We lived many, many years in Riverside County, California and, I’m sad to say, never made it out to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens until a couple of months ago, and this after living in the Sacramento area for a decade. Don’t be like us. Plan a family trip out to the Living Desert, a 1,200-acre Sonoran Desert habitat in Palm Desert and Indian Wells. It’s the desert so this time of year is the best time to visit.
Visitors probably won’t be able to see everything in one day, but the website and free Living Desert App and Audio Tour can help with plans. A shuttle is available for those who cannot walk long distances, or who want to pack as much into the day as possible.
The Living Desert is divided into two areas: North America and Africa. The zoo and gardens entrance opens into North America, close to the border of Africa. Visitors can catch the shuttle here or walk up the path to the model train exhibit, which depicts California history along 3,300-plus lines of train track, or to the demonstration garden or Education Center. Restrooms, food, and a gift shop are available in the Welcome Center.
Up the walkway from the Cahuilla Ethnobotanical Garden is the Butterfly Garden, then the Tennity Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center for animals who need medical care. The public can arrange visits to see animals receiving care. Coyotes, eagles, Mexican wolves, mountain lions, badgers, and jaguars all make their home in the North American section. At the Native Bee Garden, visitors can turn one way and find the carousel and play park for children or go in another direction to see the San Andreas Fault Exhibit and hike the nature trail.
The Africa section includes animals such as meerkats, cheetahs, and striped hyenas. For a small fee, visitors can hand-feed the giraffes carrots.
Other activities include:
- Petting kraal: Located in the Africa section in Village WaTuTu.
- Camel rides: The Tennity Wildlife Hospital has a painting on display that one of the camels created.
- Wildlife Wonders Show: Offered twice a day.
- Discovery Center: Hands-on exhibits suitable for all ages.
- Hiking: Three trails through the Sonoran Desert are available during the winter months only. These trails range in difficulty from open, flat ground to moderately strenuous, according to information provided by The Living Desert.
The Living Desert first opened in 1970 as a much smaller version of its current self. Developers were building resorts in the Palm Springs area and some people felt a portion of the Colorado Desert, a sub-desert to the Sonoran, needed to be preserved in its natural state. Boy Scouts helped clear three miles of trails back then. Today, about 1,000 of the 1,200 acres remain in their natural state.
Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, Oct. 1 through May 31, with the last admission being 4 p.m. The grounds are closed on Dec. 25. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily, with the last admission at 1 p.m. Hiking trails are closed in the summer. In addition to the shuttle, guest services include food and beverages for purchase, first aid centers, gift shops, and a nursing lounge for breastfeeding mothers. No pets are allowed in the park. Because this is a desert area, arrangements must be made in advance to house pets. Pets cannot be left in vehicles.