Succulents of World Greenhouse

Near the end of your walk, you will find a greenhouse that features both native and exotic succulents from around the world.

Mountain Canyon

Over millions of years, wind and water have eroded mountains into canyon land which provide good habitat for wildlife.  Our natural looking mountain canyon is home to secretive and well camouflaged mountain lions and bobcats.  These predators are known for their ability to hide on rock ledges and in the vegetation where they wait for prey.  The mountain lions size allows them to catch larger prey such as deer and elk, while the smaller bobcats feed on smaller rabbits, etc.  

Rocky Mountain Elk

Elk are members of the deer family.  They are larger than deer but smaller than moose.  The male can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.  Only the males grow antlers, which they shed in February or March.  They immediately begin growing new ones at a rate of 1 inch per day. The antler's "velvet" covering is full of blood vessels and nerves.  During that time, the antlers are very sensitive and easily damaged.  After the antlers reach full growth in midsummer, the blood vessels dry up and the antlers become much lighter and calcify like bone.  To prepare for rut (mating season) the bulls rub off the velvet covering and sharpen their tines.


Pronghorns are the fastest land runners in North America.  They are able to maintain a running speed of 40 mph and can reach up to 60 mph in short sprints.  They are not classified as true antelopes.  Although they have bony horns, these unique mammals will   grow  horn sheaths made of fused hair to cover them.  The sheaths are shed  in  October or November, leaving only the bony horns showing.  The sheaths are regrown  in the spring.  Females have much shorter horns than the males. 

The Reptile Exhibit's patio, situated on the top of Ocotillo Hills, provides visitors  a view of the Delaware Basin and McMillian Lake to the right.  Across the valley, the limestone cliffs are the uplifted part of the Capitan Reef.

Waterfowl Pond

Birds use this pond as they migrate in the fall and spring.  The pond is home to animals such as spiny softshell turtles, red-eared sliders, and native fish.

Mexican Gray Wolves

Our Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Mexican Wolf Survival Plan (SSP).  These endangered wolves, nearly driven to extinction, are now making a slow comeback because of zoos  and related facilities that are working together to save them.

Reptile Exhibit

The Reptile Exhibit was opened in June 2014, and displays a variety of Chihuahuan Desert snakes and a Gila Monster (the only venomous lizard in the United States) in natural habitat exhibits.  

Black Bear

Our black bear, Maggie, enjoys roaming her exhibit, which includes her own pool for cooling off on hot days.  To keep her from becoming bored, Maggie is given "enrichment" items such as egg cartons, pizza boxes, balls, etc. to play with.  Maggie also paints pictures with her paws.  Her paintings and bookmarkers are for sale in the Visitors Center.


After a thunderstorm, these dry stream beds quickly fill with flood waters.  As the water subsides, it becomes trapped in temporary rock pools for weeks or even months.  Trees such as cottonwoods and shrubs that grow along the arroyos benefit from the water.

The aviary area also includes eagles, owls, hawks and a turkey vulture.  A gray fox exhibit is also located in this area.


A walk-through aviary offers a close up view of several native birds . Many blend in and hide, so look closely. 

Desert Uplands 

Desert uplands are area between the higher pinon/juniper zones and the lower grassland.  Desert upland plants require special survival strategies due to high temperatures, drying winds, and the high level of evaporation.  Some of the upland plants are: tarbush, creosote, lechuguilla, New Mexico agave (mescal or century plant), yucca, cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear, and oneseed juniper.

Gypsum Deposits 

250 million years ago, a shallow Permian Sea covered this area.  When it evaporated, it left behind sedimentary deposits of limestone and gypsum (calcium sulfate).  Selenite is the pure, crystalline form of gypsum rock.  Gypsum may appear as large reddish or whitish blocks in exposed hillside or depressions.   Gypsum deposits can from salty, crusty soils that challenge growing plants.  However, some plants, known as gypsophiles, have adapted so well they can't grow anywhere else!  Plants in this area include Morman tea, prickly pear, little leaf sumac, soaptree yucca, fourwing saltbrush, and gypsum phacelia.

Desert Sand Hills

Upon leaving the Visitors Center, the visitor becomes immersed in the sand hills habitat with its wildflowers and sagebrush.  Sandy soils, drying winds, and  limited rainfall create a challenging environment for plants and wildlife.  Plants such as honey mesquite, shinnery oak, fourwing saltbush, western soapberry tree, and soapweed yucca live in this area and tend to have deep, extensive root systems to help them cope with the drying winds and limited rainfall.  Many sand hill animals burrow underground to escape the heat, wind, and dryness of the environment.  Be sure to look for wildlife tracks left by lizards, raccoons, and other desert animals in the sand.

     During the 1.3 mile self-guided tour of the Zoo, you'll experience the  Desert in all its beauty and uniqueness.  At a leisurely pace, the walk will last about 1.5 hours,  and will take you through a variety of habitats.   As you walk the trail, you'll be greeted by an amazing display of cacti, yuccas, agave, shrubs, and trees and over 40 types of animals from the Chihuahuan Desert, North America's largest desert.  The Park is arranged in Chihuahuan Desert Life Zones that take you from the  dry, windblown sand of the Sand Hills, through the life-giving Arroyo, to the populated Pinon Juniper Zone, and finally to the Mountain Canyons.

Take a Walk on the Wildside


Prairie Dogs

The prairie dog exhibit is a popular destination in the Zoo where visitors can enjoy watching these active animals eat and play.  These rodents make a barking sound to warn each other of potential danger, leading to their popular name "dog".  Prairie dogs will touch their teeth as a way of recognizing each other.  In the spring, you might be lucky enough to see the young pups.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer are  found throughout the Chihuahuan Desert .  They are named for the large mule-like ears that help them listen for predators.  As browsers, they eat mesquite leaves and beans, cat claw acacia, fairy dusters, prickly pear, and several shrubs and trees.   

Bolson Tortoises

The Living Desert  Zoo and Garden State Park was the first zoo (2006) to exhibit the endangered purebred Bolson tortoises.  Scientists once thought these largest tortoises of North America were extinct until a small population was discovered in Chihuahua, Mexico.  During the warmer season, the tortoise hatchlings are in a separate exhibit near the adults. 


Animals like javelina gravitate to arroyos that provide them with water and shelter.  

Though they may look similar to pigs, they are in their own classification.

Nocturnal Exhibit

The Nocturnal Exhibit features interactive exhibits as well as live animals.  Visitors can learn how animals have adapted to dark as a survival strategy for living in the desert.

        Welcome from the
Friends of the Living Desert

in Carlsbad, New Mexico


Bison are often mistakenly called buffalo, which is an Asian and African animal without a hump.  Male bison can weigh 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet high.  Bison eat 1 1/2 % of their weight in food each day.  In the spring , they shed their warm wooly-looking winter coats and can look very shaggy.  

This site is matained by the Friends of the Living Desert, a non-profit organization

that provides support for the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park.  


Phone: 575-887-5516.

Pictures may be used for educational purposes.  

Copyright © Friends of the Living Desert. All rights reserved.

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