Desert Museum & Gate’s Pass in Saguaro National Forest

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Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The name, for me, was a misnomer. I heard museum and dressed for indoors. It wasn’t until we arrived that I learned 95% of the museum is outside. Makes sense for a desert, eh? Be warned and dress for the temperature, taking into account the wind factor. I froze in hiking pants, t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt and jacket. Thank goodness for brilliant sunshine!

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

This is a 98 acre hunk of land that aims to educate visitors and does a good job of it. There are literally thousands of things to see—from the zoo-like parts to the clearly marked cactus and other plants. There are two miles of walking paths, wheelchair accessible. In fact, about 98% is wheelchair accessible with a few of the grades being a bit steep.

There are shady spots, and areas under canvas roofs, water fountains scattered around to refill your water bottles. Don’t skimp on staying hydrated!

We were there from 10:15 – 1:00, but we missed the raptor free flight that takes places twice a day. Try scheduling to see it, the docents said it would be quite the experience. It’s a busy museum, even in February, so allow for crowds.

Javelina
Javelina

Alex liked seeing the five Javelinas—with signage: We’re not pigs!

I got a kick out of the porcupine curled up under a heat lamp in his little cave.

The fox looked fat, the mountain lion fierce, the coyote like a skinny, typical coyote.

We maintain two summer hummingbird feeders and love watching them zip in for a drink and off again to who knows what destination.We’re not sure where our handful of visitors go in the winter but these desert species were good fill-ins for us. The museum’s hummingbird area was fun, many with bright red or orange beaks. One landed on my husband’s shoulder, but dashed off too quickly for me to snap a picture of it.

Hummingbird
Hummingbird

 

There was a cactus, tall & skinny with thin red nodules sticking out from it. I said: “God really has a sense of humor.” Two couples our age heard me and cracked up.

I tend to stay away from crawling, slithering things, so skipped the Riparian Corridor. As part of the Warden Aquarium and new to the Museum is a school of stingrays—you can arrange to touch. How fun for desert-living kids to have that experience.

 

God humor
God humor

Be careful in the Earth Sciences Center cave. I didn’t let my eyes adjust long enough and ran my forehead smack into an overhanging way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting there is a gorgeous drive through Gate’s Pass, west out of Tucson. To learn about the Saguaro National Park West, don’t skip stopping at their visitor’s center to pick up some good information.

To quote their statement: The mission of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.

We’d say they do a very good job of that.

Entrance fee is $20.50 per each adult without senior or military discounts. There’s also a discount for Arizona/Sonora residents.

The gift shop prices were reasonable and the coffee shop made a very good latte for less than Starbucks.

Summer Saturdays would be a good time to visit, the museum is open until 10:00 with programs especially designed for families. I might have to borrow our friends’ kids so we fit in.

Gate’s Pass

This is where we saw a rich sunset on our last trip to Tucson. It was worth the drive and the wait for that just perfect moment when the sun dipped between the mountains.

The sheer abundance of saguaro covering the acres and acres of hills is astounding. They top the very summits of the rocks, growing out of the tiniest pieces of dirt. I don’t know how a photo, maybe could actually show it clearly.

Driving to Gate’s Pass is a journey through the Tucson Mountain Park, a striking piece of landscape that rolls over 20,000 of acres. The winding road built by founder Thomas Gates takes you to Old Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park West. Old Tucson is a former movie set that’s now a theme park. If you want to see the locations and costumes from Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and any number of other movies (including three with John Wayne), this is the place to go. You can see gunfights, a musical at a saloon and enjoy tours.

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Also published on Medium.

26 Responses

  1. Sushmita
    | Reply

    Outdoor Museums that is something I have never been to, nor am I aware of any in my region. However, they seem to be interesting and fun coz outdoors are always fun 😀
    Sushmita recently posted..How to become a True Entrepreneur, the journey from a Wisher to a Doer!My Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Sushmita, I would think India a likely place for outdoor museums because of the temperate weather. More preconceived notions shattered! 🙂

  2. Sabrina Quairoli
    | Reply

    I haven’t been to that part of AZ ever. But, I have two of my organizing clients who retired in the area. It’s an area we plan on visiting in the future.

    I find that desserts are deceiving. They look hot, but are really cold at night and in the shade. Stay warm.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      It’s very definitely a family place to go, Sabrina, if you like the outdoors. The hot/cold extremes fascinate me–and usually catch me off guard!

  3. Ken Dowell
    | Reply

    i’m always fascinated by the desert. Haven’t been to Arizona in a long time but I often go to southeastern California where my favorite places to go are the Living Desert zoo and Joshua Tree National Park. Plant life in the desert is more interesting to me than just about anyplace else. Pretty sure I’d enjoy a visit to this museum.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Yep, I think you’d like it, Ken. I lived in SoCal for three years and didn’t go to either of those places. So much to see in this big country of ours.

  4. Jeri
    | Reply

    Outdoor museums like this are the best. I’ll always hold a soft spot in my soul for desert landscapes.

  5. Emily
    | Reply

    An outdoor museum sounds like a great experience. I probably would have loved the Riparian Corridor as long as nothing slithered near me!

  6. Erica
    | Reply

    It is funny that I should read your post about the desert today as I just got back from the desert a few hours ago. I was in Palm Springs, which I think feels less than a desert than Tuscon, but had its share of cacti nonetheless. Saguero National Forest seems like a fun visit. Tuscon isn’t too horribly far from me, so I should make it someday

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      That’s such fun, Erica! I hope you make a trek to Tucson one of these weekends. It is lovely. So was Tempe. Phoenix is just such a huge city for me. I’d imagine Palm Springs is, too.

  7. Jeannette Paladino
    | Reply

    Rose Mary — I’ve never been to a desert and your trip sounds wonderful. Thanks for the “tour.”

  8. Marquita Herald
    | Reply

    I would have dressed for the indoors as well RoseMary. I’ve never been a fan of the desert so I especially appreciate the opportunity to enjoy your beautiful photos and follow along as you toured the museum. 🙂
    Marquita Herald recently posted..Understanding Our Need For ControlMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      I so hate being cold, Marquita! But it was lovely and I always embrace the unusual.

  9. Tuhin
    | Reply

    Never been to an outdoor museum! Most of the museums we have here are indoor ones.
    The views look great!
    Tuhin recently posted..How to Accept and Deal with your Child’s Mistakes SensiblyMy Profile

  10. Phoenicia
    | Reply

    An outdoor museum sounds fab but I would only consider visiting in warm weather for obvious reasons. Are you 100% sure that animal is not a pig?!! I completely understand why you avoided observing the “slithering” animals. Whenever I visit zoos, I avoid looking at the snakes as I cannot abide by them at all.

    It looks as though you had a fun packed leisurely day. It is so important to take time out to look at God’s creation.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Phoenicia, the warm Arizona weather we expected was intermittent (but always sunny), and the desert can sure be cold. Tee hee to snakes, read: Good Windows & Indiana Jones. I hate snakes! Yep, a Javelina is not a pig. Who knew? I was just thinking about how many magical moments God has given us on earth.

  11. Donna Janke
    | Reply

    I enjoyed visiting this “museum”. What impressed me most was that it was such a fusion experience – zoo, a botanical garden, natural history museum, aquarium and desert landscape. It was hot when we went. We also did not see the raptor flight – too much of a crowd gathered and we decided not to wait for it.
    Donna Janke recently posted..Spanish Colonial Architecture in the Azuero PeninsulaMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Definitely a multi-layered museum, Donna. I once saw a huge owl fly for its trainer once, so I figure that’s as close to a raptor as I was needing to be at this time.

  12. Rose Mary Griffith
    | Reply

    Thanks for the note, Doreen. I love how it’s so hot during the day and the nights can be chilly. It’s like a God-joke! And the cactus…amazing!

  13. Jackie
    | Reply

    Very informative post….I’m so glad that you and Alex enjoyed your visit!

  14. Doreen Pendgracs
    | Reply

    I absolutely love the desert and those Saguaro Cacti. They are SO magnificent. Far too long since I’ve last been in the desert. Maybe next year! Thx for the great post, Rose.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..exploring Hato Mayor in the Dominican RepublicMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Deserts are such a change for me and you, Doreen. It had been five years since we were there and I was glad for the refresher on both why I like it and why I couldn’t move there.

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