More than just a museum. Much more.

It’s called the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, but it’s so much more than what you’d typically imagine when hearing the word museum. It’s also a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium! I’ve gone twice now, and have yet to see it all, making it one of my favorite places in Tucson to explore and return to.

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If you live in Tucson for any length of time, you’ll hear a lot about Javelinas. They look like big bristly pigs–but don’t say “pigs” around the locals or you’ll get a lecture on what the proper terminology is. My first glimpse at a collared peccary, was at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, long before I saw seven of them wandering through my apartment parking lot on one dusty evening at twilight. If you’re just passing through Tucson, this museum is a great place to view one…from a safe distance and hopefully not down-wind.

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I always have an itch to visit the museum during the blistering hot summer months, and even though summer hours begin at 7:30 a.m., I never seem to have the stamina to see it all in one visit. (Maybe I just use that as an excuse to keep coming back?) Most of the experiences are outdoors–85% to be exact, according to their website. Sensitive to this fact, every restroom has a sunscreen dispenser for your convenience!

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As a West Coast native, I find comfort in the aquarium area, and willingly fork out the extra $3 to enter the Stingray Touch exhibit. As an introverted Bird Nerd who enjoys photography and sitting in quiet spaces, the Walk-in Aviary has a certain appeal. I also experienced a special moment in the Hummingbird Aviary; guests marveled at a hummingbird that had sat upon my shoulder for a brief second or two. I heard quite a hum in my ear!

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It’s a place that consistently surprises me. Each visit, I marvel at some new discovery. I saw a Roadrunner close-up. (No, I didn’t hear him say “beep beep”.) I saw a black bear, some Mexican wolves and even a couple of native Arizona parrots! There is much to be explored, and much to be learned about the Arizona-Sonoran landscape, while walking the two miles of paths spread out over 21 acres.

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A woman who has lived and worked in Tucson all her life, told me that at night the museum shines a black light on one of the walls near the entrance, illuminating all the scorpions that live nearby. Um, not exactly what I wanted to know, having walked by that wall several times during my morning visits…but if that interests you, by all means, visit June through August during their Cool Summer Nights event on Saturdays!

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I have seen the left-side of the museum during one visit, and the right-side during a second. I look forward to my future third visit, to explore the middle, sometime soon!

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So, thinking back to my visits, here are some tips:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. I bring my hat with a large brim each time I go.
  2. Begin early in the morning and start as far away from the entrance as you’re able and work your way back along the paths as it gets closer to noon. You can always take a breather at the cafe before spending time in areas that have protection from the direct sun, like the Walk-in Aviary, Stingray Touch, Hummingbird Aviary, Warden Aquarium, and others.
  3. Living north of this great museum, I recognize that there are at least two ways of reaching the main entrance. If you take West Gates Pass Road, there is a photo opportunity along the way. A small parking lot hugs the mountain, giving you a jaw-dropping, photo-ready scenic landscape to view. If you plan on getting to the museum at opening, get out onto the road a few minutes earlier so that you can pause for a selfie. The valley is beautifully lit during this time.

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Happy travels, fellow introverts. To all, the very best!

(All photos by Jennifer R. Monroe)

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