“Want to go see the snow?” That was the question my sister-in-law asked midway through my first winter in Phoenix about five years ago. I remember looking around: Sunny skies. Temperatures in the 60s. Snow?
She was beaming. The past 12 years of living in the desert must have done something funny to her brain.
“There’s snow in the mountains,” she said, seeming to sense my doubt, and she pointed in the direction of the Superstition Mountains that dot the horizon north and east of the city. Sure enough, there was snow in them-there hills. I had not noticed it before.
An hour later, we were zipping our way along highway 60. In what seemed like minutes, the highway changed from a sprawling, five-lane-in-each-direction highway to a winding, two-lane road that curved up and around the mountains. It took us east, past the Renaissance Festival in Gold Canyon. We blurred past outlying developments and trailer parks, out, out, out until there was nothing but rocky hills and surprisingly green valleys below. This road revealed a change in the desert landscape. There were, of course, the requisite saguaro cactuses and prickly grasses, but the pale, yellow green blushed dark green in spots. There were hints of other colors too: lilacs and bright yellows spun from the stalks of plants whose names I still do not know. Then the earth turned from dusty brown to mineral-rich red and gold. This was the Tonto National Forest we passed into and it was like no forest I had ever seen before.
Our destination, as it turned out, was the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum just three miles west of the old, historic mining town of Superior, Arizona. There was no snow there, but once we got onto the main trail of the Arboretum, all thoughts of snow disappeared anyway. I was floored. So much beauty, so much diversity of life, so much to take in, all in one place, all in the desert. Who knew?
Since that day, I have been back to the Arboretum on numerous occasions and proudly count myself among their membership of donors. I try to get back there at least once a year. It is a haven for me, far quieter than a lot of the other more touristy places in Arizona and no less rich with beauty and life.
Spring is possibly my favorite time of year, if I had to name a favorite, only because the wildflowers that light the path on the highway to the Arboretum are just a taste of what follows at the Arboretum itself. I find my heart beating with joy as I make my way to that little slice of heaven. It is a wonder, this place in the desert; bursts of color growing out of a pinkish brown canvas.
From now through the Spring, the Arboretum is open daily from 8am until 5pm. Once the sticky days of summer hit, the hours change, but they are still open for part of the day and it is slightly cooler there than in Phoenix. They have a plethora of activities and classes for hikers, photographers, those interested in learning more about edible or medicinal plants, and more. The Hummingbird Garden is not to be missed any time of year.
I could go on and on, but really, the best way to experience the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum is to go there.
For more information, visit their website, their blog, or their Picasa photo album. On YouTube there’s a great introductory video of the Arboretum. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter.