Visiting Tucson and the Sonoran Desert

From petroglyphs to fossilized bats to petrified poop, this is my “Perfect Day” in Tucson and the Sonoran Desert:

It involves a walk along the easy Desert Loop Trail of the Tucson Desert Museum that is dotted with fossils and caves, and an easy walk along the Signal Hill Trail of the Saguaro National Park that is dotted with ancient art and saguaros.

Of course, for any perfect day, one must have perfect company and my journey in Tucson (and in life) would not be complete without my best friend, Marlena, who stars in this tale of wandering through an outdoor museum in the Sonoran Desert and among the towering cacti of the Saguaro National Park.

Video: Sonoran Desert Museum & Saguaro National Park

The Sonora Desert Museum

One of the most intriguing museums in Tucson, because 85 percent of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is outside. My kind of place!

We were greeted by a friendly docent named Warner who gave us an overview of the museum, tracing his finger along the Desert Loop Trail, which weaves its way through the exhibits and outdoor gardens of the Sonoran Desert Museum.

We set out along the trail and meandered through the gardens, which feature spiky deserst plants of all kinds, dinosaur fossils hidden in rocks, and a walk-in bird aviary.

walk-in bird aviary at the Sonoran Desert Museum

When visiting the Sonoran Desert Museum, you are visiting an outdoor zoo. we saw a fox, river otters, and even javelinas lounging in a pig-like pile, reminding me of the R.O.U.S. or Rodents of Unusual Size in the classic movie “The Princess Bride”.

My favorite part of the Desert Museum was the cave where a sloth skeleton sits – nearly perfectly preserved – beneath fossilized bats still clinging from the cave ceiling. It’s the bats and there – urrr droppings – that contributed to the near-perfect preservation of the sloth.

Visiting Saguaro National Park West & Signal Hill Trail

Just down the street from the Sonoran Desert Museum is the Red Hills Visitor Center of Saguaro National Park West where I was able to obtain yet another stamp for my National Parks Passport.

Saguaro National Park near Tucson and in the Sonoran Desert

Saguaro National Park is divided into two districts that sit on either side of Tucson and are home to the towering saguaros that dot every Western movie set but are native only to the northern Sonoran Desert.

Fun fact: Though the towering saguaros of the Sonoran Desert can grow to over 40 feet tall over the course of 150 years, most of their root systems sit just inches below the surface! Click To Tweet

Walking Signal Hill Trail in the Saguaro National Park & Sonoran Desert

Saguaro National Park West is also home to the artwork of the southwestern United States: petroglyphs.

petroglyphs at Signal Trail in the Sonoran Desert
Petroglyphs along Signal Hill Trail in the Saguaro National park

Carved and etched into the rock and sandstone an estimated 800 years ago by the people who called the wild and seemingly inhospitable Sonoran Desert home, it is unknown whether these pictures were religious symbols, directional signs, or, simply, ancient graffiti.

Essential Survival Kit for Beginning Hikers Checklist

Marlena and I headed for the Signal Hill Petroglyph Site near the Signal Hill picnic area. There we found the short Signal Hill Trail, our second short and educational walk of the day. The up-and-back trail revealed many examples of the ancient rock art you will see on a visit to the Sonoran Desert.

This artwork completed our perfect day.

Well, almost anyway. We officially ended our perfect day at a nearby sports bar where Marlena celebrated her birthday watching her beloved Chicago Bears win themselves a football game. (After all, we all have our own version of a perfect day!)

Follow these links for all you need to know about the Tucson Desert Museum and for Signal Hill Trail in Saguaro National Park West. Or visit here for more information on USA National Parks and below for inspiration while visiting Arizona:

Hiking Coronado National Memorial

This is it. The hike when I learned to ALWAYS be over-prepared – even on the most simple out and back hike. Getting Lost Hiking…

Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson
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