Unless you’ve driven across them, it’s hard to comprehend how vast the deserts of the American Southwest are. While at first glance the region seems nearly lifeless, it’s rich in a diverse variety of hardy plant and animal life. An excellent way to see this assortment of desert life is to stop everywhere and explore. A much easier and more convenient way is to visit a botanical garden which, while not a perfect experience, is highly educational. A place I’d recommend is the Living Desert, located in Palm Desert, California (very near Palm Springs), which provides a one-stop chance to explore the flora and fauna of America’s deserts –with an African sampler to boot!
The Living Desert occupies 1,200 protected acres of the Colorado Desert, only 200 of which have been developed into a zoo (with 450 African and North American animals of 150 species), a botanical garden (representing ten different ecosystems), and a natural history museum. There are hiking trails, live animal shows, a plant nursery, and expected visitor services.
The Living Desert was established as a non-profit in 1970, dedicated to preserving desert life in the Coachella Valley. It receives about 350,000 visitors annually and pays for its operations from admissions (supplemented by memberships and donations). It is fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The Living Desert is a wonderful place to spend a day relaxing and exploring, especially for families with children. Where else can you walk through the Mojave, Sonoran and Great Basin desert ecosystems, or see giraffes and desert bighorn sheep in one afternoon? As with any outdoor activities in the desert, always best to visit in the winter months when it’s cooler. Summer temperatures can dangerously hot and require pacing and hydration.
A variety of animal photos follow from a day spent with my family at the Living Desert a few years back, including:
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)