‘Parting shots’ of Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park will close for the summer season on May 24. To my knowledge, it’s the only Arizona state park to shut down completely during the hottest part of the year. The park will re-open Sept. 14. Although there are only a few weeks left to visit the park before it closes, you can still squeeze in some early morning hikes, picnic lunches and long, respectful gazes of this famous historic and geographical Arizona landmark.

In April we spent a Sunday morning hiking along a couple of the trails at the park, located just off I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. Poppies, lupine and most cacti had completed their flower shows weeks before. Only the Ocotillo continued to splash its red and coral colors onto this canvas of Sonora desert rock and sand. As we returned from our hike, and as the temperature hovered around 90 degrees, we noticed the noon heat was beginning to get a bit uncomfortable for hiking. Fortunately, a Dairy Queen has been strategically placed across the highway from Picacho Peak State Park.

We look forward to hiking the trails of Picacho Peak next fall, winter or early spring. And as usual, we’ll be promising ourselves to be better prepared: “We’ll have amped up our gym workout. We’ll leave the dogs at home. We’ll start earlier in the day. We’ll have more water and better footwear.”

Yeah, whatever. And of course next time, I’ll try to keep my eyes focused on the ground right under my feet and not on the ground 1000 feet below.

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Here are some shots taken April 14, 2013.

Ocotillo blossom at Picacho Peak State Park

Ocotillo blossom at Picacho Peak State Park

A hiking trail for every ability at Picacho Peak

A hiking trail for every ability at Picacho Peak

Great views from the end of the short, easy Calloway Trail

Great views from the end of the short, easy Calloway Trail

Loop trails connect picnic and parking areas

Loop trails connect picnic and parking areas

Hunter Trail provides cables for climbing

Hunter Trail provides cables for climbing

"If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?" -T.S. Eliot

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” -T.S. Eliot

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?