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PHOENIX (Desert Botanical Garden) - The temperatures are on the rise, and summer is almost here. For many in Phoenix, aka the Valley of the Sun, that means retreating indoors to escape our brutal desert heat. But there’s a way to enjoy the great outdoors without roasting. It’s called Flashlight Nights, and it’s the perfect way to enjoy the unique beauty of our Sonoran Desert in a whole new light.
“I find that evening and nighttime in the desert is such a special time to be out,” said Andrew Cipriano, the senior director of education at the Garden. “There’s a magic to being in the desert at night that’s indescribable.”
“Kids love to be able to engage with the nighttime creatures and see what comes out at night,” he continued. “They get such a thrill out of being out in nature at nighttime.”
Now when Andrew says “kids,” he also means “kids at heart.” Flashlight Nights has been a favorite of Garden guests of all ages for years. Andrew says there’s something for everyone.
“There are things that are fun for 2-year-olds. There are things that are fun for 12-year-olds. There are things that are fun for 20-year-olds,” he said. “We see a lot of couples who come out on dates in the summer – without children.”
It’s common to see birds and animals at Desert Botanical Garden, but they’ll have some special guests during Flashlight Nights. The Phoenix Herpetological Society brings out their lizards, snakes, and other reptiles. Liberty Wildlife shows off their fan-favorite owls, as well.
“Last summer, they had a pygmy owl and a screech owl, and they were absolutely adorable,” Andrew said.
One activity that’s particularly popular at Flashlight Nights is the Scorpion Station. Two words: Black. Light. Rave-ready scorpions glow a bright blue-green under ultraviolet light like black lights and natural moonlight, which is reflected sunlight. You have to see it. It’s creepy cool, and a bit of mystery.
Scientists don’t know precisely why scorpions fluoresce, but they have some theories. Whether it protects them from sunlight, helps them find each other, or is a mechanism to confuse their prey, it’s just neat to see. And perfectly safe. Scorpions are venomous, but the guys at the Scorpion Stations will be in tanks so that you won’t meet the telson (business end) of a metasoma (tail). Translation: Nobody will get stung.
Look to the stars
Flashlight Nights is more than the flora and fauna of the desert. It’s also the perfect opportunity to do some stargazing.
“We bring out the telescopes so we can really see the night sky,” Andrew said. Nestled in Papago Park, Desert Botanical Garden is somewhat removed from most of the city’s light pollution. The view is incredible.
“It just blows you away,” Andrew said. “Because we’re Desert Botanical Garden, there has always been a focus on the plants and animals, but we realize that everyone’s fascinated with space. We have such a unique opportunity to be able to look at the night sky from here.”
All the things
Flashlight Nights has a festival-type atmosphere with arts and crafts, various performers, and an indoor market featuring local vendors with all kinds of natural products. There’s also a cash bar, food trucks, and what would a night in the desert be without that quintessential summer dessert? Yes, we’re talking about s’mores.
Flashlight Nights is the kind of fun evening entertainment that’s difficult to work in during the busy school year. Summer is the perfect time to slow down and smell the roses … or in this case, the desert sage.
Flashlight Nights runs all summer, but one of the best things about it is that it’s different every time you visit.
“There’s no way to see it all in one night because the Garden is a big place, and it’s spread across different trails. It’s an amazing experience,” Andrew said. “There are new performances throughout the summer, new art experiences, different creatures on feature.”
You’ve never seen the Garden like this!
“I’ve visited the Garden with Phoenix friends several times. We love it. It’s ‘the’ Arizona thing to do, and it’s always incredible. But at night? It’s a completely different world when the sun goes down,” said out-of-town visitor Alison Silvas. She and her husband experienced Flashlight Nights last summer. “The only word I can think of is ‘enchanting.’ I can’t wait to go back.”
Flashlights Nights is 6:30-9:30 p.m. every Saturday, June 3-Sept. 2, except July 1. (The Garden will be closed July 1-7.) It’s included with general admission, which is $16.95, and free for Garden members.
You’ll need to bring your own flashlight(s); make sure to check the batteries. You’ll also want to bring a refillable water bottle. The temperatures will still be in the mid- to upper 90s. Hydration is essential!
The sun sets at about 7:30 p.m. in June, 7:40 p.m. in July, and 7:25 p.m. in August, but there is plenty to do and see before the sun goes down - rain or shine.