Studio on Tumamoc Hill at the historic Desert Lab
Studio building on Tumamoc Hill at the historic Desert Lab

This past spring, I was invited to be the artist in residence at Tumamoc Hill, “Hill of the Horned Lizard”, a Sonoran Desert preserve owned by the University of Arizona. I bought a sketchbook and dedicated it only to drawing on this hill.

This is an open ended project, but in return for use of an office here and an unpaid Research Associate position at the University, I will simply be doing whatever drawing, writing, painting, or photography occurs to me. I’ll also help with organizing a visiting artist and writers in residence program for the preserve. I also keep regular office hours and do almost all my illustration work up here above the distractions of the city. It is also a sanctuary for the mind and heart. For me, being here is like having a love affair with a place.

You can follow what I am doing on the blog, Tumamoc Sketchbook, I set up at http://TumamocSketchbook.com

There are links on the Tumamoc Sketchbook blog to more information about Tumamoc. But, briefly these are some of the items on its resume.

Old Desert Lab buildings on Tumamoc Hill
Old Desert Lab buildings on Tumamoc Hill

In 1903, the Carnegie Foundation created the Carnegie Desert Laboratory on this spot, the first research center in the world set up for the study of deserts. The hill was fenced off in 1907 to keep out cattle and now is the oldest, continuously monitored vegetation and climate site in the world. Many distinguished scientists worked out of the Carnegie lab and were influential in creating the new field called “ecology.”

Archeologists have found evidence of human habitation here for up to 5,000 years. Hohokam villages on the summit were occupied during the Early Agricultural period (500 B.C. to A.D. 1) and again during Early Ceramic times (A.D. 400 to 600). This makes the area the oldest continuously inhabited site in North America, north of Mexico City.

It’s the origin of Tucson. A unique oasis of surface water was created geologically at base of the volcanic Sentinel Peak/Tumamoc Hill complex by interruption of the groundwater flow against the dense, dark base of volcanic rock. This was the site of “KukChon” (the Indian word for “Dark Base”), the village visited by Jesuit explorer Father Kino in 1692. The settlement and Spanish mission built there eventually became the town of Tucson.

Surrounded by urban Tucson and 730 feet above the ground level at the base, Tumamoc is as intact a microcosm of the Sonoran Desert as can be maintained in a small area, and it’s especially rich in life due to the volcanic soils which hold moisture. It is the closest natural walk to urban Tucson and about 1000 people walk to the top and back daily.

Tumamoc is a sacred place to Indian Tribes such as the Tohono-O’odham and Hopis. These tribes join biologists and archeologists, as well as other scientists in wishing to protect his place from human interference to the highest extent possible.

It’s also the most beautiful commute to work I’ve ever had. I must have a view of the natural surroundings where I work. One short story–about 15 years ago I had a studio downtown in an old warehouse building. When I sat at my drawing table, I was able to see one of the peaks of the Catalina Mountains through another set of windows in the building in front of me. I was thrilled at the view.

The view here is like that wish expanded beyond my wildest imaginations at the time.

Downtown Tucson from Tumamoc Hill summit
Downtown Tucson from Tumamoc Hill summit

 

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