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Arizona Road Trip

I love the old west feel of Arizona, though their pistol packin’ policies give me pause. In spite of that, and in anticipation of “The Big One,” I decided it is never too early to begin searching for my beach-front Arizona property.

Using MapQuest and Triple A travel books, I mapped out a 4-day trip for late October in order to visit Wickenburg, Cave Creek, Scottsdale, Apache Junction, Florence, and Casa Grande. Never having traveled to any of these places other than Scottsdale, I convinced my friend Barbara that it would be a grand adventure to explore these areas. Ever the good sport, she was game!

Exiting off I-10 just east of Quartzite we took AZ Hwy. 60 through the Harquhahala Mountains and across the high desert. It was as if we’d traveled back in time to the old west, with not much but sand, sage brush and cactus between here and there. Arriving in Wickenburg we found our first great discovery in the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Old Town. Founded in 1960, their website says, “The purpose of the Museum was and still is to collect and preserve the history, lore and mementos incident to the development of Wickenburg and the Arizona Territory.” They have done an excellent job in accomplishing this.

For me, the two most impressive exhibits were the Hays’ Spirit of The Cowboy Collection, one of the largest collections of historic cowboy memorabilia ever on public view, from the collection of A.P. Hays, and The Hall of History Dioramas, which depict important episodes and themes in the history of Wickenburg and its region. In March the museum is the venue for Cowgirl Up! where women artists who work to capture the spirit and the lifestyle of the West are invited to come to the museum to exhibit their western paintings, drawings and sculptures. If you are traveling to Arizona it really is a “must see.”

After stopping at McDonald’s for a snack, no “Old West” there, we headed to Cave Creek. My research for the trip turned up the Buffalo Chip Saloon that sounded like a colorful joint in this sleepy little town and a great place for a burger and a beer. It did not disappoint, and the nearby shopping area designed like an old west town, complete with dirt streets, gave us another chance to stretch our legs, buy some grape-flavored licorice, settle the burger and beer on our stomachs, and contemplate dinner.

The drive from Cave Creek to Scottsdale took us through the town of Carefree just as the sun was sneaking behind the mountains. What a gorgeous area with beautiful homes built to look as if they were part of the rock formations nestled amongst the mesquite. It reminded me of Santa Fe, NM. But you probably can’t let dogs and cats run loose or they would most likely end up coyote or bob cat food. Plus, I kept thinking about the snakes and scorpions that were lurking in the nooks and crannies of the awesome rock formations. I’m such a wuss!

My last trip to Scottsdale was about 10 years ago and I was always disappointed that Cort and I hadn’t made more of an effort to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. I remembered that it sat out in the middle of nowhere at the time. This was not the case on this trip. Now there doesn’t appear to be any “wild west” between Cave Creek and Scottsdale. Housing developments and shopping centers were everywhere. Great if you wanted a track home or for shopping but I want the Wild West!

By cocktail hour we’d checked into the Marriott hotel located adjacent to Old Town Scottsdale which was perfect for walking off the happy-hour nachos and Margaritas. This area has fabulous art galleries and restaurants. They happened to be celebrating a new art exhibit so there was lots of activity, which made for great people watching. There was also a guitar-playing, singing cowboy on horseback that added to the old west flavor. I didn’t need any artwork (no wall space) but I did discover a book store in a state of perpetual chaos that had a book of Maynard Dixon’s wonderful artwork of the West. Another treasure!

The second great discovery, one not to miss if you are in the Phoenix area, is the Goldfield Ghost Town located northeast of Apache Junction on the historic Apache Trail, gateway to the Superstition Mountains. (The mountains are a bit ominous looking but breathtakingly beautiful. They obviously live up to their name given the fact that a plane recently crashed into the side of the mountain leaving nothing but a black smudge.) I am a sucker for ghost towns and have traveled to quite a few, some more ghost-like than others. Goldfield is definitely a tourist destination but is really quite authentic, journeying you back to the 1890s Old West. You can wet your whistle at the saloon (are you picking up a theme here?) and tour a brothel complete with charming young ladies playing the part of soiled doves. I cringed when she told us how many people shared the same yucky bathwater. ‘Course the madam always took her bath first. You can purchase trinkets at the general store, or buy your sweetheart a treat at the jewelry store. There is also a working gold mine, though the miners who own it won’t tell you whether or not they are bringing in any gold. A narrow gauge train takes you on a short trip around the outskirts of the town and period actors play out the gunfight scene in the middle of the street. Corny but always fun.

The following day we visited the Heard Museum North, just north of Scottsdale, a smaller version of the main museum in Phoenix. There you can spend about an hour, which was just our attention span, taking in Native American artwork and artifacts. We also went to Taliesin West and took the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s impressive architecture and artwork. Built in 1937 it was Wright’s winter home, studio and architectural campus. Wright would not be pleased with how close the town has moved towards his property which was originally out in the desert boonies. It remains as an accredited architectural school. The tours are well worth the time.

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The fourth day circled us home through Casa Grande and on through the Chocolate Mountains. When choosing destinations and travel routes it is always fun to pick places that have interesting names. As it turns out, AZ Hwy. 95 through the Chocolate Mountains and the Castle Dome Mountains is in the middle of the Yuma Proving Grounds, one of the US Army’s largest military installations. I didn’t read the fine print on the map before embarking on this route so didn’t notice the restricted areas. Fortunately, we weren’t in the line of fire of any missiles. Nor did we see any chocolate or castles in the mountains.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road, though we did pass a few snowbirds in RVs headed for Yuma and other parts south. But there were some great “whoop-de-dos” in the otherwise straight-as-an-arrow road that made us glad we hadn’t had a large breakfast. Remember when you were a kid and your dad hit those areas of the road that made you throw your hands in the air and yell, “whoop-de-do!”? The highlight of the day was the huge, pointy speed bumps in the road just as you pulled up to the little kiosk that looked similar to a border patrol building. We hit them hard and dead-on! We were laughing so much by the time we pulled up to a very-serious looking young service man, (I don’t remember what he asked us), we even made him laugh. Hey! What trouble can two old ladies bring? Plenty!

This was a thrill-filled adventure. It made me realize how much I like green grass and palm trees and that this is the best place to be…at least for now. I will worry about “The Big One” later.