Over the past decade or so, Palm Springs and the surrounding desert communities have been working hard to change the stuffy image that they have long suffered from.  No longer just a haven for the retired, blue-haired geriatric set, the Coachella Valley has broadened its appeal and you’ll now see families and couples of all ages and genders.

Baby Giraffe at Living Desert Palm Desert California

Baby Giraffe at the Living Desert in Palm Desert, California

One of the great spots to visit in the area is The Living Desert in Palm Desert.  Founded in 1970, it is a zoo and botanical garden based entirely on the ecosystem of the desert.

The Living Desert currently occupies about 1,200 acres of land, is a pioneer in environmental education and native wildlife rehabilitation, is active in captive breeding and plant propagation programs, and sustains itself through an aggressive membership and volunteer program.

When you walk around the facility it is hard to imagine that just a few decades ago, this land was barren, litter-covered fallow land.  The 1970’s saw the development of the Living Desert concentrate on clearing and construction of the facilities, and the beginning of development of several botanical exhibitions.  In the 80’s wildlife was added to the mix, and a full time animal curator was added.  The 90’s saw the development of additional animal exhibits as well as a train exhibit.  And in the 2000’s, a kids’ play park and picnic area have been added, in additional to the continuing development of the animal exhibits.

I think the best time to see The Living Desert is shortly after it opens for the day.  Going early in the day allows you to escape the bulk of the desert heat, see the animals when they are fresh and a little more active, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some of them having their breakfast.  You may have the opportunity to watch the giraffes being hand fed before you head off to nuzzle with a couple goats in the Petting Kraal and then walk around looking at all the rest of the desert plants and animals.

A community of meerkats

A community of meerkats

Among the animals, my favorites area the playful and mischievous meerkats.  Known also as mongoose, these clever little guys are very social, living and raising their young in large communities.  If you can catch the exhibit when they’re active, they’ll quickly capture your interest and you may wind up watching for hours.

Allow two to three hours to visit the Living Desert, perhaps a little longer if you’re a real animal fan.  Wear sensible  clothes and walking shoes (it will get hot), drink plenty of liquids, and don’t forget the sunscreen.  And don’t forget your camera!

Location:  The Living Desert is located at: 47-900 Portola Avenue in Palm Desert, just a few minutes from Palm Springs and Indio (map)

Hours:  9 am – 5 pm daily during October through May.  8 am – 1:30 pm during June through September.

Admission:  $12.50 for adults; $11 seniors (62+) and military; $7.50 children (ages 3-12); FREE for children under 3.

Photo credits:  Drew Avery @flickr (meerkats); Renee Silverman @flickr (giraffe)