KGUN 9NewsAbsolutely Arizona


Tohono Chul: A desert oasis at a busy corner of Oro Valley

Posted: 3:40 PM, Apr 08, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-08 18:40:27-04
Tohono Chul Park

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It is a wonderful time of the year in Southern Arizona. The Sonoran Desert is in full bloom.

There is no better place to take in the amazing beauty than at Tohono Chul Park in Oro Valley. It is a oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city.

"Tohono Chul is about Tucson, you know," said Bill Lesch. "That's what I love about it."

Lesch is a highly-regarded Tucson artist who loves the beauty of Tohono Chul and of Arizona. For more than 40 years he's been creating art through his photography.

Bill Lesch at the Grand Canyon

For most of those 40 years he's been showing his work in the galleries at Tohono Chul—the same amount of time Tohono Chul has been around.

"The Wilsons wanted to preserve this piece of desert so people could appreciate the magic of where we live," Lesch said.

The Wilsons are Dick and Jean Wilson. In 1985, they saw the tremendous growth coming to Oro Valley, and wanted to protect their corner of the Sonoran Desert at Ina and Oracle.

Dick and Jean Wilson's home near Ina and Oracle

"This space was near and dear to them. They were getting approached by developers with the possibility of turning this into, say, the Foothills Mall."

Tohono Chul means "desert corner."

On April 19, 1985, the Wilsons dedicated their 35 acres as Tohono Chul—creating a desert oasis in the sprawling urban jungle. Their hacienda-style "West House" was converted into the Tohono Chul Garden Bistro.

Tohono Chul Park entrance

Tohono Chul has now grown to 49 acres, with nature trails and exhibits throughout.

The Park has more than 300 volunteers and docents to help you find your way around.

"It's just an absolute oasis, sanctuary, whatever you want to call it," said James Schaub, Tohono Chul Director of Arts and Engagement. "People come from far and wide. The coolest thing is you can get a really good sense of what the desert's about by coming here."

Travel + Leisure Magazine once called Tohono Chul "One of the World's Ten Best Botanical Gardens."

Trails at Tohono Chul Park

With Pusch Ridge as its gorgeous backdrop, more than 150,000 people visit each year. That includes those exploring nature, stopping at the bistro, attending a wedding or event, or checking out the galleries—filled with art inspired by the desert.

Right now, Bill Lesch has his own show in the main gallery at Tohono Chul.

"Oh it's an incredible honor," said Lesch.

He captures the desert with a camera and then uses a variety of techniques.

The focal point of his show: A stunning four-panel piece titled Flowering Prickly Pear.

Bill Lesch art at Tohono Chul Galleries

"I had this vision in my head, of sort of like stained glass windows," explained Lesch. "But desert stains."

Bill also spends hours capturing time-lapse photos of our ominous and beautiful monsoon storms.

Bill Lesch monsoon storm artwork

"I'm trying to see the whole life of that storm," said Lesch.

His show runs through May 6 at Tohono Chul, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte.

Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.