In the middle of nowhere, or at least it seems, you will find an unexpected gem – a desert museum operated by people who enjoy being away from the crowds. Here in the small town of Rodeo, New Mexico, The Chiricahua Desert Museum found a home. The idea began as recently as 2006 and opened for visitors in 2009 when my first visit occurred. The Chiricahua Desert Museum has made major improvements since that time and during this recent visit has added many educational programs as well.
The museum sits in the middle of the desert between the Chiricahua Mountains and the Peloncilos. Here in the southwestern corner of New Mexico, the border of Arizona is only across the road. Desert plants, rocks and sand create a beautiful entrance way to the museum as you walk over a large tile design of a gila monster, a heavy, slow-moving, venomous lizard. Mountains make a beautiful backdrop, especially as you enter the Botanical Garden.
This corner of their large Botanical Garden is a place to relax and learn about the plants of the desert. Besides the plants, there are beautiful statues as well as a small pond. Here you might see a box turtle or lizard… if it isn’t too hot.
The museum itself contains many items found in the desert and beyond. There is a large collection of arrowheads and pieces of pottery found in the area. If enough pieces were found, they have been reassembled into beautiful vases and bowls. A collection of liquor bottles all contained the names of reptiles, such as: Blue Tongue Premium Lager, Granny’s Turtle Juice, Python Ale, or Mojave Red Premium Lager. A large bronze statue, Dancing on a Dwarf, was a centerpiece of the main museum. Wildlife artist, Tell Hicks, displays many of his paintings at the museum and his prints are favorites of those who visit. Often Tell sets up his easel at the museum so visitors can watch him create another amazing desert scene.
An interesting new addition is the state-of-the-art Reptile Exhibit. Here you will find over 60 rare species enclosed in glass cases, but well and alive! Rattlesnakes and rock lizards are popular features as well as rat snakes and mud turtles. Personally, it was a relief that they were enclosed in glass!
Before leaving, check out the excellent gift shop with an outstanding selection of books and upscale souvenirs. Beautiful turquoise and Indian style jewelry is on display and for sale at fairly reasonable prices. You can also find many good books and great artwork. This is not your ordinary gift shop, but quite superior with unusual treasures to view or purchase.
Afterwards, lunch at the Rodeo Cafe was a real treat before heading to the Chiricahua Mountains through the small town of Portal, where neo-tropical birds hang out – a bird watcher’s paradise. The dirt road into the Chiricahuas and the Coronado National Monument was a spectacular, yet slow, two hour drive. Billy the Kid was said to have a ranch here during his outlaw days. What a great place to hide a herd of rustled cattle!
The Chiricahua Desert Museum is located in Rodeo, New Mexico in the Southwest corner of the state very near the border of Arizona. From I-10, take Exit 5 South on NM 80. After about 30 miles of beautiful desert scenery, you will arrive in Rodeo. The Chiricahua Desert Museum sits on the left side of the road just a couple miles east of Portal, Arizona.