Pick of the Week 

After the Desert Rains

Storm clouds gathering in the distance, the sun sinking slowly into the horizon, silhouetting saguaros against the orange-purple sky--this is a scene from the twilight hikes at the Saguaro National Park West that are held a few times a month. It's your chance to get out among the cactuses, wildflowers and desert wildlife, and get a breath of fresh, cool, night air.

"Twilight hikes are a new series of hikes over the summer when we historically haven't done much. We time them to coincide with the sunset, so half of the hike is in the dusk, and half is in the darkness," says Daina Dajevskis, a park ranger for Saguaro National Park West in the interpretation division.

The hikes through the winding trails of the park are beautiful, although they can also be somewhat difficult, especially when it starts getting a little darker.

"We go to places that are especially pleasant in the evening," Dajevskis says. "This (Aug. 5) hike will be starting at the King Canyon trailhead, and it's a pretty moderate hike. We'll be hiking up into King Canyon wash, and then on to some of the natural rock overhangs."

Because the hikes can be difficult, and it is dark outside for about an hour of the two-hour hike, there is an age limit, and any children must be at least 7 years old and accompanied by an adult.

The park, which is home to more than 50 types of cactuses, is also home to a wide variety of desert creatures, from reptiles to birds, mammals and amphibians.

"Right now, we have had so much rain that there are lots of reptiles out, particularly in the evening," Dajevskis says. "We've been seeing some desert tortoises; this is the time of year that they come out of their burrows and eat. The snakes that live around the park are also out in the evenings."

All this crazy weather in the Tucson area has made for some great wildlife viewing out in the Sonoran Desert. Flowers are blooming, and the animals are coming out to eat and drink.

"It's a great time, especially with this standing water," Dajevskis says. "A lot of the larger mammals could be coming down for a drink, like javelinas and bobcats. There should also be frogs out, making noise; some of them are hatching in the pools. There's just a lot of activity going on."

Leading the 1.8-mile twilight hike on Saturday, Aug. 5, will be Brean Byer, a student conservation associate at Saguaro National Park West. The hike begins at 5:45 p.m. and wraps up around 8 p.m.; advance registration is required. Reservations can be made by calling the park's visitor center at 733-5158. Visitors are strongly encouraged to bring flashlights; lots of water (at least 2 or 3 liters); good, sturdy hiking boots; clothing for the somewhat unpredictable weather; and a hiking staff or stick if they wish, Dajevskis says. Other than usual park fees, there is no charge.

For those of you who more enjoy the early morning hours, Saguaro National Park West is also offering an early-morning bird-watching expedition. Catch the tail end of the sunrise with guide John Higgins; get your blood pumping with a two-hour hike around the park; and see some of the more than 25 different species of birds that call the park home. Lately, Higgins has been trying to get a glimpse of some of the native raptors, or birds of prey, that reside in the park, Dajevskis says. Some of the raptors that live around the Sonoran Desert area are: Harris' hawks, peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls, great horned owls, golden eagles and bald eagles.

Dajevskis says the hike is not difficult, and is more suited for children than the evening hike. The morning hikes are usually on flat terrain, Dajevskis says, and it's still cool out.

"Bird-watching in the morning with John is kind of a grab bag every time," Dajevskis says. "We do it regularly throughout the summer and go to places where we have good success seeing birds."

The hike begins at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5, and participants will meet up at the Red Hills Visitor Center, just inside the park boundary on Kinney Road. Hikers should bring water, sunscreen, binoculars and bird guides if you have them. Any level of bird-watching experience is welcome, and Higgins will be available to answer any questions you might have. For more information about the bird-watching hikes, call 733-5158.

"John is very knowledgeable guy; he has several decades of experience; he's an amateur birder and is very dedicated to what he does," Dajevskis says.

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