IMG_0060Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This place was AWESOME!!! Acres of land dedicated to the preservation of the culture and creatures of the desert. The museum boasts 21 acres, two miles of walking paths, 230 animal species, and 1,200 types of plants – very impressive! All of the plants and animals in the museum are native to the area, and I was surprised to see how varied the wildlife was. The museum is a meandering path through the desert with stops along the way such as the aviary, cactus garden, caves, and animals.

The docents were very helpful and informative and the kids were able to get their questions answered too. Most of the museum is outdoors with great viewing opportunities of bighorn sheep, beavers, otters, turtles, mountain lion, black bear, wolves, and deer. Indoors were alternate views into some of the large mammals’ outdoor habitats as well as smaller invertebrates and snakes. One of the walk-through exhibits was a cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites and an exhibit on bats. The bat exhibit included an extra set of ears for the kids to try while understanding how well bats can hear themselves, like radar.

While wandering the cactus garden we even came across a snake who had taken up residence in the desert. It didn’t seem to care that we were there, but slithered on its way. We all had fun watching it to see where it went until it curled up under a shrub.

The kids watched the docents feeding some of the animals in the Life on the Rocks area – even a pair of skunks! It was very interesting to see more snakes and (gross) big spiders on exhibit, but I was very happy they were on the other side of the glass.

Unfortunately for us, the museum is so big that we didn’t have time to see it all while we were there before it closed for the day. Highly recommended!

As the museum is only a few miles from Saguaro National Park and we had filled the kids up on ice cream, we decided to fit in a visit before dusk. The park visitor center was already closed, but with the access pass we could go right in. Huge cactus! Amazing!! The kids had been looking forward to seeing the cactus “that look like they have arms!” We drove into the park along a bumpy one-way single lane dirt road and looked out at all of the huge cactus growing as far as you could see amongst the mountain peaks. We got about a third of the way around the loop and decided it was a good time to get out and wander around along one of the paths before it got too dark. It wasn’t long on the trail before poor Cake fell and managed to get a handful of cactus prickers in her hand. Ouch! We had another talk with the kids about not picking up anything, staying away from cactus (especially the jumping cholla!), and walking slowly enough to look for rattlesnakes. Yup, rattlesnakes.

We passed another couple on the walk who said they did in fact see a rattlesnake on the path further up. So instead of there being a theoretical rattlesnake out in the desert, now it was a real thing. Have I mentioned yet that I don’t like snakes?

We continued walking along the path in awe of the size of these centenarians as the sun was setting, casting shadows across the desert. Saguaro cactus don’t grow very fast – in ten years they can grow to be an inch tall and the biggest 30+ foot saguaro cactus can be 150 to 200 years old. We found one cactus near the path that was also flowering, which attract bats because of the sweet nectar. The bats, in turn, spread the seeds around the desert to create future cactus.

We turned around and got back to the car about the time it became hard to look out for the snakes with dusk setting in. No, we didn’t see any snakes on the walk and I was happy about that. We drove along the rest of the dirt road watching the sun set against the distant mountains.