Unearthing Wonders at The Living Desert Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is an arid, dusty oasis in the midst of Palm Desert’s unfurling lawns, gated country clubs, and ever-green golf courses. Part wildlife preserve, part educational center, the Living Desert offers an immersive experience of its native environment. Most of all, there is a sense of discovery and exploration– for both kids and adults.
Having embraced the rugged character of the environment, the Living Desert’s paths split off and meander in slow curves. Smaller, foot worn trails are etched into the different garden areas, drawing visitors through and around the flora. In this way, the Living Desert challenges the common misconception of the desert–that it is a sparse, uniform tract of sand and beige, still save for the occasional tumbleweed passing through. At the Living Desert, gardens are crowded with diverse plants of contrasting shapes and sizes. Plaques identify each and often comment on how they are different (both in appearance and physiology) from those around them. No matter which path you take, the Living Desert ensures your experience is far from dry.
Since 1970, The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens has taken a holistic approach in dedicating themselves to the desert. Their mission is fourfold: first, to preserve a part of the Colorado Desert (somewhat confusingly located in California); second, to engage visitors such that they recognize and appreciate the diverse ecosystems around the world, particularly those associated with desert fauna and flora; third, to bolster populations of endangered species; and finally, to support cooperative research on topics related to desert species and to encourage their preservation in the wild.
The Living Desert began as a reaction to the burgeoning resort industry in Palm Springs–trustees of the Palm Springs Desert Museum anticipated the effect luxury development would have on native ecosystems and established a preserve to help protect the desert environment. Today, the Living Desert is a 501(c)3, whose grounds encompass 1,200 acres–1,000 of which remains in its wild state.
The Living Desert boasts over 75 botanical gardens, which are divided into two geographic categories: North America and Africa. The gardens feature everything from aloe to Madagascar to butterflies to cacti. The gardens are integrated with a multitude of animal exhibits–wolves, coyotes, and jaguars are among the guests on the North American zone, while giraffes, fenec foxes, and meerkats are among the population of the African side. Each day features a variety of events guests can attend, spread out so there is always something to do, regardless of whether you visit in the morning or the afternoon. Daily offerings include reptile shows and giraffe feedings, while more select events encompass live music, fairytale dress-up, and holiday specific celebrations. Even if you are just wandering the park, there is plenty to be learned from the educational signs tucked into the different gardens, describing ways to encourage butterflies in your garden or how to tell time using a sundial.
In addition to the gardens and animal exhibits, the back of park extends out into a great expanse of unaltered desert. A three and half mile trail (the Wilderness Loop) carries visitors out beyond low mountains and is open seasonally, encouraging guests to observe what they have learned in the park out in the wild. Another attraction not to be missed is their enchanting G-scale model train display, which loops more than 3,300 feet of tracks through a number of installations including the Grand Canyon, running streams, old mining towns, and even Mount Rushmore.
Though the Living Desert is geared towards kids, adults won’t feel left out. At the very least, one can appreciate the foresight of those who undertook its preservation. There is plenty to see and do–all of which can be enjoyed at any age. Even as an adult, there is a certain excitement the Living Desert seems to bring out–each corner promising many untold wonders of the desert.