Rejoice! Boyce! Visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Wondrous is the best word to describe the peaceful, well-manicured and extensive landscape of Boyce Thompson Arboretum and Wallace Desert Garden. Located 60 miles east of Phoenix on Route 60, BTA offers visitors an unmatched experience in an exceptional setting.
The arboretum was founded in 1924 by William Boyce Thompson, a mining magnate who recognized the importance of plants to our environment and personal health. BTA encompasses 343 acres and features nearly 5 miles of hiking trails. The gardens are the oldest and largest botanical gardens in metro Phoenix, and the nonprofit offers tours, classes, birding and special events throughout the year.
Driving east through the Tonto National Forest, you will enjoy the striking, unspoiled Sonoran Desert and its rolling fields of saguaro, cholla, ocotillo, palo verde, prickly pear and much more. The arboretum and gardens are perfectly situated along Queen Creek and Silver King Wash and sit in the shadow of Magma Ridge.
The latest addition to BTA is the Wallace Desert Garden, named for Henry Browne Wallace. Opened in 2020, it surrounds Queen Creek and occupies 13 acres, with more than 5,000 plantings. Particularly impressive are the diversity of the garden and how well-marked the trails are with signage for every plant species. Directional signage is excellent, and the route is wheelchair accessible. Just a few of the plant varieties you will encounter are Moroccan mound, agave, aloe, juniper, myrtle and creosote bushes. A large rose garden, recently pruned, will bring more color and fragrance to the area in the coming months. The Wallace Desert Garden includes several loops and trails, observation lookouts, a grotto and impeccably maintained plantings.
Along the plentiful trails are seating areas to rest and contemplate the peaceful environment and fabulous mountains surrounding the area. One guest remarked, “Every time I come here, there are more trails!” BTA has trails for every skill level. Included among them is High Trail, offering a more rigorous hike up and around the gardens, with even wider vistas to enjoy. On the Curandero Trail, we learned that many desert plants are used for today’s medicines, including creosote, which has antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
The staff we encountered were welcoming, dedicated and seemed to enjoy working in support of the BTA’s mission: to inspire appreciation and stewardship of desert plants, wildlife and ecosystems through education, research and conservation. One staff member said, “There’s just something about the natural setting here!” Because the gardens and trails are so spread out, everyone can feel a sense of serenity.
Among the many trails, BTA also boasts a hummingbird and butterfly garden, picnic areas, yoga garden, Australian deserts pavilion, heritage rose garden, the renovated Smith Interpretive Center, and two meticulous display greenhouses. One of the greenhouses was first constructed in 1926, and the surrounding original building complements the new displays in the greenhouses.
The reception area includes a gift shop selling cold drinks, books, collectible rocks, rugs, jewelry and souvenirs. Outside, you can peruse hundreds of desert plants also for sale. The friendly staff is happy to provide dining options nearby, as BTA does not currently offer food.
Three miles east of BTA sits historic Superior. Founded in 1882, Superior has a rich legacy from its mining days and is surrounded by the natural beauty of Picketpost Mountain and Apache Leap. Our choice for lunch was Porter’s Café with outstanding casual dining, two patios with great vistas, plus the pleasant surprise of live lunchtime and weekend entertainment.
Boyce Thompson offers a unique Arizona experience that is well worth the pleasant drive. If it’s your first visit, you’ll “rejoice” at having discovered something truly exceptional.
Visit btarboretum.org to learn more.