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Count the Bighorn Sheep at the Living Desert in Palm Springs

Published by Camilla Cheung, Writer

Country: United States

The Experience

Admittedly, most people who go to Palm Springs are there for two things: the warm weather and the golf. But this resort town in the middle of the desert has more to offer than restaurants and condos. Just 15 minutes away from Palm Springs is the Living Desert, a zoo and conservation area that specializes in habitats and wildlife from the world’s deserts. In addition to perennial zoo favorites like meerkats and giraffes, the Living Desert has swathes of land devoted to the desert bighorn sheep, a formerly threatened native of California that is being rehabilitated through conservation areas such as the Living Desert and nearby areas such as Anza-Borrego State Park.

Although the Living Desert has the crowd-pleasers—gazelles, warthogs, and zebras—the most interesting exhibits are those that showcase native plants and animals, allowing visitors to see the California desert much as it was before settlers arrived. The North American areas of the zoo include a yucca garden and a sage garden that attracts thousands of butterflies and hummingbirds. Other enclosures house majestic wolves, graceful mountain lions, cute foxes, swift roadrunners, and sharp-eyed eagles. The badger exhibit allows you to get a close-up view of this underground dweller, while the coyote exhibit gives you a glimpse of the best-groomed coyote you ever did see! There are even opportunities to get up-close and personal with some of the creatures at the scheduled animal programs.

For wildlife enthusiasts, a glimpse of the rare bighorn sheep is one of the highlights of a visit to the Living Desert. These shy animals are rarely seen in the wild Californian desert, as they live and wander in remote mountain areas. At Bighorn Mountain at the Living Desert, you are almost guaranteed a look at a few of these astonishing creatures, who can go for weeks without water. On the rugged cliffs of Bighorn Mountain, the slender-legged desert bighorn gracefully navigate boulders and gullies as they gaze into the distance on the lookout for predators. The distinctive silhouette of the bighorn sheep and its curling horns, perched on the top of a mountain, is one of the symbols of the California desert.

Bighorn sheep inhabited North American deserts in the millions before the arrival of human settlers, but their numbers have dwindled significantly due to loss of habitat and the encroachment of domestic livestock. The subspecies of peninsular bighorn, which can also be seen at the Living Desert, is particularly endangered. Getting to see these animals in areas approaching their natural habitat is a rare and unique treat.

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When to Go to Living Desert

The Palm Springs Living Desert lives up to its name as a desert, and the sun can be blisteringly hot there in the summer. For the most comfortable experience, the best time to visit the Living Desert is during the fall or winter. Even so, it can get warm as you walk around the zoo, so bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

Try to get to the Living Desert early in the day before temperatures rise to their peak. Most of the animals are more active in the early morning, and rest in the shade during the hottest part of the day. If you need refreshment and shade during the hot hours, check out the Animal Hospital, the villages, and petting zoo areas.

Odds n' Ends

Admission fees for the Living Desert are reasonable, about $15 for adults and half that for kids. Be sure to check out special programs planned for seasonal events like Halloween and Christmas. Guided tours and special educational programs are available.

Although there is a shuttle bus that will take around the park if you have trouble getting around, it is highly recommended to walk through the zoo yourself, as many of the exhibits are designed for pedestrians.

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