Tumamoc Hill

Home of The Desert Laboratory

TUMAMOC HILL is a unique mountain, a wild-land Sonoran Desert research preserve, historical landmark, and archaeological preserve surrounded by growing urban Tucson, Arizona. The Hill has a colorful history and has been called variously, “Tucson’s Acropolis,” “A Mecca for Botanists,” and “the Jerusalem of Desert-Rats.”

Tumamoc contains evidence of 2500 years of human habitation, was probably a cultural and religious landmark in prehistoric times, and remains a sacred site for historical indigenous people. In 1903, the Carnegie Institution of Washington established its Desert Botanical Laboratory here, the first field station dedicated to the study of deserts worldwide. Study plots created in 1906 are the world’s oldest continuously monitored ecological research plots in the world.

Today, Tumamoc is still a community icon owned and managed by the University of Arizona in cooperation with Pima County.  This highly protected 860-acre preserve is still off-limits for the public except for the single 1.5 mile road to the summit. Over 1000 people walk the route daily, for health, to socialize, the spectacular views, and the unique experience of an intact natural environment two miles from downtown.

Paul Mirocha

Artist in Residence 2012-

ALL THE PHOTOGRAPHS on this site are from Tumamoc Hill, a Sonoran Desert ecological preserve in Tucson, Arizona. The images are part of a creative assignment I gave myself—to limit my artistic work to one small, 860-acre place. By doing that, I am able to learn about the site in more depth, and form a unique relationship with it. I call this approach “place-based” or “site-based” work.

Early ecologists working at the Carnegie Desert Botanical Laboratory, established on Tumamoc in 1903, defined the landscape itself as their laboratory. Scientists have monitored the landscape here for over 100 years to study climate and vegetation change. I read the science and add to it by documenting the beauty of the place as well as the ecology.

I started this work in 2011, when I was given a studio on the Hill and unique access to the scientists and environment there. As artist-in-residence, I am sponsored by Tumamoc: People and Habitats, a division of the University of Arizona’s College of Science. My project is to observe and document a wild landscape surrounded by a growing urban environment.

—Paul Mirocha