Destination: The Living Desert

The Living Desert Is A Howling Good Time
Amazing animals from around the world at The Living Desert




A visit to The Living Desert is like taking a global safari.

In just one fascinating day, you can go around the world and see hundreds of noble and exotic animals in a setting that reflects their native environments. All you have to do is walk the scenic wilderness trails at the impressive zoo and gardens attraction in Palm Desert, outside of Palm Springs, California.

Actually, it’s better than a zoo. The 1,200-acre interpretive center gives you an experience that lets all creatures great and small be seen with dignity, and not like caged beasts. More than 450 native and international animals are represented, including several endangered species that are thriving at The Living Desert.

Plus the experience is enhanced by the beauty of the desert location, situated at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains in the Coachella Valley.

During a daytrip, visitors can explore the botanical gardens representing a dozen different ecosystems, from the Southwest and Mexico, to East Africa, Madagascar, and more. The gardens make the desert bloom with native plants.

As you enter the park, the best thing to do is check for the time of the next “Wildlife Wonders” show at the Tennity Amphitheater. Don’t expect a “performance,” these are wild critters presented by animal experts who want to educate the public about conservation. A tiny hedgehog, huge porcupine  and a very fussy (and hungry) cheetah were among the stars of the show the day we were there.


When the show lets out, head towards the Bighorn Sheep Hill, to see nature’s most amazing mountain climbers. Along the trails you’ll pass the aviary and the habitat for the rare Arabian Oryx, called the “Unicorns of the Desert.”

In spacious pastures zebras trot around, and giraffes and ostriches share the same little savannah like good neighbors.

You can take a stroll through Village WaTuTu, an authentic recreation of a northeastern African village. There are mud huts with grass-thatched roofs which circle a shady Elder’s Grove. There you can listen to the storytellers who weave tales for the visitors.

And, oh, the stories you can tell after your visit, enjoying encounters with the playful meerkats, gazelles, butterflies and birds of prey, at an amazingly close– but safe– distance.

The hot, dry desert is not a hostile place for the creatures. Warthogs, Ankole cattle, Nubian goats, nasty hyenas and funny-looking camels are among the animals who make their home in the African Village.

Along the Eagle Canyon Trail the North American exhibits showcase mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and Mexican wolves, who love the desert environment.

The folks who run The Living Desert are dedicated to preserving not only plant and animal life from the deserts around the world, but also educating people through their exhibits and programs.


The newest exhibit is Amazing Amphibians: Frogs on the Edge, which runs throughout the 2008 season. The Eagle Canyon Reptile Facility houses several species of amphibians, from frogs and toads, to exotic salamanders. Visitors can learn that about half of the world’s amphibian species are in danger of becoming extinct in the near future. It is said to be the largest mass extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs– and it could happen in our lifetime. Who knew?

Butterflies Alive! A butterfly exhibit that runs through April 2008, features hundreds of butterflies roaming freely in a huge screened house that visitors can walk through and experience the beauty of the colorful winged fairy-like creatures up close.

Also a treat for visitors is the extensive model trains display.

But for a truly unique experience, The Living Desert offers “The Starry Safari” overnight adventures, available through May. It’s a nighttime sleepover experience for the whole family. Folks can stay past closing time and encounter the sights and sounds of the desert at night.

A tent village is set up, and visitors are provided a tent that sleeps up to four, but guests are asked to bring their own sleeping bags and blankets.

The Starry Safari features a special nocturnal “Wildlife Wonders” show, up-close animal presentations, dinner and a nighttime guided walk through the park, and dinner. Afterward, visitors gather around the campfire to tell stories and enjoy some s’mores. As you drift off to sleep, you might even hear the wolves howl.

The entire Living Desert experience is a howling good time.

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years. Frank Barron was the editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they contributed to numerous publications.