A Visit to Tohono Chul Park

Well, there’s definitely a pattern to how popular my posts are. Race reports and photo-heavy posts = good, swimming and generally everything else = meh. So, here’s a post with lots of pictures to satisfy the masses.

Yesterday I visited Tohono Chul Park here in Tucson. This park is located on the north end of town, just outside Oro Valley, and is known for its gardens. I’ve been wanting to visit ever since a guy I was seeing last spring suggested it. Since they are doing a free reciprocal membership with the Tucson Museum of Art through September 30, I got to go for free. Yay.

The gardens are definitely the highlight. Unlike the Tucson Botanical Gardens, which I saw in May, most of the plants here are native to the Sonoran Desert, though they are not necessarily all native to Tucson. Other than that, though, the landscaping and the facilities are very similar to the botanical gardens. Ample signage provides information about the plants and animals, an old home on the property houses art displays and a gift shop, and the place is very small and walkable.

Another similarity to the botanical garden is that there is plenty to do to amuse children. An educational facility is on site and there is also a fun children’s patio with fountains, things to climb on, and whimsical bird houses.

You can see some wildlife here; I saw a zebra-tailed lizard, a couple of other small lizards, some quail, and a javelina. In that respect it was a decent outing, but keep in mind that I could also see a lot of these same critters on a trail run and not pay $8 to do it. What was interesting were the in-park exhibits featuring desert tortoise and two threatened fish species, the desert pupfish and the topminnow. I wasn’t aware how endangered Arizona’s native fish have become with riparian areas drying up. The desert pupfish only has one known remaining habitat in Arizona, at Quitobaquito Springs in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Seems like a false advertisement. Once again, deprived of a rattlesnake sighting.

While the gardens are lovely and fun, this is not the place to come if you want to hike. There are three trails, but the longest of them is only a half mile. I hiked that one, the Desert View Trail, and while it did offer some nice views it wasn’t really challenging. I was amazed at how many benches and ramadas could be crammed into such a short space, and that took away a little from the natural environment.

The trail is also well groomed and lined at intervals with these engraved stones with random quotes about the desert. Honestly, I thought this was a little cheesy.

Also a distraction is that the park is so closely nestled into a busy area. I got most of the way through the trail before I arrived at a spot where I could get a decent landscape photo that didn’t include apartment buildings, a church, or a view of the New Balance store across the street. But… OK, I guess this is a pay-off.

In sum, I recommend this place if you want to get out into the desert without really getting out into the desert. This is a suitable outing for kids, older folks, or if you’re in town for a visit and want a condensed activity. At Tohono Chul Park you can get your exercise, see some critters, view the artwork, and even grab a bite to eat without getting too far out of town. And you’ll likely be done in a couple of hours. Check their web site (see above) for hours, information, and special events.

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