The Nature Center is a hidden gem of Tanque Verde Ranch. With one of our naturalists, experience the desert’s most exciting discoveries of creatures that crawl, slither, run, and soar across the arid terrain. Marcia, Janys, Carl, and Rick are available to answer your questions and lead you on small journeys of discovery. Each of these naturalists shares an abundance of knowledge of life in the desert with our guests. The nature staff can teach about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert and give you a hands-on experience with walks in the desert and discussions in a room full of nature displays. Currently, the Nature Center holds twelve snakes, three tarantulas, and two scorpions; two of the snakes are taken out for safe human interaction. In front of the Nature Center is a patio that allows guests to sit around and enjoy the dancing hummingbirds around their feeders and flowers.
One of the naturalists, Rick, first came to the Tanque Verde Ranch Nature Center in late 2006. His main careers were law enforcement with the Tucson Police Department and wildland fire management with the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. When a former naturalist at Tanque Verde Ranch retired, Marcia, supervisor and lead naturalist at the Nature Center, asked Rick if he would take the position. For a few years, Rick worked at the ranch while also responding to wildland fires and other incidents all over the country. Drawing on these experiences and a lifetime spent outdoors, he enjoys sharing the wonders of the desert with our guests.
Rick remembers a woman from England trying to get pictures of the hummingbirds at the feeder in front of the Nature Center. “She was standing back a distance, waiting for the birds to approach. To get some good pictures for her, I moved her up close, placed the feeder in the hands of her eight-year-old daughter and stood back while she snapped picture after picture of the birds perched in her daughter’s hands.”
Activities with Rick
When visiting the ranch you can expect activities with Rick outdoors as well as at the Nature Center. Take a cactus walk where you can learn of the adaptations of the desert plants or join in bird watching, whether you are a beginner or an expert. For those that do not wish to ride horses, Rick also leads a walk to the outdoor breakfast at the Homestead. On this walk, Rick provides some Indian legends, western tall-tales, and Tanque Verde Ranch history along the way. The children’s program at the Ranch visits the Nature Center every Thursday for “Rick’s Critters,” giving the children their opportunity to learn about the desert fauna.
Some interesting questions have been asked in the Nature Center. One guest asked, “How long do I have to live if a tarantula bites me?” Rick’s answer: “Tarantulas are not deadly.” Frequently people ask, “How many times a year do you have to take guests to the hospital because of a venomous snake bite?” The fact is we have been a guest ranch for over 90 years. In that time, only one person has been bitten by a rattlesnake. She didn’t see it. She stepped on it. It was a dry bite, meaning there was no venom injected into the wound. Just watch where you step.
When at the Tanque Verde Ranch, the Nature Center is a must-see. Touching and interacting with the creatures is your choice. Several people have faced their fear of snakes in the Nature Center, usually by standing and looking at them.
On one occasion, a trembling woman approached Rick with “I’ve been told you can help me with my fear of snakes.” Rick took the well-habituated gopher snake from its cage and stood on the opposite side of the room, while she remained by the front door. Throughout the afternoon Rick talked to her about snakes: their evolution, their fossil record, their functions in nature and reality as opposed to the myths and misconceptions. Every few minutes the woman took small steps closer until there were only two feet between her and Rick and she touched the snake.
As Rick noticed that the woman was calm and relaxed, he said: “hold out your hands.” Knowing what Rick was doing, she held out her rock-steady hands, palms up with confidence. She held the snake for a couple of minutes, returned the snake, thanked Rick, and then left. Before leaving the Nature Center, her husband explained that in all their married life, they had never been able to go for a picnic, go on a hike, visit a National Park, or go anywhere where she might see a snake. Rick said, “She faced her phobia… she had beaten it. All I did was talk.” The woman and her husband returned to the Nature Center before leaving the ranch. “Can you please take him out again?” she asked. She wanted to hold the snake once more.
Rick was born in Syracuse, New York. When he graduated from St. Lawrence University, his wife wanted to complete her degree at the University of Arizona. After that, they planned to return to New York and live near family. His wife obtained her degree, but moving back to New York is “still, fifty years later, on the back burner” Rick said. On days when he is not at the Ranch, you can find Rick reading, riding his motorcycle, hunting, or fishing. At home, Rick and his wife have two rescue cats that permit them to live in their house. “Remember the old saying,” Rick stated, “dogs have masters; cats have staff.”
Marcia, Carl, Janys, and Rick enjoy sharing the beauty and wonder of the desert with visitors who come to learn and to see something new. The next time you visit the ranch be sure to incorporate Nature Center activities into your schedules. You’ll be glad you did!