Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park

New Mexico > Living Desert State Park

Carlsbad sits at the edge of the Great Plains of middle America - to the east stretch hundreds of miles of flat prairie, used mainly for ranching and oil exploration. With a relatively low elevation of 3,400 feet, and summer temperatures that often exceed 100°F, this part of New Mexico is still classed as desert land, part of the Chihuahuan Desert which also extends across southeast Arizona, west Texas and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The varied plants and animals of this arid region are exhibited in the Living Desert State Park, which occupies several acres of cacti and yucca-strewn land on the edge of the Ocotillo Hills, overlooking the Pecos river valley just northwest of town.


This part of New Mexico is quite remote, and those that do pass by are likely to be en route to or from the nearby Carlsbad Caverns; the Living Desert though well-deserves a diversion of a few hours as it has one of the best collections of desert life in the Southwest (the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson is also very good). The state park is 2 miles from Carlsbad on US 285. There is ample parking but no campground - the nearest (free) camping is provided by the Lincoln National Forest, 30 miles to the west, in a scenic but little visited area that also has abundant desert plants.


In the park, animals in sheltered cages include snakes, lizards and birds of prey, and there is a walk-through aviary with humming birds and other colorful species. In outside pens there are bison, Mexican wolves, elk, mountain lions, javelinas (desert pigs), antelope and many others.


The park grounds include many naturally-growing Chihuahuan desert plants, but non-native species such as the giant saguaro have been added, and several nature trails lead past many types of cacti, agaves, yuccas, trees and bushes, including the distinctive spiky ocotillo after which the surrounding hills were named. A more organized and comprehensive collection is housed within a large greenhouse, and small plants are available for purchase.


Carlsbad has a good selection of hotels, some just a few miles from the state park.

Highlights: Entertaining zoo and botanical gardens near Carlsbad, showcasing the varied plant and animal life of the Chihuahuan Desert that covers most of south New Mexico and west Texas
Nearest city with hotels: Carlsbad
Management: New Mexico State Parks
Location: 32.441, -104.278
Seasons: All year

Living Desert State Park - Photographs

  • 6 views of the Living Desert State Park
  • photograph
    Prairie dog
    Nearby places

    Bottomless Lakes State Park (84 miles) - deep, blue, circular lakes, originally sinkholes

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park (26 miles) - world famous limestone caves
    Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is part of the New Mexico Highlights and West and Central Texas itineraries

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