Science at Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, Arizona

Hello everyone! I am currently in a multimedia class for my journalism degree and I produced this video about Tumamoc Hill, a small little hill located southwest of downtown Tucson. The video is a little rough around the edges and my camera isn’t the best at video, but I’m still learning. I’ve also written a conjoining story to go along with the video, in case you want to know more about the hill. The story covers everything from history to current science to how the public uses the hill for recreational uses.

Life at Tumamoc Hill

Videography and editing by Emmalee Mauldin

Life at Tumamoc Hill

by Emmalee Mauldin

Did you know that Tumamoc Hill has had people walking on it for over 4,000 years? That’s what Benjamin Wilder, director of the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, wants hill visitors to know.

“Tumamoc Hill, that physical entity, is an incredibly important archeological and cultural site going back thousands of years,” Wilder said to a group of science journalism students at the University of Arizona on Monday.

Today, Tumamoc Hill is an 860-acre ecological reserve located southwest of downtown Tucson, Ariz., with nearly 20 ongoing scientific projects taking place on the hill. It is owned and operated by the University of Arizona’s College of Science as a partnership with Pima County. Its continued environmental studies have made it a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

In 1903 it was first established as the Tumamoc Desert Laboratory and was the first (and now the oldest) restoration ecology project. Because of the Desert Laboratory, ecology as a science was established.

Since the Desert Laboratory has studied the desert environment for over 100 years, it allows scientists to look at how the landscape continues to change throughout the decades and notice ecological trends.

“It’s that long term approach that is essentially gold in ecology,” Wilder said.

Take, for example, the saguaro cactus. Saguaros require specific environmental conditions, like summer rain and sunny days, in order to germinate and sprout seedlings. These conditions might only happen once every two to three decades, which is why visitors might see a field of saguaros roughly the same size, Wilder said. This germination process is one of the major findings from the research conducted at Tumamoc Hill.

Along with establishing ecology as a discipline and studying saguaro germination, Tumamoc research discovered how plants are turning nocturnal in desert landscapes by becoming inactive during hot, sunny days as a way to lose less water. Other research highlights how mass extinction of megafauna was caused by the growth of humanity’s presence on the planet.

All of this research comes at a cost, and Wilder joked about his budget for the Desert Laboratory.

“What is our budget? Well, it’s about the same as it was in 1906, not adjusted for inflation. It was $10,000 and we’re just a little bit better than that now,” Wilder said.

Wilder’s $10,000 budget must pay for basic hill operations and maintenance for the older (historic) buildings. Wilder is one of the only full-time Tumamoc Hill employees, with a few part-time employees and many more volunteers. Much of Tumamoc Hill’s outside money comes from small grants for projects like the agave heritage garden.

“People forget how powerful little seed grants can be,” Wilder said about his use of smaller grants as proof of concept work as director of the laboratory.

The hill is open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. for approximately 1,000 visitors every day, many of whom use the hill for exercise.

What Wilder hopes to promote amongst the walkers is public land stewardship because “we have not been the best stewards of the land,” Wilder said.

Wilder explained that while 99 percent of the walkers are “fantastic” and stay on the path and do not go over the fence at the top of the hill, there is one percent of people who do not.

“It takes one person five minutes to erase a millennia of history,” Wilder said.

To promote public engagement with the science on the hill, Wilder and his team completed several small projects to publicize the science. On the walk up the hill, there are small signs with fun facts about the hill and local flora or fauna. Wilder and his team developed a downloadable phone application of a virtual tour of the hill. There are several citizen science projects that allow visitors to help scientists observe the environment, such as animal citing’s. In the future, Wilder hopes to build a visitor center at the base of Tumamoc Hill.

“What I desperately want is to help support a sense of stewardship amongst the community – that each one of us are responsible for taking care of Tumamoc,” Wilder said.


For more information about Tumamoc Hill, check out their website!


Thank you for reading! Have you ever visited Tumamoc Hill? What is your favorite fact about Tumamoc? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!




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