Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tumamoc Hill: The Highest We've Ever Been at a Staff Meeting

Erin Olmstead
(Title of blog entry by Kendall Kroesen)

Last Wednesday was a beautiful morning. We took our monthly staff meeting to Tumamoc Hill, west of downtown Tucson, where Tumamoc People & Habitats staff graciously allowed us to use their library. This is the same place where their lecture series is held. It was inspiring to discuss our current and future events in a setting with such important history. After we got through all of our business, Community Planner Pamela Pelletier and Project Manager Lynda Klasky were nice enough to give us a tour of the site!

Did you know Tumamoc Hill is home to the world’s oldest and longest running restoration ecology study site? The study area was established in the early 20th century by the Carnegie Insitution, which founded a botanical laboratory there to discover how plants manage to survive and thrive in hot desert environments. The area was fenced off to keep grazing out and an ecological reservation was designated, allowing natural conditions to reestablish. Today the plant communities of Tumamoc provide a super-sensitive biological monitor of climate change.

The very first research paper done on Tumamoc was published in 1905 by botanist Effie Spalding who showed that the stems of saguaro cacti expand when water becomes available, and contract as it is used, thus explaining the accordion-like pleats on the stem! (Interesting trivia: Saguaro’s scientific name is Carnegiea gigantea.) Studies on the iconic saguaro continue to this day.

After Pamela left us to attend to a visiting elementary school group, Lynda shared some stunning repeat photographs taken nearby, and the ancient darkroom with red glass windows where they were developed. The photos helped us to imagine what life in Tucson was like when the lab was being built and the first studies began. It was not so long ago that the Santa Cruz flowed regularly, and a lush ribbon of riparian vegetation graced its banks.

Next we drove up to the top of the hill, where local media and law enforcement have positioned a variety of communication towers. Lynda pointed out some of the interesting pre-Columbian archeological features that were right under our noses: petroglyphs, several bedrock morters, and the ruins of a Hohokam village, complete with the northern-most known trinchera walls, constructed from native volcanic rock. Very cool! We also did some ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the view -- we could see both Baboquivari and Picacho peaks in the distance. The pre-Columbian people chose well when making Tumamoc their home!

But it wasn’t all history and culture. A couple of Rock Wrens persistently announced their presence, and a soaring vulture popped up from below the mesa and glided effortlessly overhead. Looking down at the hillside below, we were keenly aware of the threat posed to this great cultural and biological resource by the dreaded invasive buffelgrass.

You can check out Tumamoc, too! The paved trail is open to walkers from 5 pm to 7am during the week, and all day on weekends. It’s a steep, heart-pumping hike up, but you’ll be rewarded by impressive views of the city and surrounding mountains on your way back down. Visit Tumamoc People and Habitats for more info.

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