Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

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Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

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I love the desert. There is something about the sparse vegetation, the way the cactus rise up from such a dry soil, and the fact that even in this harsh environment so many living things flourish. When I first heard of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum I knew I had to go. It’s my kind of place, providing education about the animals and the plant life.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

The cute little javelinas welcome visitors to the Arizona-Sonora Desert museum.

We arrived at the museum a few hours before it opened. We were meeting friends and they were picking up breakfast burritos for us all to have a picnic breakfast before we started our exploration. The museum offers covered picnic tables, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We weren’t early enough for sunrise, but the early light was spreading and it enchanted us with its golden view over the saguaro-laden landscape.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

The saguaro stand tall in the morning light.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

Coyote with pups.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

I was ready to shed a few layers, too, after walking around in the late morning sun.

Finished with our picnic, we entered the Sonora Desert grounds and right away were greeted with one of many of the amazing bronze sculptures found throughout. The first two were of a javelina (wild pig) family and of the iguanas. A major feature of the park, these bronze sculptures were everywhere. There were very obvious large ones, but there were also, almost hidden, small ones, like hummingbirds and insects. It was one of the highlights, looking for and finding all the sculptures.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

Don’t get into a staring contest with this guy, you’ll loose every time.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

So much color and fragrance! Is this really the desert?

The park has so many options and animal exhibits that it is difficult to decide where to go first. There are enclosures for every kind of Sonora desert animal from snakes to birds to insects, and at each site there is a docent ready to regale you with information as well as personal stories of the animals that live there, even letting the children feel the skin or hold the horns, as well as touching some of the live animals.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

Some of the statues are easy to spot. This one’s probably a little frightening for the tiny critters skittering around after dark.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

Although not an official animal of the museum, this little chipmunk still kept us mesmerized.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

We were so lucky, we were there after some heavy rains and cactus were starting to bloom!

One of the exhibits is a hummingbird enclosure and those little guys are very territorial. They are not that scared of humans, and we had more than one stare us down making sure we stayed on the path.

At the theater, we watched an educational program about porcupines, parrots, skunks, and chukwila lizards where the kids got to come up and meet the “cast” afterwards.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

All of the greenery and blooms were quite a shock.

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert

After walking in the heat for two hours, we were ready for the air-conditioned theater.

Take your kids on a desert safari! Click here to find out more!

Getting there: Exit I-10 at Speedway Blvd and head West on Speedway for twelve miles. Turn right onto Kinney road and drive another 2.5 miles to the museum.


  • Go as early as possible. Preferably arrive before opening. The heat will be less harsh and the animals are more active.
  • Bring water bottles. It is the desert and you are walking all day long in the heat. Thankfully there are water fountains throughout where you can refill your water bottles.
  • Wear hats and smother yourself with sunscreen.
  • The path is wide enough for strollers and wheelchairs, but there is a fair amount of walking and stairs. Remember to take lots of breaks, especially under the shade.
  • And if you want to do some more hiking, check out the Romero Pools!

Have you ever been to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum?  Any tips?

Pin the Desert Museum for later!

Deadly or Delicate? Exploring the Sonora Desert


About the Author

Corinne Vail is a world traveler, writer, photographer, speaker, and teacher. Looking for the quirky and unusual as well as the best food around the world, she has traveled all her life. She’s lived in Turkey, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the Netherlands and visited over 90 countries with her family. Learn more about Corinne and Reflections Enroute on the About page.

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  1. W went to the museum 2 years ago. Where were camped at the campground not far from there, and so we were able to go home for lunch, then back for the afternoon. The raptor show was by far the best part, but I did enjoy the bird enclosures. It was definitely a must see place, and I learned more about the desert I love so much.

  2. I love this place, but good point – there is little to no shade on the path. Pack your sun gear and bring plenty of water!

  3. Love, love your photos. Wow.

    Never been, but its something that I miss about the US, these kinds of things. And yes, I too, have an appreciation for the desert. Cheers, Corinne!

  4. I visited this place and learned a lot. Even if you are not interested in learning about deserts, I think you should go because you may get surprised once you learn how biodiverse North American deserts are. Plus, it is interesting to discover how certain species sustain others. To me all these was fascinating! #wkendtravelinspiration

  5. I have been to a number of desert botanical gardens and always find I learn so much. When the environment looks like there is not a lot going on, and then you find out exactly how frantic the pace actually is.

  6. How wonderful to see the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum! That is right in my hometown, so we would go all the time. (Although, really, we saw most of the animals in the exhibits right in our neighborhoods. πŸ˜‰ It’s been wonderful to see the museum grow through the years, and get the international accolades it richly deserves. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Rob and Ann, It is a fantastic museum, and yes, I’ve seen many of the animals in the wild but it’s great to read and learn about them as well!

  7. I was in Tucson recently and got to see a lot of those big cactuses as well as the pear cactuses. It’s very interesting landscape and impressive how anything manages to grow, but I don’t like it. I am an ocean person and the desert strikes me as a beach where someone forgot to bring the water!

  8. I have never been, but we will be in Vegas this summer we might have to take a trip over to Arizona. Beautiful pictures, and I love the lizard and cactus! Thank you for sharing.

  9. That’s so cool that you can have a picknick in the museum there! I’ve only heard good things about the desert!

  10. Sounds like a really educational and interesting place – and great that you can take your own picnic. I love seeing the cacti flowers in bloom too – the colors are so vibrant against the arid desert and dull green cacti.

  11. Wow this place sounds great and so interesting to learn about. It’s definitely somewhere I would love to visit and experience and even better that you can educate yourself on it whilst you’re there! Thanks for sharing!

  12. The Sonora Desert Museum looks fascinating. The desert is a place which probably is a great test for the survival powers of the flora and fauna that exist there. Cacti stand as a silent testimony to their triumph against the harsh conditions of the desert. The blooming cacti are probably one of the best sights in the world.

  13. I don’t usually think of the desert as being beautiful, but the museum and you have shown me the beauty in the Sonora Desert. I hope to visit one day and experience it for myself.

  14. So, I’ve never been here but would love it. I love the combo of botanic interest and wildlife. And yes, catching cactus blooms after the rain is my FAVORITE desert experience. Barrel cactus flowers are the best!

  15. Gorgeous photos, love that cute hummingbird! I want to do a road trip to head out west- this makes me want to go even more!

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