The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
We’ve been several times to this unique museum and never tire of it. The mission of the museum (in their words) is “to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.” They do it well.
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Every aspect of this 98-acre mostly outdoor museum is thoughtfully planned and meticulously cared for. The landscape is a natural desert garden, and two miles of paths wind through beautiful exhibits on the flora and fauna of the desert. Highlights include the Raptor Free Flight, where falcons, hawks, owls, and ravens fly free in the open desert, so close that I could feel their feathers brush my hat as they flew overhead. It’s thrilling. The hummingbird aviary is another of our favorites—it’s delightful to observe the aerial antics of these tiny, colorful birds.
Visiting the museum is an all-day affair. You can take a picnic, but even better is to have lunch at the Ocotillo Café, where you can kick back and relax in a lovely setting while sipping a neon-pink prickly pear margarita, or at the very least, a prickly pear iced tea or lemonade.
This little gem is another of our Tucson favorites. It’s an enchanting botanical garden, nature preserve, and cultural center nestled in the heart of Tucson—the name comes from the native Tohono O’odham language and means “desert corner.” It’s definitely a special corner of Tucson—enter the gates, and you feel far removed from the city.
Docent-led tours are a great way to learn more about Sonoran plant and birdlife and are offered daily. But make sure to also spend time just strolling the meandering paths through gardens lush with native plants, discovering hidden alcoves, fountains, mosaics, and sculptures along the way.
Arizona State Museum
Located on the University of Arizona campus, this excellent museum is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the Southwest. We went specifically to see a special showing of work by Edward Curtis, the famed photographer who documented Native American life beginning in the late 1800’s and continuing for several decades. There was a fascinating accompanying exhibit of contemporary Native American artists responding to the work of Curtis, ranging from those who appreciate his work to those who believe he fostered romantic stereotypes.
The museum has far more to offer than we could absorb in a couple of hours. Next time, we’ll make sure we start our visit with one of the free hour-long guided docent tours. While we enjoy exploring on our own, it’s helpful to have someone familiar with a museum whittle down the offerings to a manageable size. That way, we don’t overwhelm ourselves trying to read every little sign, and can then go back and explore at our leisure.