Arizona day 4—Superior: Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Phoenix: Desert Botanical Garden Luminarias

This morning I left Tucson (sad face) and headed north towards the Phoenix area on Highway 79, the Pinal Pioneer Parkway. I was astonished by how much sprawl there is north of Tucson, but eventually I found myself in open country:


For a long while the scenery was dominated by creosote, cholla and saguaro:


Near the town of Florence (dominated by a large state prison), I came across this vignette: somebody’s desert dream gone bust.


My first stop of the day was Boyce Thompson Arboretum near the town of Superior. It is the largest (392 acres) and oldest botanical garden in Arizona. When planning my trip, I wasn’t sure if I should make the detour to visit this Arizona state park, but I’m so glad I did. Its location at the foot of Picketpost Mountain is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what you can expect to find there. I took 270+ photos, plenty for a couple of dedicated posts later in the month.


Desert Demonstration Garden


Unlabeled aloe


Cacti native to Argentina


Agave ovatifolia


Opuntia macrocentra and Agave gracilipes


Sea of golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii)


Agave americana and Opuntia rufida


Opuntia ‘Santa Rita’ and lichen-covered rock; I saw this sulphur-colored lichen in various places throughout the park


The largest expanse of totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii var. monstrosus) I’ve ever seen!


Cactus-studded Picketpost Mountain

After spending more than three hours at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, I headed west to Scottsdale, my base in the Phoenix area. In fact, my motel is only a 10-minute drive from Desert Botanical Garden, my second and final stop of the day. After visiting the garden during the daytime last Sunday, I decided to go back this evening for Las noches de las luminarias:

Each night of Luminaria, the Garden will come to life with the soft glow from more than 8,000 hand lit Luminaria bags, thousands of white twinkle lights and Chihuly’s vibrant works of art. As you walk the paths with a warm cup of cider, the sounds of hand bells ringing and Dickens Carolers singing remind you of what the season is all about. 

On a trip filled with memorable experiences, this one stands out as the most magical. Take a look at these photos, and you’ll see why:








On the agenda tomorrow: Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert masterpiece.


Arizona 2013 trip index


  1. The nighttime luminaria shots are absolutely magical—I'm so glad you went back! The Poinsettia "tree" is beautiful... can't wait to see more!

    1. I never came across any carolers or hand bell ringers, but that's fine by me.

      I meant to touch the poinsettia tree to see if it was real but forgot!

  2. Your trip just gets amazing every day and so glad you're able to share your photos with us. Looking forward already to the dedicated posts of these stunning places!

    1. I hope I'm giving you ideas of places to visit when you do your own grand tour of the (South) West, LOL.

  3. I've never been a big desert fan. I've lived next to the Pacific most of my life and maybe a bit jaded regarding landscapes of drought tolerant or natives designs. However, Boyce Thompson Arboretum took me to a new level of appreciation for this part of our country! I've visited there twice with my dear mother, (Casa Grande), and have left inspired with a tangible reverence for it's beauty! Can't wait to see your pictures.

    1. I must admit I'd never heard of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum until I started to research places to visit on this trip. It deserves to be much better known outside of Arizona. I'm very glad I visited.

  4. I want to climb into your photos!

    My brothers engineering firm is having their Christmas party at the Desert Botanical Garden this year, beats the Marriott conference room!

  5. Your photos are killing me. I want to go now.

  6. Really great photos, thanks for including the panoramas. I wonder how long it takes for a totem pole cactus to reach that size? 30 years? More? I'm going to need a bigger pot for mine it seems. :)

  7. What a fabulous place. And your photos at night are just magical!


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