Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum

It's been a pleasure writing about this place and I hope many of you get to go and visit.  Right now it can be hot, so bring a hat and some water with you.  Also bring sunscreen as there are parts of the trail that are sunny and exposed to our intense desert sun. 

 First off, some of you may wonder what an Arboretum is....

The dictionary definition: a place where trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes. The short answer is always "it's like a museum for trees." Arboreta and Gardens collect plants as a museum collects artifacts, not only to study them but to preserve them. Each tree, shrub and herbaceous plant chosen for BTA gardens and grounds is the museum equivalent of a work of art.  In our region of fractured ecosystems and declining genetic diversity, the soul of BTA is an educational and research station for desert crops and how they'll be integrated into sustainable crops for future generations. You will really see the fractured ecosystem if you come to the Arboretum from Tucson to Globe.  Mining has scarred some of the towns around the areas of Globe and Superior.  Ironically, William Boyce Thompson, the man who founded the Arboretum, was a miner himself.

There are many trails at the Arboretum and ALL are lovely.  They are easy to maneuver and I rate them as a 1 or 2 level for difficulty.   The "High Trail" is a bit more challenging as you have to climb rocky stairs, but it's quiet with a breeze.  Perfection for you birders:)  Pack a lunch and sit under the many ramadas/trees at their plentiful picnic tables.

Another thing that I like about this place is that you can bring your dogs.  I don't have a dog, but it was fun seeing everyone walking them.  Just make sure you clean up after them and remember that they must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet and under the physical control of the owner.  No smoking is allowed inside the Arboretum, but if you do smoke, you may do so in the parking lot.  If you have to smoke, please don't throw your cig butts on the grounds as you can spark a grass fire faster than you can say, "HOLY #$@&!" And then you'll probably end up in jail on top of it.  My advice and opinion...stop smoking and wasting your money:)

Remember to not take anything off the grounds, but DO bring your camera for A LOT of fantastic shots.  Here is what I will say about the water situation.  There isn't any AT ALL around the park so bring your own.  They do sell small bottles of water in the gift shop at around 75 cents.  If you are 6'2" like I am, you'll need to buy at least 3-4 to get around the park comfortably during this time of year.

One of the many types of ice plants you'll see at the entrance of the park.

I took many of these pics in March when the plants were coming back from a difficult winter.  The prickly pear is extra purple after a cold winter.  Every month the Arboretum hosts themed events.  This month, May, they had sessions related to Migratory Birds.  For summer, the Arboretum offers specialty guided walks and tours.  They offer walks, tours, classes, and lectures free with admission which was around 8 dollars.

   The Boyce Thompson Arboretum
37615 U.S. Hwy 60, Superior, AZ 85173

                                                                  Phone (520)689-2723

The above information is there to help you. I'm not going to lie. This place should not have been so difficult to find. The first time we passed it while the second, I had doubts that I was driving in the right direction. However, I'm a guy who didn't bring the directions and just started driving eating a breakfast burrito from a place in Florence. Until next time, happy adventures!!!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Highlights from the Phoenix Comicon 2011

Leonard Nimoy
This is one of several pics that will show up in a series in September that I took during the convention.
Pics taken by Chris Rohrer.  Please do not use without permission.  
We had a lot of fun this weekend.  I've got detailed reports on Nasa projects amongst other things in a couple months.  But for now, I thought I'd give you a taste of the Phoenix ComicCon 2011.  It was a blast meeting everyone and I look forward to going to next years convention.  The highlights this year were George Takei, Leonard Nimoy, Stan Lee and many many others.  My shaky recordings are a nod to Battlestar Galactica fans;)

Cacti and Wildflowers

The pink wild tubular flowers of Parry's Penstemon let us know that spring has arrived in the desert southwest.  The background shows us a variety of the Cephalocereus senilis or Old Man Cactus. 

My favorite part about exploring the Boyce Thompson Arboretum has been the wild displays of cacti/succulent groupings along with the bright colors of the wildflowers.  They began in March and continue throughout April into May.  While our Tucson wildflower season here wasn't the best (because we didn't get the required amount of rain needed during our winter months), the Arboretum is situated in a different part of the desert that receives more rain. Here are some amazing plants that add punch to our landscape during the months of April and May.

This is Globemallow-genus Sphaeralcea in the mallow family (Malvaceae)-and one of my favorites.

As I was walking towards Ayer Lake, I couldn't help but stop and notice all the wonderful cacti displays.  It was incredible and it was apparent as there were many people studying how they were all grouped together.  Fantastic stuff!!

The bumpy ones are called the Totem Pole Cactus.

I started running out of water during this part of the trail as it was sunnier so bring several bottles with you before you begin the hike. 

The colors of many of our wildflowers attract pollinators like the hummingbird and butterfly to visit.  Notice the tubular shape that allows for long beaks:)

Barrel Cactus at its best!!!  I love when people use this cactus in a repeating form.

I LOVE barrel cactus.  Well I should say that I don't like a barrel cactus, but several placed together.  They add structure to a garden and there were two very large displays of these slow growing cacti together.  It was quite an impressive display.  The first grouping was under a mesquite tree in part shade although they can take full sun.

A pumphouse creates this artificial waterfall and the Ayer lake below.  What I found interesting was that there was a colony of prickly pear cactus on the top right next to the water.   Normally a cactus will rot with too much water, but this colony seems to thrive.

Ayer Lake in March.  The grasses are still brown but they will green up as it gets warmer.

There are a lot of breathtaking views off the main trail hike.  Rock formations are outstanding as are the cacti displays.  Together, they equal perfection.

My favorite pic is right below this writing.  The Saguaro is a healthy and older member of the garden.

You'll also see other fun trees around the various trails.  Below is a boojum tree. There were two.  One was younger and this one is much older.

This was definitely worth the hike.  My advice is to begin this part of the trail earlier so that you can enjoy these plants without the intense heat beating you down.  The other parts of the trail are shadier and breezier, but this particular route can be brutal during the late morning/afternoon hours....especially during this time of year.

I just love the look of a hairy cactus.  I have several at El Presidio and they remind me of my days in Cuzco, Peru.  Tomorrow, I'll unfortuneatly have to conclude my series on this fantastic voyage.  And yet a new voyage will begin.  I am currently working on yet another adventure that will be online in September.  My weekends are always full of fun and adventure with some exciting finds.  I look forward to sharing some info from a NASA presentation this past weekend in what looks to be an exciting two weeks of adventure and imagination in space PLUS my tropical month long Panama trip will follow.  So much to write and so little time to do it all.  Until then......

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Pipevine Swallowtail
Battus philenor
I had a wonderful time walking around the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in March.  Here are some more shots from this amazing stop in Arizona near the town of Superior.  It takes around 2 hours if you walk quickly, but I recommend bringing a lunch and absorbing all this place has to offer.  Here is the another look into these truly spectacular gardens......

Again, note how camouflage plays an important role in our desert environment. Urosaurus ornatus or
the Tree Lizard
This is a butterfly of riparian corridors in the Sonoran Desert where its required food plants, willows and cottonwoods, are found. There are many butterflies that closely resemble the Pipevine Swallowtail -- Battus philenor. This butterfly was a hard one to identify, and thanks to Randy Emmett, I have the correct label.
This butterfly was floating around with several of its mates near Carolina Jasmine Vines. I labeled it first as the Pipevine Swallowtail, but then doubted myself because it's a rare find.
Again, this is another tricky critter to snap on camera.  My frustration will come at times when I have the shot and families come along with screaming children.......many times I have to get off the main trail  to get those pics and that's okay.  However nature happens when it happens.  


This arboreal lizard most commonly lives in riparian zones in mesquite, alder and cottonwood, but it also is found on non-riparian oak, pine, and juniper. The tree lizard is also found on some non-native trees such as eucalyptus and tamarisk, and in some treeless areas; it is often very abundant on granite boulder piles. Color and pattern serve it well in avoiding detection by would-be predators.

The bees were out and about with Spring in the air.
There's your creature feature fun.  2 more posts coming up on the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Until tomorrow....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mr. Big and the Walkabout Trail

Mr. Big
Continuing with my photo shoot at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, I couldn't help but notice this incredibly huge Eucalyptus known by the staff as Mr. Big.   This tree is located on the Australian Walkabout Trail and cannot be missed. This is a Red Gum that was planted as a sapling in 1926.  Today it is over 100 feet tall with an 8 foot diameter.  There is a bench nearby to enjoy the tree's shade and beauty.   Mr. Big is located in the very magical Walkabout Trail and it transports you to Australia.  Today these large Eucalyptus are outlawed in Tucson, but apparently you can "possibly" grow them up in the hills if this tree is far enough away from your house. Just be careful.....this trail can inspire you to try and grow an Australian garden.  And it will work because most Australian plants love our Sonoran desert......be forewarned:)
The windmill lets you know that you are on the Walkabout Trail in Australia.  Many Australian plants do well in Arizona.

Adding to the theme of the Australian Outback

Creating a theme for your garden is important and makes a statement.

Bring your lunch as there are places all over for you to sit and take in the beauty.

I heard people ooh and ahh at this place and can see why they would get excited about growing Australian plants in their yards.  My advice, plant a couple here and there, but be friendly to our Sonoran landscape and use plants that are beneficial for the wildlife here.  There are several Australian plants that do encourage wildlife use.  For example, the Cooper's Hawk likes to build their nest in the strong limbs of a Eucalyptus.

This was on of my favorite themed trails at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Friday, May 27, 2011


My first hummingbird pic ever....very exciting.  These guys are quick!
Taking a break before my last series of garden journals, I wanted to take you all to a place that is beyond beautiful....the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  This is a world class arboretum and I hope you'll enjoy my visit from back in March.  There's too much to cover in one post so I'll break it up into several writes over the next few days.  One of the things you'll notice at BTA is that it is a bird refuge and attracts all kinds of feathered friends to their beautiful garden paradise.  BTA offers several features that birds love......shade, bird friendly bushes, hummingbird feeders, a beautiful manmade stream and lake, and places for birds to nest. Located near Superior, AZ, BTA does not disappoint the desert enthusiast.  Let's take a look at several of the hummingbirds in the area along with several other shots of birds that I found flying around this magical botanical garden.  If you are a birder, this is definitely a place to stop and visit.   So you may ask me what all these hummers are called and I am not going to lie....I haven't a clue.  It looks like there are at least 3 kinds...maybe 4?  The only thing I know is that I was on a mission to snap pics of the hummingbird....and I did.  Next time I will learn to identify. Birding is a serious business as I run into birders all the time while identifying plants.  See if you can name these beautiful birds.  What's even more confusing is that the males and females are all different looking....I'm not a birder, but I do appreciate birds.
Anna's Hummingbird

The throat of that hummingbird in the background is stunning.

Adorable.  Hummingbirds are territorial and will fly right at you. 
While waiting for the shots, a pretty blue hummingbird would kick the rest of them off the feeder to keep it free for its own drink.
 I heard this bird scratching in the leaves and I started laughing.  It reminded me of my cats using the kitty litter.

Cute little thing. Scratch scratch.  Scratch scratch.

I loved the creek that ran along this part of the trail.  It was really relaxing and beautiful to watch all the birds flying around.
This is the hummingbird I mentioned several pics back.  This blue guy was very aggressive with the other hummers. What is the name of this hummingbird?
Below is an example of my shaky hands....to get hummingbirds with a quick shot, I have to keep my camera balanced on a branch or somewhere stable.
Patience patience patience....and SNAP!
Broad billed Hummingbird?

Until tomorrow.....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Costa Rican Adventure

The Coati
My friend and colleague, Cris Robson, just came back from a trip to Costa Rica.  She teaches Environmental Science and Biology at our school and LOVES what she does.  Cris got into teaching after she worked in the science field for awhile.  Today she's taking over this blog with her pics from the Costa Rica trip and you'll see some of the places she went to visit.  A first for Las Aventuras, here is guest photographer Cris Robson.......
The Coati can be found in Tucson.  Here they seem almost domesticated.  These animals are very much like racoons:)

I wonder if the tails up, like with cats, means....TREATS!  They look pampered:)

A termite nest

Look closely.....Iguanas on the move!

A form of gunnera....a very large plant and one of my favorites:)
This DOES NOT grow in Tucson:)  I know....I've tried.

The active volcano Arenal covered in clouds.

Costa Rican fun along the coffee side of the world.

Waterfalls are both mysterious and beautiful.

I look forward to sharing our Panama adventures with you.  When Cris came back, I was really excited to hear her stories about Costa Rica.  While I've been to these places, it's always fun to hear others reactions.  Tomorrow is another first of some fun photography shoots in Arizona.  I hope you enjoy as we take a break from the final part of my plant journal.