National Geographic : 1958 Feb
Arizona's Window on Wildlife Near Tucson's Desert Museum a Small Water Hole Lures Wild Animals Within 10 Feet of Human Watchers and Their Cameras BY LEWIS WAYNE WALKER With Photographs by the Author FROM inside the blind our eyes, alert for the slightest movement, scan the desert night. We peer across a tiny pool to ward the gaunt, eerie silhouettes of saguaro cactus limned against the Arizona sky. All is quiet. Suddenly there is a crunch of footsteps on the coarse sand. Someone sucks in his breath as a family of deer appears-buck, doe, and thin-legged fawn. My finger creeps slowly toward the firing mechanism. Cautiously the deer pick their way toward the water hole. They approach to within 20 feet of us ... 15 ... 10! I can almost touch them as they bend to drink. Sighting care fully, I press the button. The night erupts in a brilliant flash of light as four cameras register simultaneously. The deer blink and bolt into the darkness. In side we silently ready our cameras for the next close-up. This exciting nocturnal hunt is a com mon event at the Wildlife Blind of Tucson's Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. For during the dry months-April, May, June, and Oc tober, November, and part of December thirsty denizens of Tucson Mountain Park's 30,000-acre sanctuary converge on the water hole by hundreds. There, just 15 miles west of the city, visitors to the blind can see and photograph wild animals at incredibly close range. Leaking Pipe First Lured Wildlife Dedicated to exhibiting the colorful flora and fauna of the great Sonoran Desert-a region so arid that many people believe it virtually devoid of life-the museum has built a reputation for originality in wildlife display. Its star attraction, the popular Wildlife Blind, was conceived only four years ago, when museum officials discovered a multitude of tracks around a leaking water pipe near an old corral. The imprints had been left by an amazing variety of wild animals. Dry-season evapora 240 tion of natural seeps, their normal source of water, was driving them to slake their thirst at the pipe. We of the museum staff immediately envi sioned the limitless possibilities for nature education if we could influence the animals' comings and goings. So we added 40 feet of pipe to the leaking joint. This carried the water to a small pool under the arm of a grotesque saguaro. The pool lay at the bottom of a shallow, boulder-strewn ravine, where flash floods had lodged masses of uprooted brush. Some of the brush piles were large enough to conceal an observer, and from these vantage points we tested our idea. Desert Animals Fail to Smell Water The first fruits of our observation were frustration and amazement. Much has been said and written about the alleged ability of animals to smell water, and numerous pawed spots in dry stream beds are cited as proof. But when the museum extended the pipeline by a mere 40 feet from the accustomed drink ing spot, the desert creatures were completely baffled. We watched incredulously as whole herds passed within 15 feet of the new water hole without detecting it. Going to the old site, they would stand bewildered, tongues hanging out. When this pattern repeated itself for three days, we began to fear that the ani mals' lack of wit would doom the project at the outset. But, happily, one deer finally blun dered upon the pool and led the others to it. Our discovery that the deer would drink al most within reach of their most feared enemy, man, gave rise to the idea of the Wildlife Blind. Simple in design, it rests on a firm cement foundation and contains four windows for cameras (page 246). Carpet covers the floor and walls to ensure quiet. The exterior often resembles an electrical engineer's fantasy. Flashbulb reflectors cover every square foot, and wires crisscross in crazy cobwebs connecting them to switches inside the blind.