As an Arizona native, I have a love for the desert that just comes naturally. But there is something inside of me that loves greenery, water, colorful flowers and shade. I cannot always hop in the car and drive up north so, I am comforted by the fact that just 30 minutes east of Apache Junction lies the 100-acre Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, which boasts the best of the desert as well as many non-native plants.
Summer’s hot weather often causes us to shy away from outdoor activities, but I would encourage you to take a trip out to Boyce Thompson Arboretum this summer.
I recently took my children out to take part in the Learn Your Lizards guided walk, and it turned out to be a fantastic family experience. This walk is offered several times throughout the summer, and it starts at 8 a.m. — well before the day gets too hot.
The walk is pretty casual, with guides who really know lizards. Over the course of about 1.5-2 hours, you will make your way through the majority of the park. The last part of our walk was in the cool shade of the trees that line Queen Creek, including some beautiful eucalyptus trees.
This is our group (photo at right) checking out some tree lizards in the bushes (yes, tree lizards can be found outside of trees). While we were looking at the lizards, our guide told us all about that particular type of lizard, its habitat and diet. At far right, you can see two lizards who were drawn to the laser pointer our guide was using to point out lizards to the group. The kids really loved how they scurried around trying to catch the little green light (above photo).
Of course, the main draw of Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the plant life. All along the lizard walk, our guides pointed out interesting and beautiful plant life (bottom right photo) and even a few animals.
There was a rattlesnake on our tour, tucked under some rocks just off the path. The guides took what could have been a scary experience to the city dwellers in our group and turned it into a teachable moment. The guides talked about rattlesnake safety and used the snake as an example of why we should always stay on the trail.
The guides also added excitement to the lizard walk by occasionally pulling strange creatures from their pockets to share with the group including a chuckwalla, a horny toad and a snake.
After the fun of the lizard walk, we stayed in the park another hour and so and explored on our own. We found some amazing succulents and cacti inside of the Cactus Garden home. There were some pretty cactus plants, unusual succulents and some down-right strange looking plants. This beauty (top right photo) was my favorite.
My favorite part of the arboretum is under the canopy of the Eucalyptus Forest (above). It is cool under those silvery blue tree tops, and the breeze creates a beautiful song. Be sure to stop here in the park and listen to the birds singing.
Take your family out to visit Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park this summer. It is worth getting up early and taking a drive.
If you go
What: Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
When: Open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the summer; hours change in winter. Learn your Lizards guided walks are scheduled May 10 and 31, June 14 and 29, July 12, and August 9 and 30.
Where: 37615 U.S. Highway 60, Superior
Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for children 5-12, free for kids 4 and younger
10 tips to make your trip better
1. Bring lots of water, a hat and sunscreen — but leave your phone in the car.
2. Bring a real camera, because you will see beautiful things.
3. Get a park map when you enter. You will need it.
4. Plan to sit quietly in the Hummingbird-Butterfly Garden for a short time.
5. Spend some time in the Children’s Garden.
6. Walk though the herb garden with your children, and gently touch and smell the plants. Talk to your children about how these herbs are used in the foods they eat.
7. Walk on the suspension bridge. Your kids will love this!
8. If you are able, take the time to walk the .45-mile High Trail. It is beautiful and gives you a bird’s eye view of the creek.
9. Pack a picnic lunch. The park has a large picnic area with 30 tables and several barbecue grills. Using the picnic area is free with paid admission, but you have to ask for an access coin to get into that parking lot.
10. If picnicking isn’t your style, Superior is just a few miles east of the arboretum, and there are a few restaurants there (but beware of the speed cameras as you enter the town!).