Forrest Mars Sr., the patriarch of the Mars Candy Co., founded the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Gardens in 1981, in Henderson, Nev.
Visitors to the gardens, located less than an hour east of Las Vegas, can stroll the three acres that features more than 350 different species of cacti and succulents, including yucca, prickly pear, ocotillo, teddy bear cholla and saguaros, as well as many lesser-known cacti.
Nestled at the edge of the Las Vegas Valley, the gardens are considered one of the finest cactus gardens in the American Southwest, featuring cacti from the Southwest, South America, Mexico and Australia. On nearly any given day, southern Nevada sunlight filters through the trees and taller cacti, which highlights the smaller plants. Everywhere you look, there is unusual and stunning scenery.
Known as the king of desert cactus, five giant saguaros stand as sentries on the garden's approach to the gently sculpted trails. Along one trail, there are specimens of golden barrels, silver chollas, prickly pears and ocotillos. Growing alongside the cactus are a variety of desert shrubs and wildflowers. Small lizards, birds and squirrels have made the gardens their home, and they can be seen by visitors.
At Christmastime, the gardens are decorated with more than 250,000 lights. The diverse varieties of cactus take on a multitude of holiday colors, especially the stately saguaros.
The gardens are a great place for the whole family to visit. And the chocolate factory is fun, educational and tasty. The Ethel M. Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Gardens are open year-round.