A perennial favorite: Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Golden barrel cactus radiate in the morning sun

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park never fails to inspire and impress me. It’s not only one of the best places to see spring wildflowers and wildlife in Arizona, it’s an ideal spot to bring visiting out-of-state guests who want to see some native flora and fauna — no matter what the season. Plus the popular destination attracts photographers who want to catch a shot of a perfect sunrise, a rare bird or one of the garden’s amazing cactus blossoms.

What’s impressive is the number of activities, classes, guided hikes, plant sales, and other activities and events are held each year. No weekend at Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the same. Of course, you’ll walk the same paths, stop at the same viewpoints, gaze at the same gardens paths and lunch at the same picnic areas, yet it always feels like a new experience. Every time I visit the park, I almost feel like it’s my first time.

Ayer Lake attracts birds, butterflies and dragonflies

Ayer Lake attracts birds, butterflies and dragonflies

Even in the summer, visits to the park can be pleasant — especially during the early morning hours. The huge cottonwood trees in the picnic areas provide cool shady comfort. Walks along the creek and canyon are equally enjoyable.

Learn more about which wildflower varieties and cactus blooms currently are visible at one of several upcoming guided tours. Visit the arboretum’s University of Arizona website or watch the short video on the State Park website.

Historic Smith Building was the original park visitor center

Historic Smith Building was the original park visitor center

The park is open daily except Christmas Day. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except during May through August when hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Last admission is one hour before closing. Fees are $9 for adults/teens 13 and older, $4.50 for ages 5-12. Frequent visitors may want to consider membership options or becoming a volunteer.

Excellent views of Boyce Thompson Arboretum from the High Trail

Excellent views of Boyce Thompson Arboretum from the High Trail

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Spring’s in bloom at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

barrels

Boyce Thompson Arboretum provides center stage for a bunch of barrel cacti in a spotlight of sunshine

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hedgehog

Hedgehog cactus in bloom

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From wildflowers to wildlife, if you’re in Arizona in April, you must go to the Arboretum. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, that is. Almost any spring day between mid-March to late April, depending on temperatures and rainfall, is prime time for wildflower watching.

Hedgehog, barrel, prickly pear, saguaro cacti blossoms come alive with color at various times throughout the spring season. Also look for lupine, poppies, mallow and many other wildflowers. The state park provides several wildflower walking tours this month — upcoming walks are scheduled for April 14, 22 and 28.

Ayer Lake

Rock formations reflect in Ayer Lake's still waters

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Don’t forget your camera! Even if you’re a novice at wildflower photography, just research some photo tips online: here’s one website. Or perhaps you’d like to simply stroll along the Main Loop trail and enjoy the colorful sights, knowing that you’ll find plenty of guide books, postcards, brochures and pamphlets in the park’s gift shop.

Remember to pack plenty of drinking water, and if you’re like me; also bring some tissues and Zyrtec. Wildflowers, blooming trees can also mean sneezing, wheezing and watering eyes. Although springtime visits to the arboretum bring many visitors for wildflower watching, there are additional tours, classes and exhibits happening at the park throughout the year. Check the website’s calendar for upcoming events and plan your trip accordingly.

old truck

An old truck on the Arboretum's grounds makes an excellent background

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Not too keen about memorizing all those wildflower names? You could download an identification app such as those available from Audubon. Or obtain a copy of an Arizona field flower guide from your local library or while you’re in the Arboretum gift shop. I found this handy online identification guide from delange.org, but I found its formatting to be a bit outdated and rather tedious to view on mobile. What I did like about this site however, was its color key index for searching and cross-reference index for both scientific and common flower names.

cactus flowers

Pink blossoms of the fishhook cactus

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It also helps to get your head out behind the camera lens once in a while to simply “take it all in,” especially before the Arizona temperatures will reach 100 degrees. All ages will enjoy much about the park: the many species of birds, small mammals and reptiles, unique rock formations, historic park buildings, picturesque creek crossings and huge eucalyptus trees.

wildflowers

Vibrant red blossoms sprout from the rocks at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

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Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is located west of Superior on U.S. Highway 60 and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults or $4.50 for children 5-12.

Also check out the Boyce Thompson Arboretum Facebook Page.

Readers: I would love to see your comments about other spring desert wildflower locations around Arizona. What are your favorite places? Have any photography tips to share?

Don’t sidestep Superior’s sights

There’s a lot more to Superior, Arizona than meets the eye – at least the driver’s eye. For motorists traveling east on US 60 from the Phoenix area, it’s easy to pass up the downtown business section of the small town, located about 30 miles east of Apache Junction. For many motorists, their destination ends at Superior’s main tourist attraction, Boyce Thompson Arboretum or their destination lies beyond the town’s main intersection of US 60 and State Route 177. They rarely turn off the main highway onto Supeior’s Main Street from the west, or Ray Road from the east. But they’re missing the chance to shop at the unique shops or dine at the home-style eateries.

Over the years, after making some trips around Superior, such as Picket Post Mountain, Apache Leap and Pinal City (ghost town), we’d often stop in Superior for breakfast or lunch. I always thought to would be nice to come back and spend some time in Superior, but I never had the chance again — until just recently.

I  recommend making Los Hermanos Restaurant your first stop of the morning. This one is right on the highway – impossible to miss, really. Although my husband and I love all the food here: basic Mexican fare and sandwich platters, we especially like the breakfast menu. There’s nothing better than one of their big breakfast burritos to start the day. The tortillas are homemade — thin, flaky, and always fresh and warm.

Los Hermanos Restaurant: homemade tortillas and delicious Mexican breakfasts

 

Sausage-egg breakfast burrito from Los Hermanos. Took mine 'to go' and eat in the park.

After breakfast, take a drive down Main Street, park your vehicle and explore.  There are some fascinating places! Rolling Rock Gallery is one of those. You’ll find everything here: unique toys and gifts, rock specimens and mining equipment – even handcrafted dinnerware. It’s a museum and gift shop in one, and according to clerk Toni Sanchez, it’s also a temporary employment agency.

 

Rolling Rock Gallery is part gift shop, rock shop and employment agency

Toni Sanchez of Rolling Rock Gallery

The Copper Gecko is another shop that looks worthwhile, unfortunately it was closed for the day, but we did do some “window shopping,” and just gazing inside, we could see all the antiques, gifts and collectible items.

 

Copper Gecko, with antiques and collectibles, in 'downtown' Superior

Because we were traveling with our dog, we didn’t get to visit the Bob Jones Museum, which contains collections about the area’s mining and pioneer history. Also worth a look: the World’s Smallest Museum, a cute, maybe gimmicky, little roadside stop, tourist-type photo op and Porter’s Café, which appears, on Yelp and Facebook at least, to be a popular place for lunch and dinner. We’ll have to have one of their daily lunch specials on our next visit. I guess we’ll have to come back to Superior and spend more time.

Spend some time in Superior, Arizona -- like at this peaceful park along Main Street