On January 11, 2008 we arrived at our new home for the next three months. Our stay here was until April, 15 when we traveled back to Texas once more. The arboretum was a very educational experience for us and one that we will long remember.
The arboretum has six RV sites for volunteers who live on the facility. Since this is a day use park the gate is locked after 5pm and we each had keys to come and go. In the center of the campground is a building with laundry equipment, showers and a lounge for our use and there is also a campfire area for the resident volunteers. Sites here are quite spacious and have wonderful views. Each site has a nice patio, full hook-ups with both 30A and 50A power and propane is even provided. Work areas are within easy walking distance of the park.
The primary jobs that are asked of the volunteers are to man the feel collection booth, lead the daily general tours and to provide a curriculum based program for the school groups that come to the gardens. There are four different programs based upon the age level of the school children. In addition, there are other tasks that assistance is asked for as time allows. This is mostly a public contact position so if you enjoy meeting people and learning new things to share with visitors, this could be the place for you!
The arboretum is home to a wide range of wildlife and is especially attractive to birds because of the diversity of the plant life here. It has become a favorite location for serious birders to visit and attracts bird species that are not normally seen in this area. The most unique bird we saw was the cross of a violet crown and a broad bill humming bird. He is resident at the garden and is one of only four known to have ever existed.
In addition, from time to time we saw Gila Monsters, a larger lizard that is very poisonous. They are not dangerous because they move very slowly but a wise person does leave them alone. The main feature of the arboretum is it's collection of desert plants. It is one of the largest collections in the world and has some very rare plants. We learned so much, but felt that we had only scratched the surface.
As spring arrived, the garden becomes a most spectacular show of flowers and blooming desert plants. Most unique among the ones we were there to see has to be the green flower of the puya, a very rare, South American plant.
Over all, this was a great experience that we very much enjoyed. The staff are great to work with and the RV sites are difficult to match. Each site has a wonderful view. It is 25 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart and 20 miles to the nearest chain grocery store but there are several good restaurants in Superior, just three miles away as well as a small grocery. The minimum work hours are twenty per person, per week but most volunteers tend to put in much more when it gets busy in the spring. We did take at least two days completely off each week. There is a lot to see and do in the area and the weather is mostly quite good, although it can get pretty cold, since the altitude is 2500 feet.
The only down side that we found was the fact that sometimes the organization, or lack of it does leave something to be desired. Schedules can be difficult to figure out, but we did get used to this and it became a minor issue in a truly wonderful experience. This is a location that gets many who seek to return and for that reason it can be a problem to get a spot at times. I would suggest that if you are interested, you should contact them early. We strongly endorse this as a winter experience, but keep in mind that temperatures will get well below freezing. We saw a low temperature of 22 and a high of 91 in our three month stay.