This weekend’s long jaunt was to Superior, Arizona, on the way to Tonto National Monument.
Near Superior, Boyce Thompson Arboretum is located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, just one hour east of Phoenix, Arizona. Three miles of garden paths and trails wind through 392 acres of plant exhibits and striking landscapes. Over 2,600 different types of plants from the deserts of Australia, North and South America, southern Africa, and other arid-land regions of the world blend seamlessly into an incomparable natural setting. Agaves, aloes, boojum trees, cork oaks, jujube trees, legume trees, and, in the Eucalyptus grove, one of the largest red gum Eucalyptus trees (“Mr. Big”) in the United States. Cacti and succulents grow extensively throughout the Arboretum. Nestled along Queen Creek at the foot of Picketpost Mountain, the Arboretum is a haven for plant lovers, photographers, birders, and nature enthusiasts of all ages. Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state of Arizona. It is one of the oldest botanical institutions west of the Mississippi. Founded in 1924 as a desert plant research facility and “living museum”, the Arboretum is located in the Sonoran Desert on 392 acres (158.6 ha) along Queen Creek and beneath the towering volcanic remnant, Picketpost Mountain. Boyce Thompson Arboretum is on U.S. Highway 60, an hour’s drive east from Phoenix and 3 miles (4.8 km) west of Superior, Arizona. Exhibits at the arboretum 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. Because the BTA is a riparian zone, the park attracts Sonoran Desert wildlife and migrating birds. Visitors have seen bobcats, javelinas, coatimundis, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, hawks, hummingbirds, and vultures. 270 bird species have been spotted in the park and the Audubon Society has designated the Arboretum as an Important Bird Area. It was here that I saw butterflies for the first time this year.
From Superior we drove east and north to Tonto National Monument in the Superstition Mountains, in Gila County of central Arizona. The area lies on the northeastern edge of the Sonoran Desert ecoregion, an arid habitat with annual rainfall of about 16 inches. The Salt River runs through this area, providing a rare, year-round source of water. The monument was established to preserve and protect cliff dwellings from the Salado culture built during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries. The Salado people farmed in the Salt River Valley, and supplemented their diet by hunting and gathering native plants. The Salado were fine craftspeople, producing some of the most flamboyant polychrome pottery and intricately woven textiles to be found in the Southwest. We made the steep climb with only a few stops and enjoyed views of the surrounding landscape from sites along the trail. The preserved cliff dwellings were like many others we had seen in Arizona and New Mexico, and makes one marvel at the efforts of the Salado people.