12/31/15: Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, AZ (part 1)

Time to take a break from aloe spotting and our front yard lawn conversion and go back to Arizona. I still have quite a few things to show you from my December 2015 desert trip.

On New Year’s Eve, I left Tucson early and took State Route 177 north. My first destination: Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park outside of Superior.

The interstate is great when you’re in a hurry, but otherwise I prefer country highways. There’s almost always a place to pull over when you see something worth photographing. Case in point: this hillside covered with saguaros near the town of Kearny, pop. 1950.


Saguaro-studded hillside near Kearny, AZ

Twenty miles north of Kearny is the town of Superior, not much bigger than Kearny but a bit livelier owing to the fact that it’s an easy 1-hour drive from the Phoenix metro area.


Abandoned Sprouse-Reitz store in downtown Superior, AZ. The chain went out of business in 1994, so this store has been empty for a long time. And yet the agaves and ocotillo are happy. I bet they don’t get much water at all.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum (BTA) is located just west of town. Founded in 1925, it’s Arizona’s oldest botanical garden and at 323 acres also it’s largest. Click here to read more about the history of this fascinating place.


Boyce Thompson Arboretum Visitor Center


Arizona’s version of a traffic cone?

I had first visited the BTA in December 2013. In fact, it was the biggest surprise of my December 2013 Arizona trip, and I had been wanting to go back ever since. The location at the foot of impossibly scenic Picketpost Mountain is straight out of an old Western movie. And the plants are just as iconic.

Here is a handy map courtesy of (and copyrighted by) Arizona State Parks:


The gift shop at the entrance sells a nice variety of plants ranging from succulents to perennials, vines, shrubs and even trees. Unfortunately, many of the succulents were covered with frost cloth.





Saguaros are a very common sight, and yet I still stop and admire them

The South African beds at the start of the main loop trail, just behind the Visitor Center, were also covered with frost cloth. Temperatures had been in the high twenties in Tucson the two nights before, and I suspect conditions were similar in Superior.





Squid agave (Agave bracteosa) doesn’t need frost protection. It’s hardy to 10°F.

The first area I explored in more detail was the Desert Garden. It is part of the Demonstration Garden whose goal is to provide design and planting ideas for residential landscaping. If I lived in Arizona and my own garden looked anywhere close to this, I’d be one happy camper.



Who wouldn’t want a garden like this?


Agave parryi


Agave parryi and Echinocactus grusonii


Agave colorata


Agave colorata. one of the nicest specimen I’ve ever seen


Agave parryi and assorted barrel cactus


What I call the OMG view


The desert equivalent of “borrowed scenery



Yucca rostrata


Agave salmiana

Leaving the Demonstration Garden behind, I rejoined the main loop trail.


Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana). The berries it produces are edible but I was particularly fascinated by its striking trunk.


This could be straight out of a gothic movie set!

My next stop was at the Cactus & Succulent Garden, for me the main attraction at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. That will be the main focus of part 2 of this post. Please check back on Tuesday.



  1. Beautiful! I live in the desert and I would love for my garden to look like that. Sadly, our desert is not as scenic...

    1. Renee, you live in the high desert of Nevada right? It's beautiful in its own right, but much colder in the winter, correct?

  2. Just visited last weekend. Drive from Phoenix to BTA was scenic with many wildflowers blooming along the way. The sale of Abbey Gardens plants was in progress along with early shopping for the BTA Spring Plant Sale. Look forward to the completion of the Wallace Gardens section which should be completed by the summer of 2017.

    1. What a coincidence you were just there! I would have loved to have seen the wildflowers. I always seem to be there in the winter.

      Looking forward to the new Wallace Gardens. I doubt I'll be back before 2017.

  3. I wanna visit! It looks like my 2016 visit to Phoenix might be just that - Phoenix. However last night Andrew and I were hatching a plan for another visit and time to see more of the state, yipee! Looking forward to Part 2... (oh and isn't that "traffic cone" a repository for cigarette butts?)

    1. Depending on where your brother lives in Phoenix, Superior isn't that far. You'd love Boyce Thompson.

      I think you're right about the "traffic cone." It's a fancy ash tray! It would never have occurred to me, but I do see the hole in the right arm. I hope smokers are more astute than I am!

  4. We continue to be amazed by your adventures Gerhard! And you don't even need a passport to see all these amazing sights!

    1. My secret mission is to make you do a grand tour of the western U.S. :-)

  5. Fabulous scenery! The skies are so blue! I could sit in one of those chairs and just stare for hours (provided that it wasn't 90+ degrees).

    1. The temperatures were perfect when I was there. High 60s maybe? Definitely comfy enough to sit there.

  6. Yes, those borrowed views are an OMG, to-die-for backdrop! Can't begin to tell you what an inspiration these gorgeous posts are as I plan my own AZ jaunts.

    1. Luisa, I'm glad I can give back and be a source of inspiration for a change.

  7. So different from our PNW scenery...making it all the more enticing and exotic.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. The Sacramento Valley where I live looks nothing like that either.


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