During the early part of May 2008, my husband and I decided to visit The Living Desert, located in Palm Desert, California. We hadn't been there in many, many years and had been hearing some great things about it from our son and daughter-in-law. Their little boys love going there to see all the animals...and the model train display.
The Living Desert is a combination zoo/museum, a nonprofit organization. The animals living there are ones unable to be reintroduced into the wild. Pathways wander from exhibit to exhibit where you'll find aviaries, gardens, a plant nursery, a wildlife hospital and conservation center. A map and various other information at The Living Desert website.
We took a lot of pictures and you can check them out at this link. Photos of The Living Desert
If you're planning a visit, remember this is in the Palm Springs area and it does get very, very hot during the late spring and in the summer. Plan accordingly. We were there the first weekend of May. Temperatures were in the mid-90s. Water fountains and restrooms conveniently located throughout the area. There are also several places to grab a bite to eat.
If you're not up to walking, there's a tram you can ride. Tickets are $12.00 per person. The tram makes frequent stops and one ticket gets you a ride all day. We purchased tickets at the recommendation of our daughter-in-law, but didn't use them. We like to walk and wander. But by the end of the day (and it was all day) we were feeling it. If you have children...take the tram.
It wasn't crowded the day we went, although the parking lot was full. We have no idea where all the people were, but we felt The Living Desert was laid out in such a nice flow that it handled the crowd without it being a crowd.
Animals living there are: zebra, giraffe, bighorn sheep, gazelle, ostrich, cheetah, mountain lion...we never did see the leopard. Because it was a hot day most of the animals were snoozing. I felt the coyotes and wolves were grossly overweight. We'd been warned that the mountain lion was aggressive. However, it was sound asleep the day we were there. Wires and plexiglass provide a barrier between it and humans. In 99% of the exhibits I felt there was enough protection...except when we got to the cheetah. No cage. No wires. No plexiglass. Just a short wall and a moat. I'm not a cheetah expert and I'm sure the people working there know what they're doing, but I still wasn't comfortable.
As you look through the pictures you'll notice rather quickly what held our attention the longest. You'll need to look very carefully at the pictures of the bighorn sheep. They are very well camouflaged. There are two sheep in most of the photos--male and female. The female didn't budge. The male finally stretched to his feet and gave us the beautiful skyline photo. I think he felt sorry for us.
Though we all might know how big these wild animals are, sometimes that information doesn't sink in until we see the animal in person. And so it was with the giraffes. There were three--a couple with a baby. The baby decided to come check out all the people watching. I was thinking, "Wow, they really are big." Then the mother came over the hill. Yep...WOW!
The golden eagle held our attention, too. You'll notice in some of the pictures it's holding something in its talon. It's a squeak toy. This eagle had been raised in captivity and didn't have the ability to hunt for itself. It was a beauty. Several great pictures here, but we could never catch it when its wings were spread.
My number one favorite exhibit was the model train display. This thing is huge with waterfalls, rivers, bridges, mountains...even the Grand Canyon. The trains are constantly running and make their depot stops. Very detail oriented. It made me want to come home and build a display for myself.
We thought we'd seen all we wanted to see. We didn't. There's Gecko Gulch and a petting corral, hands on fun for kids. There's a wilderness trail system with short, medium, and long hikes. There's the wildlife hospital and conservation center that gives presentations. There's a nursery where you can buy some of the plants that are on display. Lots of stuff to go back and see.
The Living Desert continues to grow. There are plans to expand its East African Savanna exhibit. If you're in the Palm Springs area during the fall, winter, and early spring, I would definitely recommend this as a place to see. Just make sure you plan for a full day.