Jul 28

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

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The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, located in Tucson Arizona, is truly a unique place because it is actually three first rate attractions in one place.   It is a combination of a zoo, natural history museum, and a botanical garden all rolled up into one great experience.  Each unique part of the museum shows the variations that are desert ecology, and each part could be its own museum.
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This place is massive.  The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum has two miles of walking paths on 98 acres with the majority of its attractions outside.  So, make sure you know what the weather is going to be like as it is an important factor of your visit.  On my way to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum I ran into a slight snow shower and when I pulled into the parking lot there were two other cars.  I was thinking ‘this is not going to be good’.  In fact when I walked up to the ticket counter the lady was kind of shocked that I was there.  But since this was my last day in Tucson, I was not going to miss out on seeing this famous museum.   She was very helpful and said she did not think the weather was going to hold out for very long so if I wanted to she recommended that I hang out in the reptile house, which is one of the only enclosed buildings on the grounds.  Luckily the weather did hold and it ended up being a wonderful day.

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The botanical gardens are desert flora with the saguaros and other cacti, some desert blooming flowers that attract plenty of bird species including humming birds.  I really felt more like I was in a park than a museum.  I was surprised to learn that cacti are the third most popular plant among gardeners and plant collectors, surpassed only by roses and orchids.  Cacti are one of the reasons tourists visit the American southwest, which might help contribute to the reason that a half a million people a year visit this museum.  Their Cactus Gardens, Desert Garden, and Pollination Gardens are all worth a visit.  

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Besides having wonderful gardens for its visitors to see the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum also has some world-class animal exhibits.  Each animal that calls this desert museum home is natural to the area and the exhibits are done so well it seemed like I was truly seeing them in the wild.  Some of the animals that a visitor can see here include a variety of reptiles, the Mexican wolf, black bears, javelinas, otters, and bighorn sheep. 

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I was impressed with several of their animal exhibits, but the two that stand out the most to me were their mountain lion area and the hummingbird aviary.  Karen and I have been to several zoos, you can check out our reviews of each zoo we have visited by clicking here, but we have never seen a hummingbird aviary before or a mountain lion exhibit as good as this one.  I just wish I had my new camera when I was here because it was amazing to see that many hummingbirds in one place at one time.  I could spend all day just in that spot taking pictures. 

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The zoo and botanical part of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum would be enough to leave any visitor satisfied but what pushes it over the top is its wonderful museum exhibits that explain the ecology of the area.  There is an artificial cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites, a room that explains volcanic eruptions, and one of the finest regional mineral collections in the world.  This place does a great job explaining how the earth’s surface is not stagnant but behaves like it is a living creature, constantly changing and forming new habitats which has resulted in such a diverse planet where every corner of it holds something marvelous and unique. 

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The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is truly a must see.  It made my whole trip to the Tucson area worthwhile, and worth going back to see again.  They did such a good job with the layout of the museum that it feels like everything is in its natural habitat and as if I was taking a walk through a natural area instead of a zoo/garden/museum.  It is great place to learn all about the southwestern desert landscape of the United States because after one visit here a person would leave with cave-exploring experience, seeing desert wildlife, knowing all about the different minerals that can be found in the desert, and seeing just about every kind of cactus the Sonora Desert has. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is a great place to go and I highly recommend it.   

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Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Located at 2021 North Kinney Road, Tucson
Hours of Operation – October through February 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. March and September 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and June through August – Sunday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Cost as of this Posting -  September through May $14.50 for Adults and $4.50 for children aged 6 to 12 and June through August $12.00 for Adults and $3.00 for children aged 6 to 12
For more information visit their website at http://www.desertmuseum.org/
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  1. rprawdzik

    Thanks for visiting and thanks for such a wonderful review! I just wanted to mention for those who might read this and plan a future visit, the Museum’s Raptor Free Flight program runs from Oct. 20, 2012 through April 14, 2013. I believe this is the only birds of prey show in the U.S. that flies birds in the open desert completely untethered – sometimes even without leg rings! And in December 2012, the Museum will open its new Warden Aquarium – featuring the desert rivers and animals that live in them as well as the Sea of Cortez, its sea life and impact of its moisture (monsoon rain) that makes the desert what it is.

    You mentioned the hummingbird aviary and I wanted to share that what makes it such a special experience is how intimate it is. The birds dart past so close you can feel the air from their wings. And in breeding season, the nests are close enough to the paths that visitors can sneak peeks at the babies.

    For a more “up close and personal” tour – check our the Keeper Tours available which are listed on thew webiste: desert museum.org

    1. Kenny and Karen

      It was a wonderful visit and we will go back anytime we are in the Tucson area. Looking forward to seeing the new Warden Aquarium if it is like everything else you have there it will be first-rate.

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