Sonoran Desert

When you think about a desert, you might think of a hot, dry, dusty place.

That’s not the Sonoran Desert. It has tree-covered mountains, grassy plains, and hot valleys. It even has rivers, but many of them don’t have water all the time.

The Sonoran Desert is bigger than the state of Oregon. It covers parts of Mexico, California, and Arizona, where Tucson is. Get to know some of the many plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert. Then come see them when you visit Tucson.


The giant saguaro (sah-WAH-row) cactus grows only in the Sonoran Desert. Native American stories say the saguaros used to be people. Use your imagination. You can see that some look like people with arms growing out of their trunks.



Javelina (hah-veh-LEE-nah) are boars called peccaries. Their dark hair feels rough. You might smell their strong odor first before you see a herd of javelinas in a wash or around plants.

Gila Monster

A Gila (HE-lah) monster is a fat pink-and-black lizard with skin that looks like beads. It’s very shy. That is good because its bite has venom that hurts.

Gila Monster

Kangaroo Rat

Kangaroo Rat

Gerbils and kangaroo rats look a lot alike. Gerbils can be pets, but kangaroo rats live wild in underground holes called burrows. They can jump super high to avoid danger.


Roadrunners look like they have a mohawk. They have a long tail. Behind their eyes are red, white, and blue feathers. They don’t fly much, but they like to run.


Cactus Wren atop saguaro

Cactus Wren

Arizona’s state bird is brown with a white crest. The cactus wren loves to build nests in cholla. You can sing like a cactus wren by saying “rah-rah-rah-rah-rah” really fast.

Desert Tortoise

Desert tortoises love to stay in small burrows or in spaces under rocks. They come out to eat tasty grass and flowers when it’s rainy and warm.

Desert Tortoise

Cholla Cactus


Bushes with a lot of spines are called cholla (CHOY-yah). Some people call them jumping cholla because they seem to jump onto your clothes. The stems break off easily so that they can grow somewhere else.

5 Great Places to Find Desert Animals

Sabino Canyon is a popular part of the Coronado National Forest.

Mt. Lemmon is a tall mountain with many nature trails and campgrounds.

Madera Canyon is famous for having many kinds of birds.

Hispanic Mother and Daughter at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum looking into animal habitat

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