Flashlight Tours at the Desert Botanical Garden

Father Latour's recreation was his garden... Wherever there was a French priest, there should be a garden of fruit trees and vegetables and flowers. He often quoted to his students that passage from their fellow Avergnat, Pascal: that Man was lost and saved in a garden.

-Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop


One of my favorite parts of Phoenix is the mostly-desert patch right in the middle of the city, containing the Phoenix Zoo, Papago Park, Tempe Canal Park, and the Desert Botanical Garden. It’s a surprising island in the middle of the endless suburban sprawl of the Phoenix metro area, and a comforting reminder that even amid all the hustle and bustle of this ever-growing, shiny-new City of the Car and Subdivision, not everything is man-made.


In the summer, one particularly noteworthy glimmer shines in this little oasis: the Desert Botanical Garden’s Flashlight Tours, held every Thursday and Saturday from the end of May to the beginning of September. The Garden stays open until 9:30 on those evenings so visitors can explore the desert in the (relative) cool of the night. There are stations along the walking paths: an astronomy station where you can look through telescopes at the Moon and the rings of Jupiter, plant and wildlife exhibits, and some craft stations for kids. There used to a snake-petting station, but when we asked about it last visit, they told us they had turned the snakes loose, allowing enhanced snake-spotting opportunities throughout the garden (we looked hard, but didn’t see any).


Walking around the Desert Botanical Garden at night feels something like I’d imagine walking through the Garden of Eden felt. The foliage and winding paths offer seclusion, but not isolation. The darkness is peaceful and lets you see the stars, but the gentle lights throughout the garden subtly ensure that you can take in just enough of your surroundings too. The dry air, tinged with the smell of creosote, is only moderately warm, and occasionally, refreshingly cool. I suspect (though this is perhaps a thought for a much longer post) a well-cultivated garden is something like Eden, or like Paradise — nature properly directed by man, made not artificial but more fully natural by subjugation to right reason.


I wish that I had written this about a month ago, when the air was still dry and the heat dropped off quickly once the sun went down. But if you're looking for something fun to do some Thursday or Saturday evening between now and September, check it out — you'll be glad you did.

John Thorpe