Rising from a sea of deserts and grasslands, Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains are what scientists call a sky island, one of 65 such isolated ranges north and south of the Mexican border and the only one with a paved road to the top.
You can get there in an hour on the Mt. Lemmon Highway, ascending some 7,000 feet through eight different ecosystems, which pack a lot of biology and more than a billion years of geology in a 25-mile trip. But if you’d rather slow down, look beyond the grand scenery, and discover what these mountains are all about, you’ll find a wealth of information and an indispensable field guide in “A Natural History of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona,” which won a Southwest Book Award in 2013.
Thursday (April 16) at 3:30 p.m., the authors, University of Arizona scientists Richard Brusca and Wendy Moore, will be at the Arizona Senior Academy to discuss the Sky Island Region, whose mountains link Mexico’s Sierra Madre and the Rocky Mountains. Arizona’s Sky Islands, they say, “are a quintessential outdoor laboratory for understanding the ecology of the Southwest.”
Their book stemmed from the ongoing research that Moore, an entomologist, and her students are conducting for the Arizona Sky Island Arthropod Project. She enlisted the help of Brusca, her husband, a research scientist in the UA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and executive director emeritus of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. In the course of their work, they took so many photos of the flora and fauna they decided to write the story of the Santa Catalinas for the people who live here.
Organized by ecosystems, each with its characteristic plants and creatures, the book is copiously illustrated with photographs and maps. Whether you’re a birder, a botanist, or a hunter of weird hoodoos, you won’t want to explore the mountains without it.
Written by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer