Tohono Chul Park
Tucson, Arizona
June 2008

Tohono Chul sits on a 49-acre property in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. It opened to the public in 1985 as a 37-acre desert preserve and has added 12 acres and numerous plants and displays since.


I worked at this park around 1990 and at the time it was content to be a quiet little piece of desert outside of the city. The intervening nearly 20 years have seen a remarkable change, all for the better I’m pleased to say. Then it was a few paths meandering through mostly native desert, today it has become a public garden worth traveling to visit. In its April 2008 issue, the magazine Travel and Leisure included Tohono Chul in an article on the world’s great botanical gardens. Including it among the worlds great botanic gardens is a bit of a stretch, but it is very nice.

The walkway to the entrance is lush, surrounded by wildflower beds. I realize the fence is probably necessary to keep rabbits out, but I wish they could do something a bit nicer.

entry walk

Several miles of trails still meander through beautiful desert


but there are now beautifully landscaped gardens as well.

wildlife garden

The Santa Fe style adobe building in the middle of the park was built in 1937 as a home but has now been converted into the Exhibit House, with changing exhibitions and a museum store.

Exhibit House

There are a number of water features scattered around the grounds. My favorite is this 'Water Wall'.

water wall

Near the entrance, a hacienda-style home, built in 1963, has been converted into the "Tea Room". It features a grand entryway into a beautiful courtyard. This is probably my favorite public garden restaurant. The laid-back elegance and fantastic setting are unmatched for me.

Tea Room entrance

Tohono Chul has grown into a very nice garden in its short life. They have a few nice interpretive signs but need more to really make it educational for visitors. The grounds are lovely to walk through but wayfinding is difficult. Visitors need more guidance than just a paper map to enjoy all the park has to offer. This is a problem for lots of gardens and there are no easy answers, but providing a recommended route through the gardens would help. People who know the garden well, know what would appeal to the average visitor. Find a way to help them see it. Despite these minor quibbles, a visit here is a highly enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

To see more photos of Tohono Chul Park, click here.

here to visit the homepage of Tohono Chul.

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