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More zoo than museum proper, ASDM is one of the best of its kind in the country. The Sonoran Desert, which spans central southern Arizona and parts of northern Mexico, contains within its boundaries not only arid lands, but also forested mountains, springs, rivers, wetlands, grasslands, and streams. Exhibits here encompass the full spectrum of Sonoran Desert life—from plants and insects to fish, reptiles, and mammals—and all are on display in very natural settings. Coyotes and javelinas (peccaries) seem very much at home in their compounds, which are surrounded by nearly invisible fences, making it seem as if there’s nothing between you and the animals. You’ll also see black bears and mountain lions, tarantulas and scorpions, prairie dogs and desert bighorn sheep. The walk-in hummingbird aviary is a special treat, with hummers of many species whizzing by your head and sometimes pausing to take stock of you. So, too, is the raptor free flight display, staged in all but summer, when birds of prey such as hawks, owls, and ravens are set loose to demonstrate their remarkable skills. Don’t be surprised if you end up staying here hours longer than you had intended. Tip: The grounds are quite extensive, so wear good walking shoes; a brimmed hat and sunscreen lotion are also advisable. If you get hungry, there are two excellent dining options—the cafeteria-style Ironwood Terraces and the more upscale Ocotillo Café.
To get here from downtown, go west on Speedway Blvd., which becomes Gates Pass Rd., and follow the signs.