Paper flowers and desert roses.

After what was, let’s face it, a bleak start to my visit to Tucson, I woke up today determined not to let this holiday go to waste or end on a low. A rummage through my tourist brochures and a quick search online reminded me that I had wanted to visit the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum when I first started planning my trip here. Armed with my camera and a couple of muesli bars for refreshments, Matt and I called a cab and asked our driver to take us out to the museum.

“Ha!” he laughed. “That’s in the middle of the desert! What do you want there?” I explained that we were going to the desert museum. “Oh that’s that place with all the stuffed animals!” he exclaimed. My heart dropped. Here I was, in another cab (because without a car, that’s really the only way to get around here) spending my hard earned money flinging myself into the middle of the desert, to see a bunch of stuffed animals???

But I was determined, and although a seed of doubt had started to grow, I was going to see this adventure through to the end. Our cab driver was very nice and pointed out all of the other attractions (that we weren’t going to see) on the way to the desert museum. We arrived and he gave us his card and I was relieved that we weren’t going to be abandoned in the middle of nowhere.

We paid for our entry to the museum (which was extremely cheap, more so now that I know how much you get to see) and my first steps inside the entrance allayed any and all my fears. This was the Tucson that I had been waiting to see. We had left the awful flat, sad, depressing outskirts surrounding our hotel and had landed in the middle of the true desert beauty. The desert museum is like many of the local wildlife parks in Australia – set up to disturb as little of the surrounding flora and fauna as possible, this space houses everything that the desert has to offer.

There is a cave of gems, minerals and fossils, explaining how they are found, what they look like and where they come from with some stunning examples on display. Throughout the exhibit there is the chance for children (and childish adults) to have a turn at finding fossils or discovering minerals to take home. There’s a reptile house, a hummingbird house, an aviary and a small walkthrough of water animals (beavers and otters).

But these exhibits only make up a small portion of the museum itself, which soon opens up to sprawling paths in and around the natural landscape. Looking out all you can see is a sea of cactus on a flat desert. This doesn’t look sandy or dry, it looks expansive, the kind of open space that takes your breath away with how calm and big it all is. The only thing that stops this openness from rushing out to forever are the hills, jaggedly slicing into the sky, some close enough to count the cacti growing up their sides and some just grey silhouettes reaching into the clouds more gently. Tucked into the scenery are loose enclosures, surrounded by nature, giving you the chance to explore desert fauna in its true environment. Walking through the desert, where the carpet of dull grey/green and brown is broken up by delicate papery flowers in stunning reds, yellows, purples and oranges, you can see everything from prairie dogs & coyotes to ocelots, mountain goats and brown bears relaxing in their enclosures. There is such a blur between cage and free here, with animals like the coyotes roaming the deserts bordering the parkland and hawks flying freely overhead just as cheeky squirrels scamper underfoot at every turn.

Everything about this museum is absolutely amazing and the animals are 100% living I swear. If there was going to be a single thing that would win me over to Tucson, then this was surely it.

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