The Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum located at 2021 N Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ is an interactive unique experience. On 98 acres of land of which 21 acres are publicly accessible, this encompassing museum features a zoo, an aquarium, a botanical garden, a natural history museum as well as an art gallery. The non-profit museum serves as an educational and research center for conservational science in a quest to preserve and protect the Sonoran Desert. Hosting nearly a half million visitors a year, the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum is open year-round, offering a plethora of events, shows, special exhibits as well as interactive experiences for everyone.
Over 230 animal species, along with 1200 varieties of plants make their home on the grounds of the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum which was founded in 1952. The museum was founded on the idea of interpreting the complete natural history of a single region, in this case the Sonoran Desert. Inspired by William H. Carr, who is credited with the founding of the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum and supported by Arthur Pack, a conservationist who was the heir to the founder of Nature Magazine, the museum continues to perform a vital outreach in preserving the Sonora Desert.
Supported by membership fees, admissions and donations, the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum is recognized as the #2 attraction in Tucson and ranked in the top 25 museums of the United States. The desert botanical gardens are an integral part of the museum experience and separately recognized as one of the top five public gardens in the United States by Tripadvisor 2018.
Since 1952, the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum has continued to expand. The latest addition opened in April 2018 is Packrat Playhouse. Here kids of all ages can climb on huge prickly pear pads and giant rattlesnakes and gila monsters which were made at the desert museum. Wall graphics painted by Joe Pagac.
At the Stingray Touch exhibit you can actually touch a stingray! Why have a stingray exhibit in the desert? Because of the close relationship between the Sonoran Desert and the Sea of Cortez the Sonoran Desert is known as “the lushest desert on earth”. Stingrays are important to the Gulf of California.
The very popular Hummingbird Aviary is a great place to sit and enjoy being surrounded by so many varieties of hummingbirds.
Walk-in Aviary houses native birds found in the Sonoran Desert area
In a building that dates to 1937 visitors will find an exhibit that features native reptiles including a variety of rattlesnakes, spiders, scorpions, beetles, walking sticks, along with grasshoppers.
In Cat Canyon, small cats are the focus, bobcats and ocelots are viewed in their natural grotto settings. Moving onto the Desert Grasslands exhibits visitors are treated to natural replications of grassland habitats that feature soap tree yuccas, desert grasses and succulents that are an integral part of desert life.
A highlight of a visit to the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum is the Life Underground exhibit, where visitors walk below ground through a tunnel to view the vibrant daily life below the arid desert. Here visitors can get a first hand look at how the kit fox, kangaroo rat and the ringtail are able to make their home in the grueling desert heat.
Vulture selfie station
The Riparian Corridor which features changing exhibits highlights animals such as the river otter, bighorn sheep, beavers, native fish as well as toads, dragonflies and snails, an amazing collection of living species not often associated with desert life.
Outdoors, The Desert Loop Trail is a half mile walk that puts a visitor in the heart of the desert. Along the walk which is separated by an almost invisible fiber fencing one can experience a closeup look of the natural habitats of the javelinas, coyotes and lizards that call the desert home.
The Mountain Woodland Exhibit is a Mexican Pine Oak Woodland Habitat creation of the nearby mountain ranges where the inhabitants include cougars, white-tailed deer, turkeys, brown bear and wolves.
Your visit continues with the artificially created Earth Sciences Center Cave for a look at the ecological wonders that exist in caves.
During your visit, stop at any Docent station where trained volunteer naturalist offer animal presentations explanations and interactions with the habitants of the desert. The Museum also features daily raptor birds of prey presentations.
When you think you have seen it all at the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum, there is more. Don’t forget the Art Gallery with a permanent collection as well as the Ironwood Gallery which features temporary exhibits.
The Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum offers an extensive digital library, educational outreach programs and a community educational program dubbed the Desert Ark Program.
Chef Weston Holland is a remarkable self-taught chef now responsible for all the food venues at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
You’re sure to be searching for food during your stay at the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum. Ironwood Terraces is a multi-station food court that offers complete menu selections for everyone, including a children’s menu. Hours and selections change with the season, but it is open every day. Snacks throughout the day are available at The Cottonwood, while Phoebe’s Coffee Bar features hot and cold beverages, sandwiches, pastries, ice cream and snacks.
Complete sit-down full-service lunch and dinner meus are offered at the Ocotillo Café with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. Reservations are not required but are recommended, especially for larger parties.
Chef selections offered at Ocotillo Café include salads, soups, fish, beef, chicken dishes with locally sourced compliments all with a desert inspired presentation. Exciting creations on the menu now include the Grilled Carnitas & Green Chile Sandwich, Baja Ceviche, Topopo Salad and Prickly Pear Sorbet.
We loved the selection Chef Weston prepared for us:
Sonoran Harvest Board
Cactus Fries – Fried nopal strips with red pepper remoulade and lemon
Mesquite Smoked Beef Short Rib with roasted tomato demi-glace, avocado smashed potatoes and roasted bell peppers
Chili-Agave Glazed Salmon with poblano-lime rice and calabacitas
Grilled Angel Food Cake with mixed berry whipped cream and roasted pineapple
Thank you Stacy for taking good care of us at the Ocotillo Cafe
Story by Daniel Dachille and Laine Page
Some photos courtesy of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum