Tohono Chul Park
The story of Tohono Chul begins in 1966 when its benefactors, Richard and Jean Wilson, started piecing together patches of the desert that would form its core – ultimately owning 37 acres. In 1968 they purchased the section containing the hacienda-style “West House” known today as the Tohono Chul Garden Bistro (formerly the Tea Room). The Wilsons lived in this house for eight years. It was during the 1970s that the couple was approached several times by developers seeking to purchase the land for commercial development. They always refused. Jean Wilson told them, “I don’t want to sell the land. I don’t want it cemented over. I want to preserve it.” In fact, when Pima County condemned a strip along the southern boundary of the property in order to widen Ina Road, Dick Wilson demanded that they move every saguaro and replant it on their adjacent property.
After opening the Haunted Bookshop in 1979 on Northern Avenue, the eastern boundary of the site, the Wilsons began planning their next project – a park. “At first, we just went out and put down some lime to make a path and marked the names of some of the plants and bushes, but then it started to snowball.” The path gradually grew into a loop trail meandering a half-mile into the surrounding desert. In 1980, they received a citation from the Tucson Audubon Society for saving the desert green space and opening it to the public. Tohono Chul was formally dedicated on April 19, 1985. “We wanted to keep something natural in the middle of all the (surrounding) development so that people could come easily for a few hours and get out of the traffic and learn something at the same time. It’s probably contrary to what most people would do, but we feel it’s really important for people to have something like this.” An additional 11-acre parcel abutting the property on the north was added in 1995 and the closing of the Haunted Bookshop in 1997 added the final acre, making a total of 49. At Tohono Chul’s dedication ceremony, Richard and Jean
Tohono Chul (aka Tohono Chul Park) is a botanical garden, nature preserve and cultural museum located in Casas Adobes, a suburb of Tucson, Arizona. The words “tohono chul” translate as “desert corner” and are borrowed from the language of the Tohono O’odham, the indigenous people of southern Arizona. The mission of Tohono Chul is to connect people with the wonders of nature, art and culture in the Sonoran Desert region and inspiring wise stewardship of the natural world.
The 49-acre (19.8 ha) site itself offers a setting for Tohono Chul’s regional focus. Views of the Santa Catalina Mountains form a backdrop for the natural desert habitat and its location within existing migratory tracks provides a temporary home for many species of wild, native fauna. Thirty-eight species of birds make their permanent home here while another 57 migrant species visit seasonally, and a variety of reptiles and mammals, from Gila monsters to bobcats, may be spotted on the grounds. Within these surroundings, Tohono Chul has developed thematic displays using its botanical collections which consist primarily of plants native to the Sonoran or Chihuahuan Deserts. They include more than 150 species of shrubs and trees; 300 species of cacti and succulents; and 50 species of wildflowers. In addition, Tohono Chul has the largest private collection of native Night-blooming Cereus – Peniocereus greggii – and each summer hosts “Bloom Night”, the one night it is predicted the greatest number of cereus flowers will open.