The Living Desert is an officially designated Rancho Mirage HOT SPOT. In 2010 guests staying at Rancho Mirage resorts receive a VIP Access Privilege Card that provide adult admission discounts at four Palm Springs Valley HOT SPOT attractions.

Anytime there’s a cheetah involved I’m there. Loved these streamlined felines ever since I first experienced them in Nairobi National Park on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital. They’d leap up and loll on the hoods of cars. Pressing their faces against windshields their purring would rattle the glass and something primeval, deep in my bones.

Now I can get my big cat fix at The Living Desert located in the heart of the Palm Springs Valley only minutes from luxurious Rancho Mirage resorts. This magnificent wildlife and botanical garden sprawls over 1200 acres of desert gardens at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains. When exploring the park by foot or tram the impression is that you are as far away from civilization as the Serengeti. From savanna to a dark cool palm oasis, vast cacti collections and an amazing array of flora from Madagascar, this is an A + experience for desert plant lovers. Carefully positioned, almost hidden, in the landscape are animal enclosures that are about the best this wild animal park enthusiast has ever seen.

Giraffes float across a vast enclosure with the Santa Rosa Mountains and the snow capped Mount San Jacinto looming in the far distance. Not a fence in sight between the giraffes and the mountains – you could be observing them on the plains surrounding Kilimanjaro. Yet here you can line up at 10 AM daily and feed them “giraffe biscuits”. Long dark tongues delicately swipe the biscuits from your extended palm. A Massai would swoon.

Hyenas, javelinas, badgers, ibis, addax, meerkats, slender-horned gazelles, wolves, coyotes, camels, bat-eared fox and so many other denizens of the world’s deserts populate every turn. The biggest warthog ever! Peninsular bighorn sheep are hunkered among the boulders on a mountain side and a sighting is reward for standing still in the quiet calm of the park and panning until Eureka! A butterfly pavilion! Walk-through aviaries are filled with native birds. The list of delights is endless without even mentioning the cats.

The Cats! The mix of felines from the deserts of the globe include bobcats, mountain lions, caracals, Arabian wild cats, sand cats, leopards, and of course the cheetahs. Make sure you explore the WaTuTu Village because at the very back of the compound is a lair with two magnificent Amur leopards who haughtily skulk around their enclosure passing within inches of your nose. Don’t miss the Arabian wild cats. They appear to be ordinary house pets but these kitties would be thrilled to take off a finger if you tried to tickle their ears.

The cheetahs languish in the shade of an acacia tree. Blink and they vanish reappearing only if their hauteur is placated by a mood shift as elusive as a breeze.

RM