This is definitely a must-do attraction! Not only do you learn about the desert, you can experience and become part of it, as well. The Museum offers something for everyone -- aquarium, zoo, gardens, aviaries, art museum, live animal shows, casual dining, gentle hikes and education. I was there from 7:45 am to 5:00 pm -- and just barely saw everything!
The upper half of the Museum has gently-sloped paved paths. There are also a few gravel paths that you can use as shortcuts to connect to other parts of the paved paths. The majority of features (gardens, exhibits, welcome center, restrooms and restaurants) are located here. The view from the vista ramada is absolutely stunning! The lower half (aka the Desert Loop Trail) is strictly dirt path, uneven in places and somewhat steep. The Raptor Free Flight shows are performed here, about an eighth-mile down the left branch of the trail. (You can return the way you came, instead of walking the whole loop.)
Live animal shows and docent demonstrations are included with museum admission. The "Live & (sort of) On The Loose" show presented rattlesnakes and gila monsters. The "Raptor Free Flight" is performed twice daily, with different birds in each show. On the day I went, the morning show included Chihuahan ravens, prairie falcons, great horned owl, red tail hawk and ferruginous hawk. The afternoon show featured a grey hawk, barn owl, peregrine falcon, and six Harris hawks. Docents are stationed throughout the park, with hands-on demonstrations. If you're near the orientation ramada, be sure to say "hi" to Carmen -- she has amazing knowledge of Saguaro cactus!
If time and budget permit, animal keeper and behind-the-scenes tours are available. The cost varies and is in addition to museum admission. You'll need to pre-register, as there is an enrollment cap for each activity. I did the Hummingbird Tour, which begins a half-hour before the museum opens. You tour the hummingbird aviary with a keeper and get to see nests, learn different calls and feed them. Yes, you put a live ant on your finger -- and the hummingbird gently eats!
In addition to learning about this landscape, my admiration for the plants and animals living here greatly increased. I think that's the Museum's greatest strength.
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