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The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, Palm Desert, California


It was a strange time to be traveling. In early March, with plans to spend my birthday visiting a dear friend I hadn’t seen in something like 25 years, despite concerning news it still seemed unthinkable to cancel. We spoke a few days before I was to fly down, were they still comfortable having a guest?  Yes, he said, do come.



Gardens were at the top of my list for the few days I’d be in a place I’d once been a regular visitor. As I searched online for possibilities I found that a grand private home, Sunnylands, though now open to the public, had already closed in anticipation of the coming calamity. Gary suggested The Living Desert, first opened 50 years ago. I’d been completely unaware of it, it looked like fun, so we had a plan.

Below, a Meerkat


Gary, John and I drove from their home to Palm Desert, just 15 minutes away. Located on 1800 acres of Sonoran Desert hills, with 1200 acres preserved in it’s natural state, the botanical gardens showcase desert flora with animals interspersed in a variety of enclosures, many designed to approximate natural habitats. It would be a remarkable place to visit as a world-class botanic garden or, alternatively, an unusual zoo. But the combination is extraordinary.

LivingDesert-6Above, a Fennec Fox.  Below, a Mexican Wolf.


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The park is divided into 2 large sections, one designated North America, the other Africa. Unfinished as we passed by was a new section under construction tucked between the 2, Australian Adventures.


Feeding the giraffes is a popular pastime on both sides of the fence.


Trails guide visitors outside the developed park into the desert preserve for walks of half a mile or mountain hikes as long as the 5 mile Wilderness Loop. Paved walkways wind through the hilly terrain of the gardens and habitats. An open shuttle carries visitors who prefer to ride and stops at intersections with signs pointing in every direction, exotic destinations around every corner.


Above, a Caracal.  Below a Jaguar.


So we partly rode, partly walked, ate ice cream cones near the camels and sat talking on benches in palm groves. We watched giraffes tease lettuce leaves from visitors’ fingers, a popular pastime for people and giraffes. I was amazed at the number of unusual animals that live in this place.


In years past I wasn’t a fan of zoos.  But times change and so have the zoos.  I enjoyed myself a great deal wandering between continents in Palm Desert that day. In the company of my friends I loved everything about those days just preceding the pause in life as we knew it. California shut down 5 days after I arrived home and, I’m happy to report, we all lived to tell the tale.

Above, Greater Kudus

Below, Ankole Cattle





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