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Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, AZ

Louise Speaks:  After 4 days at Roper Lake State Park it is time to head on home.  Our last stop and only about 50 miles from our Mesa home is yet another State Park.  Different from the others, but is listed as a state park, because the state parks manage the upkeep. Although I had been by here many times I had never stopped.  I guess living in Arizona where you see cacti and desert plants all  the time it just didn’t seem important to stop.  However, having stopped today, I really wish I had stopped here before and maybe taken my children.  A very unusual place and being that it is April, many of the cactus flowers are blooming so it is quite spectacular.  The weather today is perfect as well, not too hot and a very nice breeze is blowing.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state of Arizona.  The Arboretum has a visitor center, gift shop, research offices, greenhouses, a demonstration garden, picnic area, and a looping 1.5-mile primary trail that leads you through various exhibits and natural areas.  There is so much to see that you feel like it is much further than 1.5 miles, The exhibits include a cactus garden, palm and eucalyptus groves, an Australian exhibit, South American exhibit, aloe garden and an herb garden. There are also side trails such as the Chihuahuan Trail, Curandero Trail, and High Trail.  We missed the suspension bridge so I guess that means I have to come back.

The arboretum was founded by William Boyce Thompson, a mine engineer.  In the early 1920s, Thompson, enamored with the landscape around Superior, built The Picket Post house,  overlooking Queen Creek.  The impressive 7,000 sq ft mansion, can still be seen,  perched atop the volcanic magma cliffs just east of the Arboretum.  This was the winter home of the founder, Colonel Thompson.  The mansion was sold and remained in private hands for decades, but was re-acquired by Arizona State Parks in 2008.  Arizona State Parks  cooperatively manages the “castle on the hill,” which was suppose to  re-open for occasional tours in 2009.  The house looks pretty good, but when I asked about it, I was told it was not inhabitable as it is not up to code.  Seems like a beautiful structure to just let sit and rot.  I would think someone would find a way to make it up to code so that it could be seen and toured again. In doing my research,  apparently a special tour was conducted just this past January and the photos of the inside are just incredible.  I would gladly have paid the additional fee to tour the mansion.  Hopefully this will soon become a regular option.  Yup, another reason to come back.

Boyce Thompson definitely had a vision.  He wrote: “I have in mind far more than mere botanical propagation. I hope to benefit the State and the Southwest by the addition of new products. A plant collection will be assembled which will be of interest not only to the nature lover and the plant student, but which will stress the practical side, as well to see if we cannot make these mesas, hillsides, and canyons far more productive and of more benefit to mankind. We will bring together and study the plants of the desert countries, find out their uses, and make them available to the people. It is a big job, but we will build here the most beautiful, and at the same time the most useful garden of its kind in the world.”  It seems like he did just what he intended to do.  This place is huge and so well organized.  The gardens are separate and everything is labeled so you can see what they are.

The Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum was established on April 1, 1924, by hiring its first two employees.  Their first project was the construction of two homes that still exist on site, the Crider House and the Gibson House.  Propagation buildings were put up in 1925 and by 1926, the Smith Building which was the administration building, and the first visitor center.  Two connecting greenhouses were later built.   You are able to go into this building and the green houses.  Ayer Lake, named after Charles Ayer,  was created the same year to help irrigate the lower portion of the park.  Ayer Lake is the source of irrigation water for the entire collection plants.  The lake gets it’s water from Queen Creek.  There’s a shallow well located in the canyon just east of the suspension bridge that spans Queen Creek and leads to the High Trail. Water from the well is piped up and over the cliffs, then flows downhill through a drainage to the lake, entering at the east end. If you’re walking near the Picket Post Mansion, listen and look for the artificial “waterfall” splashing down from the cliffs above when the lake is being refilled!  The Desert Pupfish and the Gila Top Minnow live in Ayer Lake.  They are both endangered fish and are used by Game & Fish to stock other bodies of water where the fish have died off.

In 1927, the Boyce Thompson Southwest Arboretum was incorporated, becoming the first non-profit research organization in Arizona.  The chief attraction at the Arboretum is the system of nature trails, with over two miles of combined length that weave through the botanical gardens. bThese gardens represent the “living museum” of plants capable of living in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona.  Many are native species; others have been introduced.  A series of shady interpretive ramadas are located along the Main Loop Trail to provide a place to relax, get out of the sun, and learn about the Arboretum’s plants, animals, natural and human history.

As you approach the Arboretum on Highway 60 you’ll see towering Picketpost Mountain dominating the southern horizon.  The Arboretum brings together plants from the Earth’s many and varied deserts and dry lands and displays them alongside unspoiled examples of the native Sonoran Desert vegetation.  No matter what the season, you will enjoy a moving and memorable experience of the beauty, majesty, and mystery of arid land plants.  Who would have thought that desert plants could be so beautiful.  You will also enjoy the many natural communities that form the arid land environment. You will see so many plants, flowers and trees as you as you walk the Main Loop.  It is a very easy walk with many shaded areas.  There are park benches along the way as well as water fountains for drinking and water bowls for your pets.  You will also find peaceful reflection in the cool shade of towering trees in Queen Creek Canyon; and intellectual stimulation in the many and varied displays at the Smith Interpretive Center.  In 1976 the Arboretum became part of the Arizona State Park system.

Like I said I have been by here numerous times and had never stopped.  We spent several hours here just wondering and enjoying all the desert bloom.  This was the perfect day for this adventure, although we were told there is something in bloom all year long.  This attraction is right off Hwy. 60 and I would recommend it to everyone.  I’m sure visitors from places other than the desert will find this to be one of the most beautiful and informative sites they have seen.  Local Arizonians should find it equally interesting and enjoyable because we don’t usually see so many plants, trees and flowers in one place.  The Boyce Thompson Arboretum gets an A+ rating.  It is a MUST see!




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Roper Lake State Park, Safford, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Seeing that we only visited one attraction today, we arrived at our camping spot rather early.  This is a good thing.  We had never been to Roper Lake State Park before so we were excited to get here.  This makes our 20th state park and one that you can camp at.  What a great place.  The RV spots are huge and are truly on the lake, of course many of my family and friends in Canada would call it a pond.  Each RV spot comes with it’s own covered Ramada with picnic table so you can be in the shade.  There is a swimming beach and electric boat motors are allowed.  The lake is stocked with bass and trout.  The park is an excellent place for bird watching. This state park even has small cabins to rent if you don’t have an RV and you’re not into tenting.  However, the cabins have beds and air conditioning but that’s about it.  There is an outdoor cooking area with a huge BBQ and restrooms and showers are close by.  The cabins come with a porch swing that faces the lake and of course one of Arizona’s famous sunsets.

Roper Lake sits on a natural hot springs.  This was discovered many years back and as a result they made a natural hot springs hot tub…very unusual for a state park.  It is small and only gets to about 92 degrees, but is very pleasant in both winter and summer.  As with most state parks there are many nature hiking trails throughout the park and around the lake.  The swimming beach is off a peninsula off one of the camping loops.  They have an outside shower for rinsing off once you come in from the water.  The shower is unique as it is shaped into a cactus…so Arizona.  There are Ramadas and picnic BBQ grills throughout the beach area.  The beach comes complete with beach sand and palm trees.  Today is a very VERY windy day so we didn’t even test the water, but looks like a great place to cool off in the heat of the summer.  We are told that temperatures can climb to as high as 120 degrees during the summer months.

For a number of years, Graham County had been working with its legislators to have a State Park in their county. In 1972, HB 2150 authorized the acquisition of Roper Lake as a State Park.  Although it wasn’t that easy to make Roper Lake a state park.  Much engineering and negotiations took place before things became official.  The main part of the Park, located around Roper Lake, was developed in the early 1960’s as a private recreation area.  The lake and the property were sold to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission in 1969 so it really couldn’t become a state park…the state didn’t own it.  State Parks began negotiations with the Game and Fish Department to secure an acceptable agreement wherein State Parks would operate and manage Roper Lake.  Finally on December 31, 1974, Roper Lake State Park became official.  The Park opened to the public in March 1975 but was nothing compared to what it is today.

Roper Lake offers a park store that has books, clothing, children’s toys, flora and fauna guides, fishing equipment and bait.  The Visitor Center is open year round and features a gift shop, local area information, Junior Ranger programs, and restrooms.    This is a great State Park.  All the amenities are very easily accessible and everything is just a short walk away.  Although the weather wasn’t the greatest during our four day stay, we still enjoyed the park.  It is being put on our list as a park to come back to and maybe spend a week.  Roper Lake State Park gets an A rating, and we will be back.


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Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Bowie, AZ

Louise Speaks:   As well as visiting all the State Parks in Arizona, we are also planning on visiting all the National Parks and Monuments.   A National Monument is a protected area that is similar to a National Park,  but can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government. Under a proclamation by the President of the United States, it is labeled a National Monument. National monuments can be managed by one of several federal agencies: including the National Park Services and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  National monuments can be so designated through the power of the Antiquities Act  of 1906.  This trip was to include two National Monuments but one was not accessible by RV so we will have to come back and visit Ironwood by car.  However, Fort Bowie Natinal Historic Site is on our agenda.

Following directions from Catalina State Park in Tucson, led us in the middle of nowhere.  Then we hit freeway construction and of course our exit was closed.  That made us take the next exit and enter the town of Bowie from the back side.  Luckily for us there was a sign showing us which way to go to reach the fort.  We drove along this very narrow highway until we saw a road that we think we were suppose to turn on.  See just another adventure.  Anyway, we turn on the road, and it’s a dirt road.  Did I mention we are in a motor home?  A fairly large motor home?  Traveling with Thelma and Louise is not always about the destination, it is almost always about the adventure.  So we continue on this dirt road with the dirt in our rear view mirror.  Finally we come to a sign and it says straight for trail or left for handicap and Fort.  Not sure which way to go, we go towards the Fort.  Now let me back up.  We were already informed that this was a “hike in Monument”.  We were told that you had to park and hike in a mile and a half to get to the Visitor Center.  Of course that means you have to hike a mile and a half out and back to your car.  We weren’t sure if we were going to do that, but we knew we had to at least get a picture of the sign.  So now we are headed off to what we think is the fort.  We drive at least 5 miles, still on a dirt road and we see a turn off…up a hill…and it says “Park Residence”.  Well that’s not where we’re headed but we knew we couldn’t go straight as that was through a very small gate and there is no way we would fit.  So up the hill we go.  At list this part was paved, but it was nothing more than a driveway.  We get to the top and there is a very small parking lot…room for maybe 3 cars.  So we just park as best we can and we take up at least two spaces and most of the driveway but it does appear that we are the only ones here so we’re not too concerned.  We look around and see no one.  We do see a building that bears a sign “maintenance”.  We walk around looking for someone or something to let us know where we are.  Finally there is a piece of wood, with painted on writing that says “Visitor Center 500 feet”.  It points up a dirt stairway up a small hill.  Not really sure where it leaves, we head up the hill.  At the top is…well we are shocked.  It is the Visitor Center.  The one that we were told was a 3 mile round trip hike to reach.  Right in front of the Visitor Center is Fort Bowie in all it’s glory.

Fort Bowie was a 19th-century outpost of the United States Army.   This particular location was picked due to the water supply available.  The remaining buildings and site are now protected as Fort Bowie National Historic Site.  Fort Bowie was established by the California Volunteers in 1862 after a series of engagements between the California Column and the Chiricahua Apaches.  The most violent of which was the Battle of Apache Pass in July 1862.  The fort was named in honor of Colonel Bowie  commander of the 5th Regiment Infantry  who first established the fort.  The first Fort Bowie resembled a temporary camp rather than a permanent army post.  In 1868, a second, more substantial Fort Bowie was built which included adobe barracks, houses, corrals, a trading post, and a hospital.  The second Fort Bowie was built on a plateau about 500 yards  to the east of the first site. For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass  were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahua Apaches.  The fort was abandoned in 1894.

The Fort Bowie and Apache Pass site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.  The remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station.    The mile and a half hiking trail to the old fort passes other historic sites such as Apache Spring, Siphon Canyon, the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Stop and Bascom’s Camp.  We missed these sites because we found this short cut and we are happy we did.  We still didn’t find a sign and were told the only sign is by the parking lot where you park and take the trail to the fort.  So we managed to get out of that small parking lot and head back to where we made the original turn and headed for the hiking trails.  We found the parking lot and the Fort Bowie sign and then continued down the 8 mile dirt road to the Freeway.

Some interesting facts.  In 1958 a Western entitled Fort Bowie was made, starring Ben Johnson.  This was before it was declared a National Monument.  The film charted one of the disputes between the US Cavalry based at the fort and the Apaches.  The Chiricahua Apaches were first sent to Fort Marion in Florida, then Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama, and finally Fort Sill in Oklahoma.  If you go to our Ft. Sill Blog you will see Geronimo’s Grave site.

As I have mentioned many times before, I’m not that much into history, but setting out a goal to see all the National Monuments is giving me a history lessen whether I want it or not.  There is a small museum in the Visitor Center and you are able to spend as much time as you want walking around the fort and seeing what remains of the various buildings.  The fort is pet friendly so Gracie was able to join us on our adventure.  There really isn’t much here but remains of the fort.  They have done nothing to perserve the fort, but I guess that was history.  If you are out this way, when the weather is good, NOT in the summer, it would be an interesting stop.  But the trouble to get here, I’m not sure it’s worth the time.  Fort Bowie gets  a C rating.  It’s okay, because we stumbled on it by accident, but I wouldn’t have made the 3 mile round trip hike to see it.