A Perfect Day in Tucson and the Sonoran Desert

This day 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.

From petroglyphs to fossilized bats and petrified poop, this my perfect day in Tucson:

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.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

One of the most intriguing museums in Tucson, 85 percent of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is outside, making it my kind of place! Lucky for me because it is the one place that Marlena insisted on seeing during her birthday trip to Tucson. So, off we went!

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 Desert Museum.

He may have also called us old when he kindly advised us that the Packrat Playhouse was for the young…or young at heart. (Despite our insistence that we are young at heart, Warner was right, we did skip the playhouse.)

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

walk-in bird aviary

The Desert Museum also serves as an outdoor zoo and 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.

Saguaro National Park West & Signal Hill Trail

Just down the street from the 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

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 saguaros can grow to over 40 feet tall over the course of 150 years, most of their root systems sit just below the surface.

Signal Hill Trail

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

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.

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 of the Sonoran Desert and 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. If you would like to visit both the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Signal Hill Trail for a perfect day in Tucson, save this post for later!

Tucson Desert Museum

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