The Desert Lab

As you continue walking, the views of the city begin to open up. Looking east you can see the Santa Cruz River, Highway 10, and the tall buildings of downtown Tucson. To the north, the Santa Catalina Mountains, including Mt. Lemmon, rise above the Tucson basin, over 9000 feet in elevation. 

You’re also approaching the original buildings of The Desert Laboratory that sit about half way up the hill. Those buildings date back to 1903. In fact, scientific research has been going on here, on Tumamoc Hill, for over one hundred years!

Just as ancient peoples were drawn to the Hill, so were scientists in the early 1900s. Researchers captivated and intrigued by desert plants, the same plants that you see all around you, wanted to know how these plants could survive in such a hot, dry desert environment. To find out, they established a research center, commonly known as the Desert Lab.

Listen to the Introduction .mp3 file, or visit the Section Highlights for more information.

Audio file

Today, the Desert Lab, part of the University of Arizona College of Science, continues to build on its proud scientific heritage. The Hill is now surrounded by the City of Tucson. But back in 1903 the Desert Lab was a new frontier in botanical research, a field station in the desert at the edge of a bustling western city.

Section Highlights

Each section highlight features a video about that topic.

Spalding Plots

The longest continuously studied pieces of land in the world. See over 100 years of change in minutes.


The buildings half way up the hill were built in 1906 as the Carnegie Botanical Desert Laboratory, where cutting edge science in arid lands still occurs.

Nurse Plants

A story about coming of age and the desert’s form of maternal care.