Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park — where the wild things are


Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park Entrance Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks
Living Desert Zoo

The flora and the fauna come together in the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park at the north edge of Carlsbad, New Mexico, on U.S. Highway 285. It takes visitors through the diverse Chihuahuan Desert, the largest in North America, that spans Southeast New Mexico into the rugged terrain of the Guadalupe Mountains and Mexico. The Park is located on top of the Ocotillo Hills overlooking Carlsbad and the Pecos River valley.

There is a 1.3 mile self-guided tour for visitors that takes approximately 1 1/2 hours. You can soar with eagles at the beginning of the tour. The park’s aviary is a peaceful screened-in area full of trees. Several species of birds reside there, including the raven and the owl. Birds fly freely around the visitors who are asked to remain quiet in order not to frighten them.

Informational signs are visible throughout the park to give visitors science lessons. The natural exhibits feature native plants of the desert’s ecosystem, including the sand hills, gypsum hills, desert uplands and pinion-juniper zones. Shade structures and picnic tables are available near the park’s pond, home to dozens of ducks, geese and native turtles. Among the park’s residents are rattlesnakes, kit foxes, rare Mexican wolves, a prairie dog town, deer, bobcats, black bear, elk or buffalo.

The park provides environmental education for young and old, story-telling, guided tours and a zoo camp. The Visitors Center features interpretive exhibits on the Capitan Reef and Permian Basin as well as on animal and plant communities. The Greenhouse, at the end of the tour, has a special exhibit, Succulents of the World, that houses hundreds of cacti and related plants that can’t survive out-of-doors. Plants grown on-site are available for purchase in the gift shop.

A national award-winning Mescal Roast, sponsored by Friends of the Living Desert, is held during mid-May each year. Members of the Mescalero Apache tribe visit the Living Desert to harvest and prepare their traditional food, the Mescal or Century Plant (agave neomexicana). The public may attend the roasting and tasting of the mescal, feast dinners, traditional Mescalero ceremonial dances, art exhibit and sales. Contact the Living Desert for ticket prices and more information.

About Phyllis Eileen Banks