Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

2021 N. Kinney Rd.; Tucson, AZ
520-883-2702  ♦  Website  ♦ Grounds Map

My visit: April 3, 2017 (Click pictures for full size)

From the time I first arrived in the Tucson area for my stay at Catalina State Park, I was told by friends not to miss this museum.  As usual, I say that museums are just not at the top of the list of must-sees for me because I prefer more natural, outdoorsy attractions.

Sonora Desert Museum

But when I learned that 85% of this 21 acre property is outdoors, with two miles of walking trails and is described as a desert wonderland where you can view all kinds of plants and animals found in the Sonoran desert, I was really happy when I was invited there as a guest of one of the members.

Me & Dick at Sonora Desert Museum

I met Dick a few weeks before at the visitor center of the east side Saguaro National Park. He is a volunteer there and when I told him I was going to be writing about the national park and my stay at Catalina State Park and nearby attractions, he agreed that this museum is one of the top attractions in Arizona and should be included. I always appreciate the kindness of strangers – and the opportunities to become friends with people who share my love of travel and nature. Dick used to travel by RV, too, and we all know RVers are the friendliest of folks!  🙂  Aren’t the lushly blooming ocotillo an amazing contrast against that unbelievably blue sky?

Desert Garden Path

My favorite part turned out to be the stroll through the desert garden.

Desert Garden

It was great timing for a visit since not only was the weather not as unseasonably hot as it had been, the blooms all along the path were breathtakingly beautiful.

Collage - Desert Flowers

To see such delicate and fragile looking beauty emerge from hardy plants in such a harsh environment seems nothing short of miraculous to me.

Crested Saguaro

This is called a Crested Saguaro.  I thought it was really neat, but I didn’t realize at the time how rare this development is until I saw another one at Sabino Canyon with this explanation:  “Occasionally a saguaro will vary from the normal growth pattern and develop unique and sometimes grotesque growth patterns. These are called crested or cristate saguaros and really are quite rare. Though this growth is the matter of great curiosity, to date no one knows exactly the cause of it. Many theories have been proposed including viruses, genetics, lightening, frost, microscopic insects and abnormal lateral growth tip division. However none of these have been confirmed.”

I always appreciate rebels and unexplained weirdness, so I was glad to meet him!

Collage - Sonora desert animals

Another thing I’ve frequently said about zoos is that it makes me sad to see animals penned up, but at least the enclosures for the animals here are large and more natural than you see in regular zoos. While I wouldn’t have wanted to meet any of these in the wild, I was especially glad I didn’t see that rattlesnake on the path!

There were other animals I would have really liked to see, like the bears, bobcat and ocelot, but they were in hiding when we passed by, unfortunately.

Deer in desert

But it doesn’t take exotic animals to make me happy. Since deer are my favorite animal, when I saw this beauty, I laughed out loud since she stuck out her tongue at me.  In deer speak, that means she loves me too!

Baby bighorn sheep

One of the biggest thrills was getting to see the baby bighorn sheep who had just been born 10 days before! Mama is tending to her here, and it was fun watching her prancing around up and down the rocks.

Baby & Daddy Bighorn Sheep

Like any little girl, she really looks up to her daddy!

Hummingbirds

At the entrance to the Hummingbirds area, I read that the Sonoran Desert region is host to more species of hummingbirds than any area in the United States.  I would have never guessed that!  It’s nice that there are volunteer docents roaming the grounds or I would have never seen this mama on her sweet little nest without it being pointed out. How many times can you see that?! I wish my pictures would have come out crisper, but I also loved catching the psychedelic purple on this little dude on a rare moment of sitting still.

Blue Lizard

A blue lizard?!

Tips & More Info:

Since the majority of this museum is outdoors, be sure to plan accordingly. The sun and heat can be daunting, so don’t forget to wear sunscreen, a hat and comfy shoes.  There are places to get water, but I always like to bring my own to keep constantly hydrated without having to look for it. There is really nothing else nearby as far as restaurants or stores, so either pack your lunch or there are a couple of places to eat and get snacks within the complex (see Dining & Snacking at the Desert Museum).  We had burgers & fries at the Cottonwood Snack Shop which were pretty good and offered a welcome break and air conditioning.

Desert Museum overview

Don’t think of this as a short day. We were there from about 9:30 a.m. to about 3:30 that afternoon and I just couldn’t go anymore. We caught most of the exhibits, but I don’t think all of them and didn’t walk around outside as much as we could have.  See map and plan to have fun!

Open every day year around, but according to their FAQs, the high temperature of 117° has been reached more than once, and I just can’t imagine visiting on those days!

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  • Richard Shattuck

    Great photos, Malia. You really captured this entire day!

    • Thanks to you for the invite, Dick. That finally pushed me to make it over there!

  • Sharon Penney-Morrison

    Oh my gosh! I love the photos and the real life you captured on film. I am not a desert fan, but this is one I will have to visit. Great article Malia.

    • Such a nice comment – thanks! That’s why I emphasized I was resistant to going here at first, too. At first I said I was not usually a museum fan because I wanted to be outdoors more. When I was told it was mostly outdoors, I then said that I wasn’t the desert’s biggest fan, either. Love it when I can be proved wrong in this way! LOL

  • J.C. Webber III

    Did you not catch the Redtail Hawk show?!?!?!

    • Oh, believe me, I was so disappointed they weren’t doing them at all the day we were there!

  • LoriLuke Kelley

    Oh my! I am so going to plan on visiting here! Although I will make sure I visit on cooler days. Great photos ! I can’t wait to see this place IRL

    • I definitely agree to go in cooler weather – I just could not imagine walking around that desert in some of the temps I’ve seen around here!

  • Colleen Phipps

    The Desert Museum really is a wonderful place to visit. I could have spend many more hours there. Lots of walking. I especially loved the hummingbird area….unusual to be so close to them with them watching you as well as you watching them. Definitely better to go when it is cooler.

    • I’ve never heard a bad thing from anyone who has visited – always hear it’s a lot of walking and the best advice is to go when the temps are not crazy hot! 😉

  • Janice Williford Evans

    The Sonoran Desert Museum was one of our favorite things in the Tucson Area.

    The Raptors exhibition was really great. . .glad you went and had a great tour guide.

    • Yes, I’m really glad I went, too, and it was great with a member who knew the huge area well. But it was totally disappointing that the raptors exhibition was closed for the summer already!

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