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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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Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Well our day has finally come to an end.  We are camping overnight at Catalina State Park 9 miles north of Tucson.  The campground is at the foot of the Catalina Mountains but pretty much right in town.  You can literally walk to the closest mall.  We’re here for two days to relax and enjoy the environment plus do some sightseeing if the others in our group choose to.  Catalina State Park has an average elevation of 3,000 feet but varies dramatically with high ridges and low creek beds.  The park includes 5,493 acres and is close to the town of Oro Valley.



Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains.  The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros.  The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking and bird watching — more than 150 species of birds call the park home.  The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.   This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

This area became a State Park just by chance and with a lot of help.  The original idea in the early 1970’s, was to rezone a 4,000-acre parcel of land lying east of U.S. Highway 89,  just  north of Tucson.  The property known as Rancho Romero was located adjacent to the western slopes of the Coronado National Forest’s Santa Catalina Mountains. The proposed development included a variety of housing units that would accommodate 17,000 people, which would surround golf courses along the Canada de Oro and Sutherland Washes. When this rezoning request came before the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission, there was so much opposition from the public that the proposed plan was put on hold.  At a meeting of the Parks Board that was held on November 19, 1973, a study indicated that this specific area would meet the criteria for a State Park.  Much opposition was met by both parties.  However, hrough the efforts of the Rancho Romero Coalition, an interested citizen’s group from Tucson and an outgrowth of the Oracle Road Greenbelt Committee, and other action groups, Representative Charles King introduced House Bill 2280 early in the 1974 session to establish Catalina State Park.  Finally House Bill 2280, passed and was signed by Governor Jack Williams on May 1, 1974.  After a complicated series of land trades, leases, purchase of land and initial construction of facilities, Catalina State Park was dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt and and opened to the public on May 25, 1983.

The park has a great campground with shade trees which was helpful since it was 90 degrees today.  The RV park is surrounded by mountains and desert landscape.  There is a gift shop at the entrance and the facilities are very nice, with hot showers.  Like with most parks in Arizona, hiking seems to be the main activity, but this park also has great bike trails and golf courses are not too far away.  This was a great campground and you just can’t beat the Arizona sunsets.  Catalina State Park gets a B rating and if you need a place to camp or you want to enjoy some outdoor adventures…all can be achieved here.