Escape the Crowds in a Desert Oasis near Mesa, Arizona

The grandeur of the Sonoran Desert shows itself at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum located in Superior, Arizona, 30 minutes outside of Mesa. The founder, William Boyce Thompson, and the Arboretum itself collected desert species from deserts throughout the world for visitors to see in this microcosm of life.

As my husband, cousins, and I entered the Arboretum, we were amazed at the lush desert landscape. Yes, lush. When I think of a desert, in my mind I see only a few cacti scattered around the never-ending sand. Imagine my surprise when we began to see cacti of all shapes, sizes and blooms growing next to trees, agave, and yucca. The flowers brought color to the paths as we wandered along some of the 4.75 miles of trails that are overlooked by the Picketpost Mountain and in sight of the Superstition Mountains. Thankfully, many of the 3,900 species of plants were labeled, since I had never seen many of them.

Each section held surprises. One of the first was a Saguaro Cactus that seemed to be waving to us to enter. Purple prickly pear cactus lining the path was another while the Australia section contained giant Eucalyptus trees that only needed Koalas hanging on their branches to make visitors think they are on another continent. The rose garden, just beginning to display its amazing colors, was a surprise, also. Roses can grow in the desert? Good to know. Surprises continued throughout the Arboretum. 22 Tons of Azurite and Malachite stand as a colorful tribute to a supporter of the Arboretum. A beautiful sculpture of a horse and Native American, “Do You Hear What I Hear,” by Sandi Ciaramitaro stands nearby. An Australian farm lurks around another corner. Ayer Lake is the home of turtles and multiple birds.

The multitude of plant life has also made the arboretum a haven for birds, so much so that it has been named an Audubon Important Birding Area in Arizona. We were fortunate that my cousins are birders, so they introduced us to many species as they identified them for us. The Phainopepla bird kept appearing, but many other birds–Gambel’s Oriole, Anna’s Hummingbird, the Broad-billed Hummingbird, the Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and the Cactus Wren–make appearances to visitors. The birds will be different every season and every visit. (Their website,, has a place to discover what birds have been sighted recently.)

The Arboretum has many options such as guided tours or letting visitors wander around on their own. While some trails are very wide and nicely paved, some allow visitors to get a taste of hiking on slightly rougher paths. Hiking a short way up Picketpost Mountain lets visitors have a bird’s-eye perspective of the Arboretum. Other options include a Children’s Area and a large picnic area. The Visitor Center has books to identify plants and birds in the area.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum is a hidden gem in the Phoenix/Mesa area and one which I would highly recommend. It provides a chance to get away from the crowds and become familiar with the many plants and animals that thrive in the desert area. (It is the desert, so I would recommend taking water with you and not visiting in the heat of the day during summer.)

Have you visited the Boyce Thompson Arboretum? If so, what was your favorite part?

Candace Ahlfinger has loved traveling since she was little and has always been on the go whenever possible. Now she is retired and gets to do what she loves best… TRAVEL! Whether it’s traveling with her wonderful husband, or our children and grandchildren, traveling is a great experience that enriches her life. Because she always enjoys reading and hearing about others’ travel experiences, she wants to share her travels with the Ellis DownHome readers. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here