Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Tucson, Arizona
June 2008

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is located on 21 acres of prime Sonoran Desert, a few miles west of the city of Tucson.


It feels much larger than the 21 acres because it lies within Tucson Mountain Park, a 20,000 acre natural preserve. The Museum opened to the public in 1952. The collections concentrate on the natural history of the Sonoran Desert region.

scenic view

Most people think of this place as a zoo, and in many ways it is. There are great displays of animals native to the Sonoran desert. In general, I don’t think of zoos as public gardens although many have excellent collections of plants. Usually the plant collections just serve as a backdrop to the animals, or as ornamentation along the trails. I admit this is an over-generalization, but I think it is true. At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the plants really share top billing with the animals because so much of the interpretation is based on the interaction of plants and animals, particularly pollination.

Pollination sign

The paths are well-laid out and wander through beautiful natural Sonoran desert vegetation, with interpretive signs scattered here and there.

view of trail

There are also nicely planted and interpreted beds in many areas. The emphasis is on plant/animal interactions. One area is this 'Nightlife Garden',
featuring plants pollinated by moths.

nightlife garden

A great low-tech exhibit is this Agave shawii with a piece of PVC pipe next to it. The pipe is marked with the height the flower stalk has reached on certain dates. Sort of like marking a door jamb with kids heights, only the agave stalk grows at an amazing rate.

Agave shawii

There are spectacular plants, like this Erythrina, around every bend,


and the views of the Sonoran Desert are amazing.

desert view

Most people come here to see the animals, but the plants are worth a trip themselves. I wish the garden did a better job of labeling individual plants. They have a rich collection of Sonoran Desert plants, especially cacti and agaves, but outside of the Cactus Garden it's difficult to find labels on any plants. On the other hand, very few gardens do as good a job with interpretive signage. There are a number of panels about pollination and all are interesting and informative.

This is a great place to vist, for the plants and the animals. Also, the drive out from the city of Tucson is one of the most spectacular drives I've ever taken.

To see more photos of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, click here.
Click here to visit the official website of the Desert Museum.

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