Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum: Fusion Experience

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Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Discovering the Sonoran Desert at one of Tucson’s top attractions

(Last updated November 2020)

Containing a zoo, a botanical garden, a natural history museum, an aquarium and two miles of walking paths through desert landscape, the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum provides a broad look at the geography and natural history of the Arizona Sonoran Desert.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum Avra Valley
The museum overlooks the Avra Valley

The Sonoran Desert lies within the Basin and Range Province, an area of north-south elevated mountains formed by faulting. As basins sank they were filled with sediment eroded from the surrounding mountains. The Museum overlooks one of the these basins, the Avra Valley.

A variety of exhibits provide information on the desert from prehistoric times and on. There are many interactive exhibits for children to engage with.

Arizona-Sonoran desert Museum exhibit sample
A sampling of exhibits – a snake in reptile house, wildflower information, precious stones, cave life


Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
The path and its border on the front part of museum are made to look like natural stone

85% of the museum is outside. The front section has winding paths through natural vegetation with man-made rock formations which look very much like the rock in the area. This section is wheel-chair accessible. The Desert Loop trail is a more rugged hiking experience, a half-mile loop, downhill on the way in and uphill on the way back.

Arizona-Sonoran Museum Desert Loop trail
Desert Loop Trail


Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum flowers
A sample of blooms in spring time

The main trail takes you past several gardens, zoo enclosures, a hummingbird aviary, a riparian corridor, a walk-in aviary and more. I love desert plants, so the gardens were my favourite part.

In the hummingbird aviary

I also love hummingbirds but found the hummingbird aviary a bit disappointing. It was very crowded and the hummingbirds were elusive. I have a better view of hummingbirds coming to feed from the feeder on our patio, although not as much variety.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum zoo animals
A sampling of zoo animals


I suspected the only javelina I might see would be the sculpture on the left,
but I did get a glimpse of a real one (on the right) before it found a shady spot to rest



The heron in the above photograph was found hurt in Seattle when it was very young. A bald eagle had scooped it from its nest. Something had startled the eagle and it dropped the heron before the heron became the eagle’s dinner. Veterinarians and rehabilitative staff at a wildlife refuge repaired the heron’s broken wing, leg and toe, but it became apparent the heron would never fly. It has had a home at the museum ever since.

Arizona-Soinoran Desert Museum
One of the informational displays at the museum

Even though I had read about the museum before I visited, I was surprised by it. I hadn’t expected it to cover as many topics as it did and have the number of interpretative displays it had. The website says you need at least two hours for a visit. I agree and would say you really need more than that.

The museum has a casual food court and a coffee bar. A restaurant featuring regional southwest cuisine and an ice cream bar are open seasonally.

I noted sunscreen dispensers in the washrooms, a useful amenity given that much of the museum is outdoors under what can be a very hot sun. 

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Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona is a fusion experience - zoo, botanical garden, aquarium, natural history museum, and desert walking paths

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  1. Looks like a great place, Donna. I love destinations that feature their local flora and fauna in natural settings. It’s been far too long since my last visit to Tucson. Time to plan a return visit!

    1. Doreen, I too like to see local flora and fauna featured in natural settings. It’s interesting to learn a bit about the nature of the area one visits.

  2. I love it Donna!
    I havent visited the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum yet!
    It looks like an amazing place.
    Nature is beautiful! love the pictures x

  3. Never been there, but it looks wonderful. I can’t believe that you actually saw a real javelina after seeing the sculpture! Looks like the Arizona – Sonoran Desert Museum is a real destination:)

    1. Jacquie, last winter I’d visited a wildlife refuge that had a javelina, but I never got to see it. It was a hot day and the animal had under shelter for shade.

  4. Donna – thanks for sharing your experience with such wonderful photos. I’ve never been to the Sonoran Desert. The flora and fauna of the west is so different than in the East where I live. I’d love to visit one day.

    1. Jeannette, the difference in the flora and fauna when one travels in one of the things that makes travel so interesting.

  5. Great pictures from the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Have to admit I have never even been to Arizona. Dreamt of going there when I was a small child and was watching a television series called High Chaparral. But when it comes to deserts, I truly believe Saudi Arabia takes the prize. If you and your husband (you need to go together to get visas) went there as tourists I’m sure you would be amazed at the beauty of it.

    1. Catarina, it’s nice to hear you speak about the beauty of the desert of Saudi Arabia. I’ve always pictured it as miles of boring sand. But then I’d expected the desert in Arizona to be bleak and it’s life and diversity surprised me. Shows that one needs to get rid of preconceptions.

  6. Donna, you take gorgeous photos of scenery that everyone can appreciate. I loved the picture of the wildflowers, especially the one on the bottom right – they almost look artificial. I loved the story of the Heron, beautiful birds, aren’t they – so glad this one found a good home.

  7. I never knew, until I moved here, that the American Southwest desert was so full of flowers! It’s been one of the many joyful discoveries that make living in this part of the world an adventure.

    1. Meredith, I think the flowers I’ve seen in the American Southwest are among the loveliest I’ve ever seen.

  8. It seems equally wonderful and odd that the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum would have an aquarium. I had never heard of a javelina before so looked it up and found it is otherwise known as a Peccary or Old World pig. I love the desert so this place looks very cool (not literally) to me.

    1. Hey, Tim, We have javelina here in Prescott, AZ. They wander our yard now and then and treat everything including cacti as a buffet.

    2. Tim, the aquarium does seem a bit odd at first, but there are waterways in the area. Most have been heavily dammed over the years. The javelina looks like a pig but is actually a member of the peccary family. They can be found in the wild or semi-urban areas, but I don’t think I’d care to run into one there.

  9. I have to admit that I haven’t seen it although we’re only about 4 1/2 hours from Tucson. My son and his wife really enjoyed visiting it. There’s also another in Phoenix that I have seen. Love the natural botanical displays.

  10. I have never visited the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. It looks like the kind of place I would enjoy very much since I love nature. If I ever visit Tucson, it will be in the winter time, since hot weather is not really my cup of tea. Your photos are really wonderful. Thank you for showing us the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum.

    1. Winter is a great time to visit. Also spring – late March and early April, when things start to bloom.

  11. I would definitely enjoy the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. While I haven’t been to the Sonoran desert in Arizona, I have spent time in the southeastern California section. I’ve also visited the Living Desert Zoo near Palm Springs which also has a large exhibit of desert species.

  12. What an interesting looking place, and while I know what a javelina is this is the first time I’ve seen a photo of one … what a charming creature. 🙂 I love out of the way places like this and it looks like a nice way to spend a few hours. Have you and your husband been to Hawaii – and by that I mean the Big Island? If you haven’t I think you and your husband would really enjoy a trip to Volcanoes National Park – there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

    1. My husband has been to Hawaii, but I haven’t. I will make a note of Volcanoes National Park. Javelinas look charming, but I’ve told they aren’t and it’s best to stay away from them.

  13. I’ve never been to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, but it looks like we found our next vacation. My husband worked at the Philadelphia zoo right out of college and then worked for the Los Angeles Natural History Museum until a few years ago. He absolutely loves those types of places and would be like a kid in a candy shop if he knew there was a zoo, natural history museum and an aquarium all in one place!

    1. Erica, even though I’d read about it before hand, I guess I hadn’t fully grasped that it was all these things combined and it surprised me. I’ve not seen that combination before.

  14. I’m so happy to see another post on Tucson. I remember many of my biology assignments could only be completed with trips to the museum. The museum was about 20 miles from the University’s campus. It was a bit of a problem being a freshman with no car, I hate to say it , but I used to hitchhike out there and back in order to complete my work. But, it was beautiful and worth the trip. NOBODY lived there then, Speedway Blvd was almost bare once you got past the college.

    1. Pamela, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my posts about Tucson. It’s interesting to imagine how far out and isolated the museum must have seemed when you were in college.

  15. I do love your photos. You really do have a talent with your camera. The pictures of the wildflowers are always my favorites, especially the dessert blooms in spring. The story about the Heron was charming. It pleases me greatly it was able to find a place it’s appreciated. They are such beautiful birds. .

    1. Jeri, the hotter it gets, the earlier in the morning one would want to visit this museum. I’m not sure I would enjoy visiting in the peak heat of the summer at any time.

  16. I never visited Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. But I visit deserts many times in Middle east and I was wondering how the vegetation and animals change from place to place. I have hardly seen any cactus tree in the desert in my last 6 years. I am thinking if there is any such desert museum in Middle east. If yes, I will try to explore it some day. I feel sad about Heron that it can never fly but at least it got more days to live. I love the picture of snake near tree.
    It was great visit with pictures.
    Thank you for share.

    1. Andlleb, it is interesting how vegetation varies from desert to desert. If you do find a desert museum in the Middle East, I’d like to hear about it.

  17. That is what a museum should be; something outside with native plants, protecting them, and also providing them to be view by the public. Thanks for sharing.

    1. William, thanks for stopping by. I also like to find out information about native plants.

  18. The museum looks very interesting. I like the fact that most of it is outside.

  19. I can spend a whole day in a place as interesting as this. As they say pictures express more than words, you have added spark to this post with these images..