Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Zoo in the Desert

What a crazy idea…who would put a zoo in the desert?  This was something I had to go see.  For sixty years the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has been attracting visitors to come and learn about the unique desert ecosystem and is a gem sparkling in the dry desolate western Tucson desert.  It is a delightful fusion of zoo, museum, botanical garden, art gallery, and soon to be completed aquarium. 

The drive to the museum guides you through the mountains and towering cactus of the Saguaro National Park.  The scenery is a stark contrast to our recent stop in Flagstaff where the mountains were green with coniferous trees instead of thorny cactus. 

Betsy has worked her entire career in the zoo field and visited the museum a decade or so ago so she was primed to go back.  Wow, we were pleasantly surprised!  The museum left us with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the rich flora and fauna that make up the desert biome.  If you think the desert is lacking in diversity and live critters, the museum will change your mind.  They have over 230 species of animals, 1,200 species of plants and proclaim that over 85% of what you experience is alive.  Two miles of walking paths lead you through the 21 acres where you will encounter animal exhibits, native gardens, and interpretive areas.  Eager docents are scattered about and readily point out where animals may be hiding in their exhibits and provide in-depth information for the wanting visitor. 

We loved the leisurely walk around the museum in the warm desert sun.  Many of the plants are labeled so we were trying to learn one chollo cactus from another.  All look pretty menacing, but must be spectacular when in bloom. 

Our favorite exhibit was cat canyon where we got an up-close look at a male mountain lion resting on a cool rock in the shade.  While the museum is proud of their reptile hall with over 20 types of rattlesnakes, I choose to move through there pretty quickly and, as always happens, failed to appreciate the beauty of rattlesnakes.  The hummingbird aviary was much more soothing.  We stopped for a while to watch a river otter (an odd animal to see in the desert but very entertaining nonetheless) and a coyote who was actively patrolling his enclosure.  The deer were munching on grass and the javelina resting in the shade.  One of the most interesting exhibits was the “Life Underground.”  You walk down a short ramp to see what animals live underground.  I can tell you the only “cute” thing down there was a sleeping kit fox resting comfortably in her den.  The other animals either had hundreds of legs on their hard-shelled body or 8 legs that were hairy and black.  Back to the hummingbirds!

You are greeted at the entrance by a mom and baby javelina
The overlook provides a great view of the park and surrounding mountains.
The two-mile trail winds you through the desert and provides a look back at some of the exhibits.
The saguaro cacti
The "teddy bear" chollo cacti - not the soft and fuzzy
teddy bear I had as a kid.
The art gallery features rotating exhibits and this beautifully painted horse.
A fish hook cactus


  1. We loved this zoo when we visited last January. It is so very well done, so much to see it takes multiple visits. :c)

  2. Fish hook cactus - is that their name? I've been calling them "barrels." No wonder they seemed unfriendly. "And another thing! My name is not "Barrel"!"


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