Summer Nights: Touring The Desert Botanical Gardens With A Flashlight

August 16, 2013

The sun is just beginning to set behind Papago Peak as cars roll into the parking lot of the Desert Botanical Gardens. The cooler dusk air beckons animals, blooming plants, and—Phoenicians—to enjoy the outdoors. Amanda Martinez came to the tour with her husband and son.

frog A flashlight beam reveals a bullfrog in the pond at the Desert Botanical Gardens. (Photo by Kendra Szabo - KJZZ)

“We’re just trying to find something fun that isn’t obviously out in the middle of the summer heat,” Martinez said. “ It sounded like something fun that he would enjoy.”

Martinez and her family love the animal statues in the garden, but volunteer Carolyn Lazar says the night time also has more lively things to offer.

“What’s different about coming here at night is the whole garden changes,” Lazar said. “It’s much more mysterious. There are creatures that come out at night that don’t come out at day because in the summer it’s way to hot to come out during the day.”

These animals at the garden include a great-horned owl, bats, geckos and king snakes that prefer to hunt at twilight. Some plants are also more active at night.

“Some of our plants actually wait until the night to breathe and do all their gas exchange in the evening,” the Garden’s Kate Navarro said.

The ‘Queen of the Night’ Cactus that is one plant that releases oxygen and takes in carbon dioxide at night, blooming in the process. At the end of the tour, visitors take a trip to the Garden’s pond where they use flashlights to search the noisy darkness for toads and bull frogs.

Volunteer Charles Fisher says the bull frogs are not native to Arizona but they’ve made their way to the pond and aren’t going anywhere. But, Fisher says the pond is generally a good example of how the nature would have looked long ago.

“The Native Americans, when they lived in this area before the Europeans came, that would be the kind of area they had because they didn’t do a lot of major constructions like Saguaro dam,” Fisher said.

Five-year-old Mariah Munroe is one of many children exploring the garden with a flashlight. And as little Mariah recounts her experience, she reconsiders what part of the night she really liked the best.

“The very best part was hanging out with my family,” Mariah said. “But the most, most best was scorpions and a tortoise. And, even petting a king snake.”

By the end of the tour, the sun has completely vanished. Only flashlight beams and trail-side garden lights illuminate the way for people shuffling out. The two-hour tour gave those living in the desert a chance to explore what is essentially, living in their backyards.

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