Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
On my trip out to Tucson last October, we took a morning to wander around the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Located on a hill overlooking Tucson, the place is a kind of combination garden and zoo, highlighting the species native to the Sonoran Desert. In my oh-so-humble opinion, this place is worth every penny of the entrance price. Set aside plenty of time to wander the twisting paths, examine the plants, and watch the critters.
Tip: In most seasons, go as early as possible in the morning before it gets hot. The animals are probably also more active early in the day.
Tip: Wear a hat with a dark brim. There's very little shade or shelter, and the glare gets tiring after a while.
The gardens surround the animal enclosures, and are quite extensive. From succulents to cacti to scrubby little trees and grasses, there's actually a pretty diverse collection of plants. Wildlife makes an occasional appearance as well ;)
One of the neatest parts of the museum is the aviary, which is chock full of hummingbirds. If you ever wanted to practice your hummingbird photography, this is a great place to play, as many of the birds are absolutely fearless. They'll come right up and buzz your ears. There are also several popular perches that the birds come back to over and over, giving plenty of opportunities to practice pre-focus techniques. I, alas, still need more practice ;)
In addition to the hummingbirds, the museum is home to a couple of bobcats, some bighorn sheep, a whole passel of prairie dogs, a silver fox, some beaver, fish, and other animals. They're tucked away here and there throughout the park, and some are easier to spot than others.
I can't close this out without mentioning the views, which were, frankly, very nice. Traveling through Arizona on the highways, I'm used to looking up at the mountains from the plains, not the other way around, and I found the change both pleasant and very attractive.