Living Desert Zoo & Gardens

Date Visited: 4/27/2018

I have a confession to make. Before our trip I’d only seen the desert from 35,000 feet. From that altitude it looked pretty beige, unappealing, and lifeless. When Mr. McGee suggested going to the desert for our spring vacation I agreed (at first) because I love him and not because it was anywhere near the top of my bucket list. But as I researched places to go a whole new understanding of the desert modified my opinion. The desert is a place of many colors and the desert is very much alive!

Sitting atop the Ocotillo Hills near Brantley Lake State Park is a small zoo and botanical garden my parents had highly recommended. I researched a little and found out that it was part of the New Mexico State Park system. So we headed into town and grabbed breakfast at Denny’s before setting out on the first of three great adventures.

Now I think everyone has at least one day in their lives that stands out as having impacted them in such a way that it is truly considered a life changing experience. Little did we know that this would be “our day” and the whole reason we’re taking the time to share our story.

During my research I discovered that the Chihuahuan Desert is North America’s largest desert. I had never heard of it – go figure! So with a knowledge gap to fill we finished our breakfast and started our day of discovery and adventure.

When we arrived at Living Desert Zoo and Gardens it was not exactly what we expected. Anyone who has been to the “gardens” in Florida knows that great effort is put into shaping and sculpting and blending color and texture to make that picture perfect southern magazine cover. It’s pretty, but not what you’d expect to see if you ventured out into any scrub, swamp, pine forest, or hammock. At Living Desert the gardens are dedicated to the plant species and habitat zones of the Chihuahuan Desert – which makes it the only botanical garden of it’s kind.

You begin at the visitor center which houses a number of hands-on and interpretive exhibits before exiting the building into the zoo and gardens.

As you wander along the 1.3 mile self-guided tour you’ll observe a wide variety of native species as they would grow in the natural environment. The beauty of the landscape is allowed to speak for itself, which promotes a more genuine learning experience. There was something about this that just spoke to us.

There are six habits that make up the landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert:

  • canyons
  • desert uplands
  • gypsum hills
  • sand hills
  • the pinon-juniper zone
  • and arroyo (commonly called a wash)

each has it’s own unique features and supports a wide diversity of succulents and cacti, which as it would turn out left such an impression on me that it has become my gardening passion. We spent the day learning, photographing and discussing our favorites. Interpretive signs assisted us with this process.

Some of the species were just beginning their spring bloom cycles and what a thrill it became to try and capture their unique beauty with my camera.

Others (like this little guy below) made such an impression that I’d spend the next two years trying to acquire one for my personal garden.

Before the day ended I realized that if I were to do justice with my camera I would need to spend more time learning to take quality photographs. Two years later, I’m still not an expert, but I am improving.

As the name states this is not just a garden but a working zoo and a refuge for many orphaned or injured birds and animals. There is an aviary for the birds, reptile house for things with scales and things that slither, a very interesting nocturnal exhibit and several large and small mammal exhibits. The prairie dogs were my personal favorite as there were plenty of little ones interacting with the adults!

Mr. McGee favored the wolf, of course.

We ended our tour in a beautiful greenhouse filled with succulents & cacti from all over this world. One simple word…Breathtaking! You know the saying, “a picture is worth…”We ended our tour in a beautiful greenhouse filled with succulents & cacti from all over this world. One simple word…Breathtaking! You know the saying, “a picture is worth…”

As I mentioned earlier this was just the first stop on today’s life changing journey. It was here where we fell in love with the beauty of the desert – so much so that I knew I wanted to share it through the power of photos – and this is how the seed was planted. There is so much more of this world that we needed to explore! Fast forward two years and we’ve decided to lay the groundwork for that journey.

If you want to know what happens next please consider subscribing to our blog and following our story. Until next week -Take care and enjoy the journey.

If your interested in visiting Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park here is their address and contact information:

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State park
1504 Miehls Drive N.
Carlsbad, NM 88220

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