Backpack Pat Travel Blog – Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Beyond the Pines and Palm Trees, Boyce Thompson Arboretum Delivers a Spectacular Learning Experience on Plant Life
Whether you are looking to learn about plants that can thrive in desert environments, or you want to have a fun outdoor adventure with family, you can achieve it all with a day spent at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. This arboretum flourishes on 340+ acres about 30 minutes east of Apache Junction in the Queen Creek Canyon area with thousands of plants and miles of trails. It is hard to believe that this arboretum is entering into its 100th year, but walking through the vast trails and gardens, one will quickly see the care that the founder, William Boyce Thompson, a local mining entrepreneur and plant enthusiast, and so many people after him have put into this desert oasis.
Located just off of US HWY 60 and north of Picketpost Mountain, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum holds the title of the largest botanical garden in Arizona. And if you are looking for an outside stroll that involves shade from the desert sun, then this arboretum will help you keep cool while you learn about different plants from various parts of the world. The arboretum actually started as the grounds for the private winter residence of William Boyce Thompson. However, this site eventually transitioned to a plant research institute.
Today, there are over 100,000 annual visitors who get to experience his efforts as there are several areas of the arboretum that provide plants and knowledge from various areas of the world.
Where to Start at Boyce Thompson Arboretum
After entering the park, be sure to grab a map (or you can download a map on your mobile device ahead of time) and a water bottle as you will be inspired to explore the whole arboretum. When looking at the park map, one will notice that the walking routes are highlighted in different colors as there are several different paths traversing throughout the arboretum as well as different inclines. The colors help visitors differentiate what trail they are on and there is a special note that the yellow trail represents a steep trail which may not be for all visitors. Additionally, be sure to be on the lookout for various signs throughout the arboretum that identify potential areas where rattlesnakes may be present as this is a natural wildlife area.
During my day at the arboretum, I stayed on the path, as advised, and did not see any rattlesnakes. Also, there are maps located throughout the parks to help identify your exact location and to guide you to various points of interest in your area. Do note, cell phone reception is not ideal in this area, so it is best to either have a paper map or download the arboretum map on your mobile device ahead of your arrival.
Australia in Arizona
There are several species of plants within the arboretum that are not native to Arizona, and this is just fine with the Boyce Thompson Arboretum staff. In fact, the various areas of the arboretum are part of a living science experiment as the plants that are featured in the arboretum are constantly evaluated in their Arizona environment to help understand plant habitats.
In addition to featuring plants from other parts of the world, the staff at the arboretum educate visitors on the indigenous populations from far off lands. For example, in the Australian Deserts Exhibit, one will come across the Australian Pavilion which contains information about how the indigenous population would turn native plants into instruments for ceremonies. One item in particular that caught my eye was a didgeridoo which is a wind instrument. This particular didgeridoo on display looked to be at least 12+ feet long and hung from the roof of the pavilion for all of the guests to see.
There are other areas of the arboretum such as the South American Deserts Exhibit and the Asian Deserts Exhibit where visitors can experience the plantings from those areas of the world. When visiting these, be sure to smell the air, listen to the leaves rustling in the wind, and stop and smell the flowers if they are in bloom. This will certainly help enhance your experience.
Be Sure to Enjoy the Art in the Arboretum
The Boyce Thompson Arboretum is not just filled with plants, it also contains an assortment of art, sculptures, and statues that are tastefully placed in the various gardens and trails. One striking sculpture that caught my eye, which was located in the Pine Loop section of the park called, “The Ring of Life”. According to the plaque, the sculpture was created by Ben Goo and dedicated in 1981. The Boyce Thompson Arboretum thrives today due to their members and donors. The staff and Board of Directors certainly show appreciation of their donors as various works of art and other park improvements are paired with honorary plaques identifying the individuals and companies who donate to the arboretum.
The artwork located throughout the arboretum also offers a wonderful juxtaposition between all of the natural plantings. One can tell that the art is not just randomly displayed as thought was given to the materials, placement, and the overall story. Be sure to enjoy all the art as you explore the arboretum.
Experience History, Rare Succulents and Cacti in a Centralized Place, the Smith Interpretive Center and Greenhouses
Not only is the Boyce Thompson Arboretum the largest botanical garden in Arizona, it is also the oldest. Additionally, the arboretum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places which exemplifies the significance of the arboretum to the history of Arizona.
One building that can certainly help marry all of these facts together is the Smith Interpretive Center and Greenhouses. This building was constructed in 1926 and became the arboretum’s first visitor center. A renovation of this building was recently completed which helps maintain the health of the plants that cannot thrive in the Arizona environment.
Part of the building renovations included updated greenhouse glazing, vent fans to control the amount of heat emitted into the building, and new LED grow lights. Maintaining the greenhouse portion of this building is just as important as maintaining the plants inside given these plants are rare or endangered and need a controlled environment.
Accentuate the Senses in the Wing Memorial Herb Garden
For one of the most sensual experiences in the arboretum, be sure to walk through the Wing Memorial Herb Garden. This garden is right off of the Arboretum Main Trail, and it is adjacent to the Clevenger House. The Clevenger House is a unique find as part of the small, three-room housed is actually built into the side of Queen Creek Canyon and housed the Clevenger family, whom were early area settlers, until the 1920s. The house is now partly used as a shade shelter for visitors while traversing on the Arboretum Main Trail.
This garden is beautifully arranged with a wide variety of fruit trees, bushes, and herb plants which entices the senses. There are various herbs and fruits located inside the garden that one can see and smell which includes pomegranates, oranges, limes, and Greek oregano.
Wrapping Up the Day at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum
This blog did not even skim the surface of what is inside of the sprawling 340+ acre arboretum, but that is fine. Visitors are encouraged to spend the day wandering the various paths and take in the sites, sounds and smells. This magical place is hard to explore in one day, so consider going back a second time or getting an annual membership. Visitors will find something new every time when they come back to the arboretum as every corner contains some sort of awe-inspiring view, such as the photo below of Picketpost Mountain, amazing smells and sounds of all the plantings, and an overall sense of peace in this calm setting.
With all of the walking and exploring that one person can do here, it certainly warrants a bite to eat from a nearby restaurant. To help make the decision on where to eat, check out the dining tab on the VisitAJ.com website.