An introvert discovers a rainforest and an ocean in the middle of the desert

Driving north on Oracle for some time, the smoothly paved, multi-lane road brings me closer and closer to my next adventure with each passing minute. The word oracle has a particularly good vibe to it, I think—or maybe I’m simply associating it with a familiar blockbuster movie or two. (My brain tends to hold onto a lot of odd information, often recalling it at the strangest of times and influencing my reactions to things.)

I think my fascination with science began when I was in middle school. I had a science teacher who was on the verge of retirement and I was in one of his last classes of his career. I remember all the experiments we did–particularly one involving a cow eyeball. But I also recall my weekly visits to a corner market to fetch the latest San Jose Mercury News. For extra credit, we had to find and read the section on science and report on the latest findings.

Reflecting on my science teachers up through high school, all of them were interesting characters. I can’t think of a one that I didn’t absolutely enjoy. Unfortunately, I was wired to excel at subjects that leaned towards the Fine Arts–so my test scores in my science classes weren’t always stellar. Still, it didn’t stop me from taking Astronomy when I had the chance.

This history I have with science, led me to set off for what is described as an “Earth Science Attraction” called Biosphere 2 located north of Tucson, Arizona.

IMG_3577Following a sign and turning off of Oracle, I find myself on a lonely little road pointed towards the great Santa Catalina Mountains. Have you ever been in search of something and been worried you strayed off course because of the long spacing between road signs? That’s how I feel for the first several minutes until a rather impressive cluster of buildings pop into view.

IMG_3581The University of Arizona now uses Biosphere 2 for controlled scientific studies (but it has quite a history of how it came to be). Within it, are seven model ecosystems. Having been on a quest to find some green at Sabino Canyon, I am surprised and delighted to take the one-hour “Under the Glass” tour (included with admission) and have the opportunity to stand and view a rainforest, and to walk beside an ocean. Unique discoveries in the middle of the desert for sure!IMG_3602

What I particularly appreciate about how the tour is set up is the distribution of earbuds connecting you to a small box on a cord that hangs around your neck. This audio aid allows me to adjust volume and not miss a word of what is being explained. Helpful, because I am almost always near the back of the group, far from the guide as we walk through windy tunnels and down staircases. Several places along the tour provide a chance to sit and listen and at every pause along the way are countless opportunities to ask questions.

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Inside “The Lung”

While there is so much to see and information to absorb, I find myself fascinated by the behind-the-scenes portion of the tour that explores what is involved to make such a place function. Down a narrow passage into an area called “The Lung”, we pause to see how even opening a door has an effect on a four-ton disk suspended from the ceiling. The engineering is extraordinary, and it makes me wonder about what it would take for someone to live in space. Well, there’s an area explaining that, too.

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Summarizing my day, I would have to say:

  1. I was pleasantly amazed. I love going to places where I can learn something new. Now, gardening with volcanic rock and some koi is on my “Must Try Someday” list.
  2. Because of the summer heat in Tucson, I tend to plan so that I can arrive just before a place opens. The first tour of the morning still had a good number of people on it but not quite so many as the ones that followed. Speaking with a salesperson, it seems like they are busy year-round. I found the day (during the week) and time I went to be perfect for my low-energy-type personality.
  3. Be prepared for quite a bit of walking and remember those comfortable shoes. Expect to navigate stairs on the “Under the Glass” tour, but it’s nothing too intense. There’s also one little area on the tour that some might find a tad tight if you’re at all claustrophobic– but you’re not in it for less than a minute.
  4. There’s a large parking area, bathrooms a plenty, a cafe near a lovely green picnic area, and of course, a place to buy some souvenirs.

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What I’d do differently next time:

  1. Actually, I found the visit quite peaceful-which is always great for my introverted soul. So, I would be tempted to revisit and experience some of the other tours. General admission is $20 for adults which might seem a little steep, but as it is explained on the tour, admission ticket sales supports only 40% of what it takes to maintain such an amazing place. I left feeling like my tour guide Jason delivered and did an excellent, excellent job.

To all, keep learning and exploring. You never know what you’ll discover in unexpected places!

Have a wonderful day!

(All photos by Jennifer R. Monroe)

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