A Fascinating World of Nature Awaits at Boyce Thompson Arboretum
If you are like many of us who stay in town during the summer, you may be looking for something new to do while waiting for cooler weather. I recently discovered Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park and recommend you discover it, too.
A Little History
The first question most of us ask is “What is an Arboretum?” It’s a place where trees, shrubs and plants are cultivated and grown for observation, education and preservation, plus a place to be enjoyed by others.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum sits on 392 acres just off of U.S. Highway 60, an hour outside of Phoenix. It was originally founded in the 1920s by Col. William Boyce Thompson after he fell in love with the area and decided to build his winter home there. He had earned his wealth in the mining industry and built his home near Picket Post Mountain, naming it Picket Post House. Col. Thompson decided to use the land to form a garden that others could enjoy while learning more about nature. He started planting different types of trees and plants. Soon the word got out and people started sending seeds to be planted from all over the country. Today, there are more than 2,600 different species of plants housed at the Arboretum.
Col. Thompson hired two employees from the University of Arizona to help him on his mission. They were Dr. Franklin Crider and Frederick Gibson. One of their first projects was to build two homes – the Crider House and the Gibson House, both are still used today. There is a greenhouse that was built during that time too, and a manmade lake, called Ayer Lake, to irrigate the area. In 1927 the Arboretum was incorporated, and in 1976 became a State Park.
Being the largest and oldest Arboretum and Botanical Garden in the state, there is much to see and do. Three trails, 1.5 to 3 miles, take you around the park. The main trail takes you by the Red Gum Eucalyptus tree “Mr. Big” that was planted in 1926 and is one of the two largest Eucalyptus trees in the United States—its perimeter is 7.5 feet.
Highlights of My Visit
My three-hour guided tour was a great way to see all the highlights: Ayer Lake, the Rose Garden and the Cactus Garden are beautiful. You’ll want to see the Demonstration Garden and the Children’s Garden, too. A catwalk takes you down a narrow shaded path beside Queen Creek. There’s a suspension bridge and numerous fruit trees—plum, pecan, apple, fig, peach, almond, pomegranate and pistachio, plus a Cork Oak Tree that still has its cork bark. You’ll also want to see the Zimbabwe sculptures in the African exhibit, along with many native trees and plants. Hummingbirds, butterflies and lizards can be seen throughout the park, and the songs of different birds can be heard as well. One unfamiliar to me is a summer bird, the Yellow-Breasted Chat, who has a distinctive, loud song. I was excited to see a red Cardinal, too.
After crossing the Benson Bridge—named after Bill Benson, who was the Curator from 1948 – 1962—you’ll see a replica of an Australian wool shed where sheep would be sheared. It was staged by a Hollywood set designer and includes an old truck, windmill and shed.
Executive Director Mark Siegwarth states it well.
“The more you learn about the Arboretum, the prettier it is,” he says.
Where Do You Begin
The best way to visit the Arboretum is in layers, so you can leisurely take it all in. Consider getting a map of the park at the Visitor’s Center, or check the website to decide what you’d like to see first. Whether you are a nature lover, photographer, bird watcher, gardener or someone who just enjoys being outdoors, you will definitely be surprised at how tranquil and beautiful the Arboretum is.
“We’re an Arboretum, which means we have no shortage of trees, so there’s always lots of shade to dash in and out of, especially in the eucalyptus grove and along Queen Creek,” shares Kim Stone, external communications director and horticulturist. “We don’t have the heat island effect of the big city, so our mornings start off much cooler. Get here at 6 a.m. when we open, and for the first few hours, you’ll feel like you’re on the Mogollon Rim.”
There are wonderful classes and events happening every weekend throughout the summer, and the Fall Festival in November should not be missed as the trees show off their most beautiful colors during this time. So, wear comfortable clothes and shoes, pack a lunch and extra water, bring your camera and look forward to an exciting time with nature.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
37615 U.S. Hwy 60
Superior, AZ 85173