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Credit: An Pham
This multi-day jaunt launches from Phoenix and heads northwest to Wickenburg, then west to Salome before dipping south to Yuma and Gila Bend. Get ready for Old West museums, historic mine tours, abandoned ghost towns and ancient petroglyphs.
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As you depart the big-city bustle of Phoenix heading toward Wickenburg, the road opens up to expanses of blue sky and endless desert. Before you reach Wickenburg, stretch your legs at the Hassayampa River Preserve, a lush, impossibly green riparian preserve known for its dense mesquite bosques and birdwatching. Once in Wickenburg, explore Old West art and the area's Western heritage at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.
Or tour Vulture City, now mostly a ghost town but once the most productive gold mine in Arizona's history, operating from 1863 to 1942. Eat a late lunch of sammies at The Local Press Sandwich Bar or an early dinner of Mexican fare at El Ranchero. Continue on to Salome for the night, stopping to catch the sunset or spot a bald eagle at Alamo Lake State Park.
Where to Stay: The Westward Motel, 66915 Avenue C, Salome
There's a lot to see today, so rise early and make your way to Quartzsite. More than just a gas-and-food stop on I-10, Quartzsite has three must-dos: the Quartzsite Museum displays an original 1866 adobe stage station and showcases the region's pioneer history, while the stone cabins of Joseph Coné offer a peek into the artist's life. Lastly, no Quartzsite visit is complete without a quick stop to pay respects to "Hi Jolly," or Hadji Ali, and his U.S. Camel Corps at the Quartzsite Cemetery.
On the way to Yuma, a quick detour yields a visit to Castle Dome Mine Museum, a recreated 1870s mining town. In Yuma, set aside a few hours to tour the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, where some of Arizona's most famous baddies were held—and possibly still wander, if you believe the ghost tales. Let the kids play at Gateway Park or take a walk through Yuma Wetlands Wildlife Area, a 1,400-acre restoration project along the Colorado River. Hungry? Grab a beer and burger at Yuma's only craft brewery, Prison Hill Brewing Company; or continue the drive to Dateland for date shakes.
Heading to Gila Bend, hike portions of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail—the 1,200-mile route from Nogales, Arizona, to San Francisco, California, dates back to 1775.
Grab breakfast at the hotel's mid-century diner, the Space Age Restaurant, then backtrack west from Gila Bend to check out the abandoned ghost town of Agua Caliente. It used to be an exclusive hot-springs spa in the 1890s; several decaying stone buildings still stand today. From here, return east a few miles to see 800 petroglyphs etched into basalt boulders at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site. A short detour north offers a glimpse of the historic Gillespie Dam Bridge which arcs over the Gila River. The 1927 steel truss bridge was once the longest in Arizona.
Before you hit Phoenix, stop for a hike along the trails at the beautiful Sonoran Desert National Monument. Three mountain ranges—the Maricopa, Sand Tank and Table Top—spread throughout the monument and parts of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail cross through as well.