After spending a day exploring the underground world at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and a day exploring the above ground world at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we had one day left in New Mexico and we filled with with aliens and animals.
In the morning we drove to Roswell, New Mexico to learn more about UFOs at the International UFO Museum, snap our photo with the iconic Welcome to Roswell Alien Mural, and have some silly alien encounters — it was a blast! Then, in the afternoon, we stopped at the Living Desert Zoo And Gardens State Park on our way back to our hotel in Carlsbad to check out some desert animals and cacti.
It was the day after Thanksgiving and admission was free!
The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens State Park in New Mexico is home to more than 40 native animal species and hundreds of succulent plants from around the world.
Located on the outskirts of Carlsbad, at 3,482 feet elevation, the Living Desert Zoo And Gardens State Park overlooks the Pecos River Valley. The park gives you the opportunity to see incredible cacti, learn about the region’s history, and come face to face with Chihuahuan Desert animals like the rare Mexican gray wolf, roadrunners, javelinas, mountain lions, and more.
The Living Desert Visitors Center
When visiting the park, the Living Desert Visitors Center is your first stop. Here you can pay your admission fee, pick up a park map, chat with the knowledgeable and friendly staff, and even pick up some snacks from the vending area. The visitor center is also a great place to learn about:
- The formation of the Permian Basin and why this area has so much gas and oil
- The special adaptations of the Chihuahuan Desert’s plants and animals
- The history and culture of the Mescalero Apaches, who roamed this area hundreds of years ago
Kids can also handle rocks, bird feathers, elk antlers, plant items, and insect remains at the touch table, make footprints of Chihuahuan Desert animals at the tracks table, and grind corn using an ancient mortar and pestle. There is also a collection of animal skulls on display.
After browsing the visitor center exhibits, we stopped in the Carlsbad Horticulture Society Gift Shop that carries books, jewelry, rocks, snacks, pottery, plants, t-shirts, souvenirs, and more to pickup a Christmas ornament and key chain for our collections.
The Living Desert Walk In The Park
The 1.3 mile, 1.5 hour, self-guided, paved Living Desert Walk In The Park Trail takes visitors through a sprawling 1,200 acre desert garden with animal exhibits and stunning views.
From sand dunes, gypsum deposits, and mountain canyons to the arroyo, the desert uplands, and a pygmy forest, on the Living Desert Walk In The Park, you’ll experience an awesome display of cacti, yuccas, agave, shrubs, and trees, as well as examples of several Chihuahuan Desert habitats and the amazing animals that live there.
After checking out the Visitor Center and the Gift Shop, we began our Walk In The Park by wandering into the sand hills habitat, through an enclosed aviary and along enclosures for eagles, owls, hawks, a turkey vulture, and a gray fox! Next we learned about Gypsum deposits, created by the evaporation of a shallow Permian sea 250,000 million years ago, and walked through the arroyo to see javelinas.
We were really excited about the javelinas, which really look like wild pigs, because we read about on signs all over Big Bend National Park, but never saw one there!
The Desert Uplands then provided passage to the black bear exhibit where we got to see Maggie (the resident black bear) taking a nap, the nocturnal animal exhibit, Mexican Gray Wolves, and the awesome reptile exhibit with all sorts of desert snakes and a Gila Monster. From the Reptile Exhibit’s patio, situated on the top of Ocotillo Hills, we enjoyed the view of the Delaware Basin and McMillian Lake. Next, we checked out the the waterfowl pond with softshell turtles, Bolson tortoises, and prairie dogs on our way to exhibits for mule deer, bison, pronghorns, and Rocky Mountain elk.
Finally we entered the Succulents of the World Greenhouse featuring both both native and exotic succulents. Inside the greenhouse it was extremely humid — it felt super gross and while Brian and the kids strolled through it slowly, I made a beeline out of there for fresh, cool mountain air! After that, it was back to the Visitor Center for us to wrap up our trip.
If you’re heading to Carlsbad to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park or Guadalupe Mountains National Park, you should definitely make time to visit the Living Desert Zoo And Gardens State Park — the animals are well worth the stop. Just make sure you’re not there in the afternoon on a hot day because there is almost no shade and the animals will be hiding!
Know Before You Go
- The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park is located at 1504 Miehls Road, Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220 in Eddy County. It sits high atop the Ocotillo Hills overlooking the northwest edge of Carlsbad, just off US Highway 285.
- Living Desert State Park is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, it is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The last zoo entry is at 3:30 pm. The park is closed on Christmas Day.
- Admission is $5.00 for adults 13+, $3.00 for kids 7-12, and children 6 and under are free.
- If visiting in the summer, be sure to arrive early to beat the heat. Plus, the animals are more active in the morning so you’ll be more likely to see them!
- In the Visitor Center, you’ll find museum exhibits, interactive exhibits, an art gallery, a gift shop, clean restrooms, and vending machines.
- The Zoo and Gardens are all outdoors along an easy, paved, 1.3 mile loop trail that is wheelchair accessible. Wear sunscreen or bring a hat in the summer, and wear layers in the winter.
- You are allowed to bring water with you on your walk through the zoo and gardens.
- Shaded picnic tables are located outside the Visitor Center near the Succulents of the World Greenhouse.
- There are clean flush restrooms inside the Visitor Center and at two different places along the Walk In The Park Trail.
- All of the animals in the Living Desert Zoo are either rescued or captive born and cannot be released into the wild.
- No pets are allowed at the Living Desert State Park. Service animals are allowed.