New Flandrau exhibit explores mountaintops of Arizona

Published: Sep. 12, 2012 at 2:55 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 5:20 PM MST
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Source: University of Arizona
Source: University of Arizona

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Knocking down hoodoos. Sifting for garnets in desert sand.  It's all part of a new exhibit at Flandrau Science Center on the University of Arizona campus.  It's called 'Exploring Sky Islands'.

'Sky Islands' is a term used to describe the mountain ranges in the Basin and Range Province between the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains in the United States.

Image Source: Sky Island Alliance

Some animals and plants can't hop from one mountaintop to another because the desert is too hot and dry for the flora and fauna to survive the journey.

That's where the term 'Sky Islands' comes from.  It was originally coined in the late 1960s by Weldon Heald. He published a book called 'Sky Islands' using a drive from the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains to the top of that range to demonstrate this 'island' effect.  Now at Flandrau Science Center you can find out just how unique these islands are to the world.

Shipherd Reed with the Flandrau Science Center says there is "more diversity in the Sky Island region than anywhere else in the United States."

It's where north meets south.  Plants and animals from Mexico and Central America all the way to Canada can be found in the Sky Islands.  Even a unique mix of big cats.

"There are 4 kinds of wildcats here. There are mountain lions, jaguars, ocelots, and bobcats. There is no other place in the United States and the world where these cats exist together." says Reed.

You can learn a lot at the exhibit, but you can also do a lot.  It's a hands on exhibit for kids and adults.  You can build a hoodoo with flat foam rocks.

"Part of the fun of building a hoodoo, as any kid will tell you is knocking them down." says Reed as he knocks down his own creation.

Start a landslide with foam rocks that you must first throw to the top of the mountain.  Reed makes some baskets.  Then all you do is "pull the rope here. Boom. Down come the rocks" says Reed.

There is even an exhibit where you can learn to identify animals through their tracks (or footprints) and scat (a more scientific term for number two - and it's plastic models at the exhibit).

Hands on appreciation of the unique Sky Islands is what the exhibit is all about

To create the exhibit Flandrau Science Center partnered with the UA Geosciences Department and the Sky Island Alliance.  They were awarded a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

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