02-01-2016 A Day at The Living Desert

“I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the Giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing.”

From “Out of Africa” by Karen Blixen, first published in 1937

Sometimes a simple moment can really take your breath away.  Mo and I were at the end of our long and pleasant day walking the grounds of The Living Desert, a zoo and desert botanical garden in Palm Desert, in the Palm Springs area.  We knew there was a baby giraffe, born just a week or so ago.  We also knew that folks said they were keeping the baby away from the crowds so we weren’t really expecting to see him up close.

This photo is from their website

It was late in the day, and we were walking along the savannah exhibit where the giraffes are kept, looking at the pretty landscape, when suddenly Mo gasped as a long neck appeared beyond the hills. It was just too funny, and within minutes two adult giraffes were walking the trail over the hill and then there he was, the little one.  They were amazing to watch.  I only picked up “Out of Africa” to read a few days ago, but in the very first chapter the description I quoted above can be found. 

After watching them amble out of sight, I can only imagine what a thrill it must be to see these beautiful animals in the wild.  I decided I needed to go back and view Erin’s Smug Mug photos of their African Safari to see if she had giraffe photos to add to her amazing wildlife repertoire. Sure enough, she does. If you have a moment to enjoy a real treat, check out her photos here.

We left our boondock site at Ogilby Road on Saturday morning on January 30.  I think the two days we spent there were some of our favorites of this season.  The wind that was predicted for just about everywhere in the southwest left us alone, and we enjoyed the days from sunrise to sunset.  An especially endearing moment was watching Mattie when she saw the vastness of that desert landscape for the first time.

Instead of jumping out of the MoHo to explore, she parked herself on the inside step, viewing that huge space with what seemed to be a bit of trepidation.  You could almost see her thinking, “This is just to big and open and scary.  Think I’ll stay right here in my house.”  Once we took her out, she loved it, with so much space to run and play without any restriction.  We walked with her, but no leash was needed and she loved that.

We decided to return to Desert Hot Springs for a couple of days at the Catalina Spa pools before continuing north back to Oregon.  Two nights were enough, we thought, but the weather had other plans.  The big winds hit hard on Saturday night and some of the trees next to the dog park behind us succumbed to the high winds.  The predictions were for even higher wind warnings on Monday when we planned to leave.  Nope. No need to get hasty about getting on the road, and we simply extended our stay for another day.

Monday February 1 dawned mostly clear and gorgeous, with the winds at Desert Hot Springs strong but not unbearable.  It was a perfect time for us to explore one of the more well known attractions in the Palm Springs area. We had never been to the Living Desert, for several reasons.  It is a bit spendy, at $17.95 for seniors, with other charges for the little extras. (We chose to skip the special shows).  We also had a dog, and the place is not dog friendly.  Be aware that even the parking lot on a cool, cloudy day is not dog friendly.  Dogs left in cars will be reported to the Humane Society.

We planned accordingly and parked Mattie safely in the shade down the road from the official gate entry where there is ample street parking with all day shade.  With temps in the 50’s, we had no worries about her overheating.

I enjoy zoos, some of them, and took time to read that this one is accredited with the AZA, which may or may not be enough to keep some people happy about zoos, but it is good to know it has been reviewed, that the habitats are as good as they should be for captive animals, and that they participate in breeding of endangered species for the world. 

However, what I most wanted to see at The Living Desert were the gardens.

From their website:

“The Living Desert was one of the first public gardens to represent the plants from a given geographical region through “immersion” gardening. These gardens are created with the purpose of giving one the sense of having been dropped into the middle of the area being represented. Among the Geographic gardens are the Mohave, Upper Colorado (the local region of the Colorado Desert of southeastern California at 1,500 to 3,000 feet elevation), Yuman (southwestern Arizona), Vizcaino (central Baja California, Mexico), Foothills of Sonora and Chihuahuan (Big Bend area of western Texas). Village Watutu, East African Garden, Savannah Exhibit and Madagascar Gardens all strive to achieve the same affect.”

We had a wonderful day browsing through the deserts of North America, marveling at the incredible variety of what we commonly thought were simply barrel cactus, the columnar cactus family, the many varieties of yucca, including the Joshua Tree.

A section dedicated to the Cahuilla (ka-we-ah) people was fascinating, and I was happy to at last discover how to pronounce this word that I have seen in many places as we travel around the southern deserts of California.

The beautiful palm oasis was very much like the Thousand Palms area where we have enjoyed many hikes into the cool shadows of desert palms and rare watering holes.

By the time we had wandered the desert gardens, it was mid afternoon, and most of the animals were snoozing.  The Jaguar was simply a beautiful but unmoving mound of spots, viewed through lacy stems of shrubs.  The coyotes were snuggled into their dens, with photos through one way glass impossible to decipher unless you knew you were seeing a coyote sleeping.

The Mexican Wolf was also napping in the afternoon sun.

The Big Horn sheep however, were posing nicely on their rocky hill, and the Ibex and Gazelles were out and about. 

A few birds were in the walk through aviaries, but it was hard to get terribly excited about them when I have seen so many in the wild.  There was a 25 year old woodpecker, named Dewey, retired to the hospital due to some physical limitations. 

I had never seen a Sandcat, gorgeous creature.  Much like a big fat tabby housecat.  The meercats were among my favorites. Who can resist those watchful eyes and adorable faces!

We were at the end of the day when we discovered the giraffes, and they were the highlight.  Such incredibly amazing animals. 

On the way out, we passed the huge model train display which rivaled model trainI have seen anywhere.  Brought back memories of my childhood September days at the LA County Fair, where the model train setup was as big as a city block.

After our day at the Living Desert, we meandered west toward Cathedral City to try supper at a well reviewed restaurant, New Fortune Asian Cuisine.  It was a small, very tidy little restaurant in a stip mall.  The service was good, but the food was just OK, nothing to write home about.  Someday we might try Wang’s in the Desert, only it would have to be on a day when we felt like dressing a bit more and spending a bit more cash for the highly rated cuisine.  Maybe next time.

Next:  Home to Oregon

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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