Ben Wilder, director of the Desert Laboratory, wants to create a public display of fossils, like the packrat midden he’s holding, near the facility on Tumamoc Hill.
Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star
What does it take to run one of the most anthropologically, ecologically, gastronomically and culturally important places in Tucson and beyond? Just ask Benjamin Wilder, the new director of Tumamoc Hill.
The area surrounding Tumamoc Hill is the longest continuously inhabited site in the United States, with evidence of maize cultivation from over 4,000 years ago. This was a leading factor in the UNESCO designation of Tucson as an international city of gastronomy.
The site was first studied by scientists from the Carnegie Institution in 1903 with the goal of learning how plants adapt to the arid environment. The area was purchased by the University of Arizona in 1956 and is one of the longest-running scientific observations in the world.
"The people that walk the hill today are only the most recent chapter in that history, the vantage point from this peak looking over the valley of Tucson continues to draw us up Tumamoc’s slopes," Wilder said. "Now, we have 115 years of science that is the baseline of knowledge of the Sonoran Desert.
Wilder described his new position as his dream job, and has come full circle since he began his journey at Tumamoc studying buffelgrass as an undergraduate student in 2004.
Wilder returned to UA in 2015 to work with the Consortium for Arizona and Mexico Arid Environments. In 2016 he was appointed the interim director of Tumamoc Hill. Since then, Wilder has helped create Tumamoc Tour, a free app that tells the history of the Sonoran desert through the hill, rainwater harvesting at the Tumamoc Laboratory and modern storage for important fossils that are kept at Tumamoc.
Now, as director, Wilder said he plans to upgrade old buildings, labs
Wilder is positive about the years to come for the age-old Tucson favorite, saying "the work we do here is our history, but also our future."