First-time visitors to the Sonoran Desert often expect to find a lifeless expanse of sandy dunes. A trip to the Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., 480/941-1225, www.dbg.org , 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily Oct.–May, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. daily Jun.–Sept., $15 adults, $5 children 3–12) quickly dispels any myths about a Sahara in the Southwest.
With some 21,000 cacti, agaves, succulents, shrubs, trees, and colorful wildflowers, the Desert Botanical Garden easily claims the world’s largest, if not finest, collection of desert plants, including 139 rare, threatened, or endangered species. About a third of the living collection is native to the region, with the remaining plants originating from Australia, South America, and Mexico.
The Desert Botanical Garden began in 1939 with a mission “to exhibit, to conserve, to study, and to disseminate knowledge of the arid-land plants of the world.” Since then, it has evolved beyond a plant refuge, offering classes and hosting a series of social events throughout the year that range from spring concerts to arts festivals.
Try to come early in the day or late in the evening, when the sunlight is incredible. Or, for a different perspective, flashlight tours are held during the summer, a fun opportunity for children to see the nocturnal desert’s nighthawks, snakes, insects, and night-blooming flowers.