The Desert Museum is a must-see on your Tucson to-do list, or even your Arizona visitor to-do list.
Have you ever been to a city and gone to a typical tourist attraction - and been disappointed with it? I know it's happened to us! We don't think you'll find that happening to you here. It's such a great place, we know you'll love it!
The location is in Tucson Mountain Park. A very scenic drive, in the mountains to the West of downtown Tucson. Desert Museum is actually just a short-cut way of saying the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Most locals just refer to it this way.
OPEN EVERY DAY
ENTRANCE RATE - General Admission: $20.50
Arizona Residents - Be sure to have your driver's license, or ID card. $5 discount for those over 12 years of age. Other discounts available...
MEMBERSHIP AVAILABLE - Various membership levels available, including the Children's Coati Club. For details, and member benefits - Click Here
Various pathways are available as you enter. Docent volunteers at the front help you organize your day. Planned events are always available, so it helps to know where to access them, and plan your route.
Get your handy map for planning. We use our desert museum map some of the time. After going there somewhat frequently, you get a handle on the lay-out.
We use the map for fine-tuning routes to specific areas. For instance we used it to efficiently get directly to the Raptor Free Flight at the appointed time.
Take advantage of the orientation, just to the right after you enter - check with the docent. Free docent-led tours are also available.
We suggest you start your way around by going to the left. Particularly a good idea if you start out in the warmer months, at opening time. Then by the time it's heated up, you'll be at the indoor areas (most of the Desert Museum is outdoors - more than 3/4).
See lots of Arizona desert flora & fauna at the Desert Museum. Other Desert Biomes are covered as they relate to desert plants:
Walk East on the pathway, you'll arrive at the Hummingbird enclosure. A super place to spend a little time. These little flyers are sooo delightful! Even if you're not a passionate Birder - you'll likely still enjoy the experience.
Just sit on a bench for a bit. One or two - maybe more - will flit by your head! You'll hear it buzz by. It may hover right in front of you! We love just sitting there. It's relaxing and exciting at the same time. The enclosure is their perfect and happy habitat - providing them everything.
Quite a variety of the birds are in there. 8 species in all! Learn why Arizona is an ideal place to see so many of them!
Certain types of plants attract them - they need to fuel up on their nectar. They're particularly attracted to red. But they're also carnivores, and feed on insects.
A Desert Museum docent is available in the enclosure to answer your questions. They'll also point out nests - so tiny! An interesting fact is the hummers incorporate spider webs into their construction. It helps as glue for cementing it together!
This successful habitat for the hummingbirds is quite a community. The Desert Museum literature points out that 102 baby hummingbirds have successfully hatched and lived, from 114 nests. It's the most successful hummingbird program of its kind.
Continue along after your visit with the Hummingbirds. You'll arrive at the aviary. There's a running stream inside. A lot of doves reside there, some ducks and song-birds. Watch for glimpses of the native Gamble's quail. The educational material on the Desert Museum website states there's about 20 different species at any one time inside.
One of the best features in the aviary is: Get an up-close and personal visit with a road runner! I think she (or maybe he - their feathers and coloring are the same) likes to pose for visitors! We love seeing her, as she has such personality!
Shortly after leaving the aviary, the pathway intersects with the Desert Loop Trail. See all the types of desert areas - plants and animals when you take this trail. Experience it for yourself. It's not a very long hike - but there are loads of things to see! Come along...
There's so much to see - you can pace yourself. Enjoy your day. Allow at least 3 hours to see the Desert Museum. But we recommend the whole day. Catch the demos and Live Animal presentations going on during the day. Make your schedule to fit them in! Then continue your self-tour.
That's what we love to do. And even though we've been there before - there's always something new to see. Plus there's always something we'd enjoy seeing again! For instance, the hummingbirds! And the Raptor Free Flight! Enthralling!
Other specialty exhibits feature animals and educational features of the different Desert Biomes, including Mountain Islands. These Sky Islands are unique features of certain areas of the American Southwest and into Northern Mexico.
Elevations stack climactic zones which reflect areas reaching from as far south as Mexico to as far north as Canada. Yet it occurs in just one area of a mountain range. You travel from the desert floor to an elevation as high as about 1200 ft. You'll pass climates that hold plants and animals of these different climate zones - all in the space of a few hours!
A prime example of this is Mount Lemmon, on the Northeast side of Tucson. On your visit to Tucson, reserve a day for a drive up there. It's another essential stop!
Prepare yourself for the desert sun. Ramadas, resting spots, shady areas, and indoor exhibits are scattered around to help you out. Grab a bite to eat, or a snack.
A full service restaurant is there at the Desert Museum, as well as snack bars, a quick-grill and a coffee shop. Drinking fountains are provided for your healthful convenience. Some are specialized to fill your own water container. Plastic water bottles are not sold at the museum.
Other animals that call Arizona their home, can range through a number of climate habitat zones. They can be seen here at the Desert Museum.
The fossil record shows that the horse genus Equus lived on the American continent over 2 million years ago. They disappeared in North America by migrating to Asia - apparently over the land bridge in Alaska at that time.
On his second trip to the Americas, Columbus brought Spanish horses, E. caballus. Descendents of these horses are those we're familiar with today - escapees from the European immigrants. Spreading out, many roamed the plains of the West. [Downer, C.C.; doi: 10.11648]
Today the wild horses still live out West, called Mustangs, and are a controversial feature. Arizona has 2 herds in Western Arizona managed by the BLM. There's also a Mustang herd in the lower Salt River Valley managed by a nonproft group: Salt River Wild Horse Management Group - More Here>
All along the pathways you'll find explanatory signs pointing out the plants you're observing. Or maybe just giving you a little bit of background about the usefulness of the flora and fauna. It could be showing you how the different plant and animal species interact and/or cooperate.
All to help your understanding of the desert environment. As many times as we've been there - we still learn something else every time. These signs are so helpful, as are the explanations given by the Docents!
You'll love this! It's a must see! When we get to this demo, we stay for both shows. 10 a.m. & 2 p.m.
The morning flight is usually less crowded. This event is seasonal, from mid October through late March. If you're at the Desert Museum in this time frame - do not miss it!
The birds seen are varied at each event, so that mixes it up. The birds are all native to the Sonoran Desert. That includes the Harris Hawk - which has expanded its region northward from Mexico in recent years. However, since they're real animals acting in a natural environment - nothing is absolute!