A city girl in the desert

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I am what most people would call a city girl. I was born in Baltimore, raised in D.C. and now live in Brooklyn. I can navigate concrete extremely well. Taking public transportation, check. Walking long city blocks, no problem. But falling rocks and desert trails? Not so much.

Now don’t get me wrong — I’ve traveled outside the United States and spent childhood summers far south of the Mason Dixon. I’ve been west of the Mississippi, but San Francisco is no Tucson. Not even close.

So my first story outside the newsroom required me to travel to a desert museum. Now, I grew up in D.C., so I’ve been to plenty of museums. But one in the desert? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Driving out to the desert, city blocks gave way to mountain ranges, and stoplights were replaced by “deer crossing” signs. The highway wound its way though the terrain — on my left, a mountain, on my right, certain death if I were to veer off that road.

When I arrived at the museum, a sign warned, “Don’t feed the coyotes.” Coyotes? I like my animals in cages in the zoo and properly labeled. (j/k) I quickly realized we’re not in Kansas anymore, although I am closer to it than I’ve ever been in my life.

It’s hard to explain exactly what a desert museum is, but essentially, it’s an outdoor exhibition of desert and plant life. Honestly, it’s charged admission to explore the desert. You pay, hand in your ticket and walk around outside. But it’s worth it.

As I meandered throughout the desert, desperately seeking sources, I found myself getting distracted time and time again by the scenery. I mean, I was in the desert, in Arizona, looking at Pumas, prairie dogs, Bighorn Sheep and the like. That’s good stuff.

I wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion, as more than one visitor gave my shoes the concerned once-over, but I was able to navigate those trails with relative ease. Sure, I got lost a time or two and found myself without the recommended essentials (hat, water, repellent), but like any good city girl, I was able to figure it out. And I had a good time exploring the desert, even if I had great difficulty working in it.

Driving back, I kept thinking about how amazing the experience was. In the distance, I could see more mountains, unobstructed by tall buildings or billboards. I rolled my window down and breathed in the air, unpolluted by smog. It was beautiful.

I have traveled to different countries throughout the world and have been amazed by the cultures, the scenes and the landscape, enthralled by the newness of it all. But I forget, like many people, that I can discover and be amazed by new places right here in the U.S. I was reminded of that on Saturday, and Tucson, I am very grateful.

— Arcynta Ali Childs

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