Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts

Spring wildflowers, autumn colors, year-round birding, two miles of scenic walking trails, a picnic area shaded by Argentine mesquite trees are all available at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 323 acres, this park is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden, founded in 1925 by mining magnate and philanthropist Col. William Boyce Thompson.

In 1917 Col. Thompson served as co-leader of a Red Cross mercy mission to Russia, where he came to understand the importance of plants as the ultimate source of a large portion of mankind’s food, clothing, and shelter. It was then, that he determined to use his wealth to improve the use of plant resources. The Arboretum is one of his legacies.

Col. Thompson’s goal was to bring together plants from arid lands so that scientists and researchers could study, experiment, research, and investigate uses and attributes that made the plants unique. He also wanted the arboretum to be open to the public. By the time he died in 1930, the arboretum had already gained a reputation that extended far beyond the borders of Arizona.

Thompson’s home, the 8,000-square-foot Picket Post House, is immediately adjacent to the arboretum and is easily viewed from the far end of the main trail. It was in private hands for years, but in 2008, the state purchased it with Heritage Funds and it is now under park management.

The Arboretum features plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooperatively managed by the University of Arizona and Arizona State Parks, the arboretum sits at the base of the Picketpost Mountains and features a collection of 3,200 different desert plants in a unique series of botanical gardens, and a 1.5-mile main loop walking trail that roughly parallels the normally dry Silver King Wash.

The main trail begins at the visitor center and quickly enters the colorful Hummingbird/Butterfly Garden, with a collection of plants designed to bloom throughout the year to attract Arizona’s diverse hummingbird and butterfly species.

A 2.5-acre Demonstration Garden shows various plants in functional landscapes; an area complete with patios, walls, shade structures, vine arbors, walkways, and rockwork.

Several trails branch off from the first part of the Main Trail, so you don’t have to walk far to see the highlights, and much of the trail system is wheelchair-accessible.

The historic Smith Interpretive Center, a short walk down the main trail contains botanical exhibits and displays, and two display greenhouses feature cacti and other succulents that might not otherwise survive the winter cold at this 2,400-foot elevation.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shorter trails cut through three desert environments. Find native medicinal and edible plants in the Sonoran Desert; plants from desert landscapes in western Texas, southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, in the Chihuahua Desert; and flora from the Cuyo, Monte, and Chaco regions of Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay in the South American Desert.

Look for the bizarre boojum trees from Baja California. The two specimens were brought here from Mexico in the 1920s and are the tallest ones on display in the U.S. The tall conical plants are related to the native ocotillo.

The Arboretum’s Australian Walkabout, Eucalyptus forest, South African collection, and herb garden offers more specific collections, colorful wildflowers, and varied cacti.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 270 species of birds have been recorded, including Gambel’s quail, Canyon wren, and black-throated sparrows, making it a prime spot for birders. A checklist of birds is available upon request. Ayer Lake and Queen Creek on the Main Trail are good places to watch for wildlife; and you may even see endangered species such as the Gila topminnow and desert pupfish.

Queen Creek cuts through the Arboretum’s bottomlands, and supports the water-loving trees that take root there, including Fremont cottonwood, Arizona ash, black willow, and Arizona black walnut. Take a look at the spiny branched ocotillo, the green-stemmed Palo Verde, the thorny acacias, the low-growing mesquite, and the golden-flowered agaves.

Visit the Arboretum and have your horizons expanded as to the value and use of plants and trees from arid lands for food, shelter, and livelihood, both in the past and the present.


Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Elevation: 2,400 feet

Location: U.S. 60 near mile marker 223

Directions: From junction Highway 79 and Highway 60, 12 miles east on Highway 60

Address: 37615 U.S. Hwy 60, Superior, AZ 85273

Phone: (520) 689-2811

Entrance Fees: $10; children ages 5-12, $5; age 4 and under, free

Websites: and

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

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Lost Dutchman State Park: Adopt-A-Cactus

Last winter I posted three articles on Lost Dutchman, an Arizona State Park named after Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman, who reportedly found a gold mine in the Superstitions in the 1870s. According to legend, the gold is still there somewhere.

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Nothing so uniquely represents Arizona like the Saguaro cactus. Equally as unique as these cacti, is the ability to share this state treasure with family and friends anywhere in the world through the Adopt-A-Cactus program.

“A year and a half ago, I began a great journey volunteering for the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park,” volunteer Patricia Carter wrote in a recent Arizona State Park Newsletter.

“My journey started when I first moved to Arizona back in the year 1998,” Carter continued. “I was living in West Mesa and really was mesmerized when discovering the Superstition Mountains. I just had a feeling that someday I would be a part of those mountains somehow. I remember first hiking at the Superstition Mountains and felt the earth rumbling beneath me. There is something so spiritual about these mountains.

“While hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park we came across a man working on the trail and we just talked to him for a bit. He stated he really had to get the trail in shape for the park was in danger of closing by a certain month. He also stated that he was a volunteer.

“My friend and I went inside the office after our hike and there was another volunteer working behind the desk and I asked him the same question. He said yes and he gave me an education as to why and what happened. He said if I wanted to get involved I could volunteer. He gave me the name of the Friends Organization which would be where I would want to volunteer.

“The Friends Organization puts on events to raise money to keep the park opened. From that day on I have a deep passion for this volunteer group. We have put on events, raise money for the park.

“Every Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm I get the opportunity to greet visitors as they drive in and collect the fee of only $7.00 to hike in the park. Campers come to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. The people are just incredible! I get to meet and sometimes for a brief moment get to dip in the lives of people from not just Arizona but from all parts of the country and the world!

“All the volunteers are so friendly and genuine. I can’t say enough of how being a volunteer for this organization has enriched my life. Being in nature is my favorite thing to do and the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park fulfills that deep passion.

“I have taken on the responsibility of heading up the Adopt-A-Cactus Program. This is a great way to raise money to keep the park open and running.”


Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park

The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park is a non-profit organization devoted to the benefit of Lost Dutchman State Park.


Adopt-A-Cactus Program

Mitzi Rinehart and Micah Goldberg of Friends of the Lost Dutchman attended a Canyon Vista Hiking Club meeting to accept a $700 cash donation for a senior saguaro within the Lost Dutchman park. Coleen Ehresmann of the Canyon Vistas Hiking Club members presented the donation to Micah and Mitzi. (Source: was established to help sustain and preserve these statuesque monuments to the Southwest and the protected areas that house them; like Lost Dutchman State Park.

At the base of the famed Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park is home to thousands of magnificent cacti; proceeds from this program will directly ensure the park’s sustainability for future generations.

Adopting a Saguaro is easy! Simply choose the type and size of Saguaro you would like to adopt, click “Adopt Me”, fill out the required mailing and payment information, and you will receive an Official Adoption certificate, picture of your adopted saguaro with GPS coordinates, and thank you letter showing your tax deductible amount from the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park (FLDSP). Since FLDSP is a 501c3 Organization, 100% of your adoption amount is tax deductible.

The adoption fees are based on the size of the cactus and how long you want the adoption to last.

Period of adoption are one year, five years, and twenty years.


Worth Pondering…
A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: December 9

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Camping World Plans New Location in Washington

Camping World will open a new store soon in Liberty Lake, Washington, which is located between Spokane, Washington, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The company is seeking to fill all positions from general manager to parts people, service technicians, and service advisors.

The new store is expected to open in January.

2. Cactus Collisions

If ever there were a misnomer, it’s the teddy bear cholla cactus. Known for its barbed spines that appear to have a tendency to “jump” onto clothing and skin, this desert plant might be fuzzy, but it’s certainly not cuddly.

Beware of a teddy bear cholla cactus attack! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adventurers should carry a large comb and tweezers to remove cactus spines that become embedded in skin. Slide the comb between the spine and your body, and then quickly flick the comb. The spine should dislodge, although sometimes it’s necessary to employ tweezers to remove bits of spine left behind. Chollas aren’t poisonous, but wash any affected areas with soap and water as soon as possible to help prevent infection.

3. RVIA Show Attendance Down

Final attendance at last week’s 49th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky, stands at 8,159, down 6.2% from the 2010 show, according to a preliminary, unaudited report from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

In the largest category, dealers, attendance totaled 2,874, off 9.4% from the 2010 show. Total buyers attendance was 3,269, off 8.3% from 2010.

Campground attendance was 28, the same as 2010.

The number of dealerships represented was 1,641, up 26.8% from a year ago.

4. When Life Gives You Lemons…

Make lemon juice work for you around the RV. Lemonade first comes to mind, but there’s a limit to how much you can drink.

Lemons are versatile. They are one of the strongest food acids you’ll have in your RV kitchen and are effective against most household bacteria. With limited space in the RV, anything with so many uses is a valuable commodity to have on board.

The acid in lemons is what makes it such a good cleaning product. An excellent use is to wash your kitchen cutting boards with lemon juice, particularly after working with items such as chicken. If you have a stubborn stain on a cutting board or a counter, pour on some lemon juice and allow it to stand for 10 or 15 minutes.

Courtesy (in public domain)

For a safe spray cleaner to keep your RV windows sparkling clean, add the strained juice of two lemons to a cup of white vinegar, and pour the mixture into a small spray bottle. You’ll have clean windows and a nice lemony scent for the coach.

If you have cooking odors in your RV, mix up a small amount of soda and lemon juice to form a paste. Place the mixture in several containers and set them on the counters. The mixture will absorb odors while giving the coach a nice lemony smell.

To make furniture polish, combine one part of lemon juice with two parts of olive oil. Use it sparingly and polish with a soft cloth.

5. South Texas City Reconsiders Sewer/Water Fees for Empty RV Sites

City commissioners in San Benito, Texas, Tuesday (December 6) agreed to consider revising a new ordinance that charges a base water and sewer fee to RV parks for empty spaces and for vacant apartments.

Winter Texans packed City Hall to protest the law that some warned would force small RV parks to shut down, the Valley Morning Star reported.

“Be fair,” Bonnie Dominguez, manager of Fun N Sun RV Resort, said after the meeting.

Under the new ordinance, the city charges Fun N Sun $168,000 a year for the park’s 1,400 spaces, Dominguez said.

But as many of 300 of those spaces remain empty year-long because they are too small for bigger, late-model mobile homes and RVs, she said.

“It’s dead space,” Dominguez said. “There’s no toilet, no building, no unit. There’s nothing there but a meter and a sewer pipe.”

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.

—Anne Frank

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