It’s no secret; I love the desert. In fact, I love it far more than I ever expected I would. So, naturally, when we heard about the Sonora Desert Museum, we had to go see it.
But wait, is it a museum?
Well, it’s kind of a loose term because 85% of it is outside and technically, I’d say it’s more of a wildlife preserve or a botanical garden. Some even call it a zoo. Heck, I don’t know. Whatever the label, there is no denying that it’s pretty awesome!
If you’re thinking the desert is a desolate, dry, ugly place, the museum will change your mind. It has an incredible collection of local landscapes, plants, and animal species.
But let me back up..
So, one sunny morning (technically that’s every morning here), we packed our stuff and headed west of Tucson to the Sonora Desert Museum.
The drive out was breathtaking! Truly; we drove through mountains of the Tucson Mountain Park and part of the Saguaro National Park on the way there and it was simply stunning – the drive alone is worth the 40-minute trip.
Upon arrival, we found a space in the parking lot and were greeted by a “Do Not Feed The Coyotes” sign.
“OK,” I thought, “this is my kind of place.” 🙂
Quick snapshot of the cool car at the entrance, stop to pay the entrance fee, and we were inside the Sonora Desert Museum.
Because we arrived just a few minutes before 10 AM, we had to rush to see the Raptor Free Flight. This was one of our must-sees for the day. It’s a seasonal (winter months through mid-April) bird of prey show.
We made it just in time, and found a good spot in the upper levels to watch the show. We were not disappointed!
Whoa! We were right next to these guys! COOL!
All birds in the show were born in captivity and they are simply amazing! The narrator explained key features about each species in the show as the birds flew around and swooped over the crowds. They even landed on the keeper’s hands to allow everyone to see them close-by.
After the show, we started walking the grounds. And, the grounds are extensive. The museum consists of 97 acres of which 47 are developed and maintained. There are 2 miles of walking paths/trails, 16 individual gardens, and over 1,200 desert plant species – all native to the Sonoran desert.
The Sonora Desert Museum’s collection of native animals includes 230 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds. My favorite was the hummingbird aviary.
I loved being surrounded by these little guys! They are quite feisty and often get right in your face and hover (a behavior we’ve been surprised by in our own neighborhood in Tucson).
Also, seeing the native animals was pretty cool. We even saw some wild ones, like a Gila Monster that decided to watch us from a rock above the Bighorn Sheep Exhibit. You can just see its head in the upper right hand of the first picture below.
Tip: If you go during the warmer months, be sure to get there early in the morning because it gets hot out there! Yep, it is the desert, after all.
In the summer months, the Sonora Desert Museum has evening hours to allow visitors to come after sundown.
The museum even has a cave. It was interesting to see and to inspect the critters.
In my opinion, spring is the best time to visit because everything is in bloom. It is so incredibly beautiful! The desert flowers have amazing colors.
When we got hungry we stopped in one of the restaurants. It’s a nice way to take a break and cool off. Prices were not too high and everything was good but lines were long.
Practical Tips For Visiting Sonora Desert Museum:
- Water Container – chilled water is provided on the grounds, but you either need to bring or purchase a container to carry it in.
- Good walking shoes – you’ll be doing a lot of walking, so be sure you wear comfortable shoes.
- Sunscreen – the sun is more intense here than anywhere else I’ve ever been. So, protect yourself with SPF 30 at minimum!
- Hat and sunglasses – again, the sun… bright, bright, bright!
All in all, we liked the Sonora Desert Museum so much, that upon exiting we turned our daily passes in and purchased a yearly pass instead.
If you’re visiting the area, I highly recommend you stop by and experience this gem. It will change your perception of the desert. For more information, including education activities, and research, check out the museum website.
See more of our American Southwest adventures!