Talk about survival skills. The animals and plants on show at the extraordinary Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in Greater Palm Springs shed light on the amazing adaptions that make it possible to survive in the desert’s harsh environment.
Things to Do at The Living Desert
Observe an incredible array—more than 1,400 species in all—of cacti, yucca, and other desert plants that grow in California’s Mojave and Sonoran deserts, as well as other deserts around the world. You’ll see—and learn about—desert animals too, some of them undeniable charmers. African meerkats rise up on their hind legs, swaying as they pivot their heads and sniff the air. Desert foxes, with enormous bat-like ears, curl up tight for afternoon naps. And giraffes crane their necks and stretch out extraordinarily purple tongues to nibble on grasses outside their enclosures.
When to Visit The Living Desert
Cool morning tends to be the best time to see animals in action, so come early if you can. That’s not to say afternoons don’t have their merits: As the day heats up, tortoises and lizards come out to absorb the sun and, in the late afternoon, the zoo’s nocturnal animals, like owls and bats, start to stir. Evenings are also a pleasant time to stretch your legs on The Living Desert’s trail network, which leads into the nearby Santa Rosa Mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for native roadrunners dashing among the desert shrubs, looking for lizards and other prey.
Visiting The Living Desert with Kids
This isn’t your typical zoo, where little ones have to strain to see the animals tucked deep inside their enclosures. Here, the wildlife can walk right up to the fence! For an extra charge, your courageous kiddos can ride camels or let the giraffes lick food right from their palms.
For education on desert terrain, head to the model train exhibit. Its 3,300 feet of track winds past miniature versions of desert landmarks such as Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon. Or let kids loose in the one-acre Gecko Gulch playground, where they’ll slide through a replica of a saguaro cactus, scale a lizard sculpture, pan for gold, or dig in a sand dune.
This is a sprawling 100-acre complex, so unless you plan on lugging your little ones through the Palm Desert heat, purchase tickets for the park’s shuttle service. It’s free for kids ages 3 and younger. If you will be walking with stroller-aged kids, bring a jogging or all-terrain ride because many of the paths are dirt. As a Certified Autism Center, all staff at the Living Desert are trained on methods to better accommodate visitors with autism or sensory needs, and sensory bags containing fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, and other aids are available for checkout.
Things to Do Near The Living Desert
There’s so much to do within an hour of Palm Desert—luxury resorts as well as world-class golfing and shopping await in Palm Springs, while a more Old West experience is to be had at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Joshua Tree National Park offers a multitude of outdoor adventures, from rock climbing to camping to guided tours to excellent stargazing, and Indian Canyons also offers great hiking, as well as towering California fan palms a 60-foot waterfall.