and narrow scenic Bajada loop drive covering five miles of Tuscon Mountain foothills. A stop at the Desert Discovery Trail brought us within no touching distance of magnificent saguaro cacti measuring over thirty feet tall.

key light saguaro (2)

Each specimen appears unique, sprouting limbs in different places, and contorting in all directions,

desertscape (2)

giving relevance to Native American claims that these are people standing among the sand and rocks.

Desert Trail

Their petroglyphs across Signal Hill are a testament to their long-standing occupation of the territory more than one thousand years ago.

petroglyph and mountain1

signal hill petroglyphs

A memorable hike along the Valley View Trail slowly ascends a ridge, offering dramatic views of Avra Valley’s saguaro-sprawl, with Picachu Peak in the distance.

Avra Valley and Picacho Peak

With temperatures reaching into the high 90’s, we avoided all other trails–requiring a minimum of three to four hours of dedicated strain–in favor of cross-town traffic delays that minimized our allotted time to visit RMD.

Once at the eastern park gate, we roamed the paved eight-mile Cactus Forest Drive, switch-backing into higher elevations, with warm western sun casting a golden hue across the desert, turning a forbidding vista…


mtn garden and sky

into an inviting playground,

western sun across the desert

protected by a standing legion of cactus totems.

rincon mtns


The following day, we turned our attention to an experiment in the remote reaches of the Sonoran Desert,


originally conceived in 1984 to “research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology,” and leading to two highly publicized missions between 1991 and 1994–where teams of eight were sealed into a self-sustaining environment for two-year terms and monitored for their “survivability”. Scientists named it Biosphere 2.



rincon range


Presently, the University of Arizona has assumed stewardship of the facility, turning its focus toward research on climate change–mimicking diverse ecosystems, such as the ocean,

ocean habitat

the rainforest,

rain forest

and coastal fog desert,

desert habitat

all managed under controlled conditions.

Beneath nature’s museum lies the technosphere, a myriad of pipes and wiring,

recycled air conditioning

channels and ducts, tubes and cables, and other facilities necessary for vital operation.

An ingenious dome-shaped lung…


connected to the glass enclosure by tunnels…


allows for air expansion caused by ever-changing pressures within the sealed structure.

The scope of the facility is a marvel, boasting double redundancy for all power and life support systems.

power supplies

A common question on the tour, “Why is it called Biosphere 2? Was there another Biosphere before this one?”

The docent is keen to respond, “Yes. Another Biosphere exists, where random, haphazard and uncontrolled experiments called living are carried out on a daily basis, but we commonly refer to it as Earth.”



13 thoughts on “Nature Under Glass

  1. Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Spending some time and actual effort to produce a very good articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.


  2. Hello there! This post couldnít be written much better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this information to him. Fairly certain he’ll have a great read. Many thanks for sharing!


  3. The images you’ve captured are so beautiful, particularly of the vast array of cacti! I love the photo nearer to the top, of the cactus partially cast in shadow, with the sun shining brilliantly behind. You have such a keen eye. I look forward to seeing more!

    Liked by 1 person

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