Just down the road from our camp is a small State Park named the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. It's located on top of a hill just North of the town of Carlsbad. Yesterday, Wednesday, we stopped by for a visit.
Driving into the parking lot it was clear we weren't going to be bothered by large throngs of people as we explored the Park -- there were only a few cars to be seen. This is probably a tough time of year for facilities like this one that thrive by tapping into summer vacationers that come to see Carlsbad Caverns. The population of the entire county that includes Carlsbad and Artesia is only 50,000 people so maybe they can pull in enough locals on the weekends to justify the expense of keeping it open. I hope so.
The focus of the Park is the plants and animals of the Chihuahuan Desert. There's a well-done visitor center that includes interactive exhibits, informational displays, and an extensive mineral exhibit. Out back is a 1.3 mile trail that takes visitors through a series of recreated desert life zones complete with examples of the plants that common and typical of each. The most common are varieties of the prickly pear cactus, mesquite, and types of sage. But there are many many more. As I wrote the other day, the amount and variety of life in the desert is a surprise to first time visitors and those who don't bother to look closely.
The Park also has a zoo. All of the animals here have been rescued from difficult circumstances of one kind or another and are incapable of surviving on their own in the wild. Here they are well cared for and serve to give visitors a chance to see animals, up close and personal, that they wouldn't have a chance to see on their own. They have a pair of very rare mexican wolves, a couple mountain lions, bobcats, a couple eagles, and even a black bear. More common, but still fun to see up close, are elk, bison, pronghorn antelope, and mule deer. A collection of creepy crawlers, which I couldn't get too close to, included various spiders, scorpions, tarantulas, and snakes (man-o-man!)(gulp).
Both plants and animals that live and thrive in the Chihuahuan Desert have adapted to the lack of water and the extremes of temperature. Whether it's deep roots, or waxy coatings, or holes in the ground, or ways to store water for future use... they've developed the means to live in this tough environment. Life, if given enough time, is very adaptable to changes and very rough conditions.
Today, Thursday, there are two things on the agenda. We're going to explore another State Park in the area, and we've got to get ready for moving day tomorrow.
Adapting in the desert...