Southwest trip day 5: Tucson, AZ

This morning we got up early and were at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum shortly after they opened at 7:30am. We wanted to get most of our outdoor exploring done before the heat of the day, reserving indoor activity for late morning. As it turned out, we spent six hours there in the morning and then another two in the evening (in the summer they stay open until 10pm on Saturday).


Sonora desert trio: ocotillo, saguaro and prickly pear

This was my fourth visit to the Desert Museum, and I loved it just as much as before. If you’re ever in Tucson, this is a must-see destination. The Desert Museum masterfully combines a zoo, museum and botanical garden.

While my wife and kids went to see the many animal exhibits, I focused on the plant life. Since it was overcast until mid-morning, the lighting was soft and even, allowing me to get some fantastic photos of agaves, yuccas and cacti. It’ll take me a while to go through the 400+ photos I took, and I plan on doing separate posts on the plants I encountered. Here is a sneak preview.


Teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) and Agave zebra


Huachuca agave (Agave parryi var. huachucensis)


Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)


Prickly pear and barrel cactus


Demonstration garden showcasing xeric plants for Tucson homes


Ocotillo, prickly pear and organ pipe cactus


Planting outside the bookstore and gift shop


Planting near the restaurants


View from inside the Warden Oasis Theater


Outside Phoebe’s Coffee Bar


Small boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) in a shallow bowl

In the afternoon, I dropped my wife and kids off at our motel and then headed out to B&B Cactus Farm, which had been recommended by fellow garden blogger Loree of Danger Garden. It was quite a drive from our motel, but I’m so glad I went. This is was the largest and most impressive cactus and succulent nursery I’ve ever been to. Seeing the selection, I felt like a kid in a candy store.


B&B Cactus Farm

In addition to the sales and growing areas, B&B also has two display gardens with many mature specimens. Walking through them is a bit like visiting a miniature botanical garden.


Demonstration garden at B & B Cactus Farm

But the biggest draw for me were the thousands of plants for sale. Our car is already packed to the brim with luggage but I had wisely brought a plastic tub specifically for plant purchases. As tempted as I was by many agaves and cacti, I ended up being a good boy—I only bought five plants, which leaves some room in case I visit another nursery later on during our trip.


Just a few of the many plants for sale

I took 165 photos at B&B—certainly enough for a separate post or two. Here are a just a couple to whet your appetite.


Agave parryi var. neomexicana ‘Sunspot’


6 ft. tall beaked yuccas (Yucca rostrata) were very impressive—and priced accordingly

There was a thunderstorm while I was a B&B, and most of the customers cleared out quickly (it was almost closing time anyway). On my way to the nursery, it had been 95°F. On my way back to the motel, 90 minutes later, it was 78°F. Amazing how quickly the temperature dropped as the sky opened up. Just as amazing was the rapid rise in humidity. When we returned to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at 5:30pm, the humidity must have been 90%. I had never been to Tucson during what the locals call “the monsoon season,” so this was quite an experience for us.

Tomorrow we’ll leave Tucson and Arizona behind and head to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.



  1. I swear I must have lived in the SW in another life. I see these pictures and feel my heart swell and be pulled back "home," it really is the oddest feeling.

    So Tucson and monsoon means just one thing to me, flooding! Did you encounter any? Aso glad you made it to B&B and enjoyed it....what the heck did you buy?

    1. I have a soft spot for the SW as well. I've often said that if I couldn't live in California or Oregon, I'd move to southern Arizona or New Mexico. There's something about these wide open spaces and the vegetation.

      I haven't seen any real flooding but there were huge puddles along the road to the Desert Museum last night.

      I loved B&B Cactus Farm but it's a good thing I don't live near it, if you know what I mean. I bought three small cacti (including a claret cup which, for some reason, is impossible to find in Northern California), a Lebouria socialis (a South African bulb with beautiful foliage), and an Agave nizandensis (mid green leaves with a darker stripe in the middle; the leaves are soft and there are no spines).

      I wanted to buy an Agave arizonica after seeing one at the Desert Museum, but Mark Sitter, the owner of B&B, said that he doesn't currently grow it because there is little demand for it. I don't know why; it's a beautiful small agave that offsets freely. At the Desert Museum they had it in a large shallow bowl with sandstone-y rocks.

  2. I agree with Loree... she must have lived in the SW in another life. Wait, I mean *I* must have too! :-)

    I can't see "teddy bear cholla" anymore and not immediately think of the YouTube video I saw about a hiker who had a painful experience with one. I'm glad you mentioned the tub for plants because I still envision your kids scrunched over on the car seat so they don't accidentally bump into dad's new prickly purchases.

    1. Gotta look for that YouTube video :-).

      Prickly pears and chollas are everywhere. They line the roads outside of town and they dot the hillsides. I suppose the locals give them a wide berth. But I must admit, whenever I see a teddy bear cholla I'm tempted to touch it; it just looks irresistible to me.

      Until now we used my plant tub to store our snacks. Half of them are gone already, but there's still a matter of finding room for the other half. Not to mention the occasional rock I've picked up for my succulent beds...

  3. I am so impressed with your knowledge of all these cactus Gerhard and thankful that I get to tour the nursery although these photos are real teasers. They make my heart jump and wanted to just drive and go. This will have to be our next trip. Thanks for sharing. Looking for next post.

  4. Thank you for these wonderful teaser shots; I can't wait to see more! These sunny pictures are a balm for our cloudy high 60's to mid 70's weary hearts!


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