Arizona Desert Drive by Margie Anderson
Here's A Sweetheart Of A Desert Drive
February 1, 2022
We save most of our desert drives for winter because although our Jeep would make it through snow and mud, many northern Arizona off-highway trails are closed in winter, and we also don't like to make deep ruts in muddy roads just from a conservation standpoint. It's too hot in summer to really enjoy a desert drive, because we like to get out of the Jeep and do a lot of walking and exploring. In the summer we have not only the excessive heat to contend with, but also my constant fretting that Mochi will run into a rattlesnake. But in winter the snakes are asleep in their dens and the weather is fantastic in the desert, so we've been exploring far and wide.
This month I'm going to share a drive that you can do in a passenger car – all but maybe the parts closest to Alamo because they can get rough and muddy. Also, most of the side trips off the main roads require at the very least, a high-clearance vehicle.
Salome has a fun history – according to AZoutback.net, it was founded in 1904 by Dick Hall and Charles Pratt, who were speculating on where the railroad would go through. They missed it by a mile, so they moved the town! Dick Hall had a fun little newspaper called the Salome Sun, and he said that Salome got its name because Mrs. Grace Salome Pratt took off her shoes and danced when the hot sand burned her feet. Salome is a fun place with area restaurants, places to stay, and some great little places to visit.
We started our day trip on I-10, taking the Salome Road northwest at exit 81 west of Buckeye. All along this road on the way to Salome there are opportunities for some off-road side trips to places like the Harquahala Mountains, the Little Harquahala Mountains, old mines, and wells, and all kinds of desert to explore. If you are in a 4x4 you might want to try some of them.
Little Roadside Chapel
Just before you get to Salome there is a tiny building called the Little Roadside Chapel. Inside you'll see some beautiful desert-themed stained-glass windows, some pews where you can rest, and variety of framed photos and documents on the walls. The sign simply says "Enter, Rest, and Pray". It's a lovely place to visit. There's even a pulpit if you'd like to say a few words.
The chapel was built in 2004 by Paul and Lora Marks and modeled after one that was in Yuma before that one was devastated by a microburst. There is a Bible to read, prayer request slips if you'd like to ask for intercession, and even a little nature path that starts at the Saguaro marked by a white path.
From Salome, you can take either Centennial Park Road or stay on the Salome Road to Highway 60, where you'll head east to Wenden. Wenden is a very small town and it's the gateway to Alamo Lake. Take the Alamo Road north from Wenden and you'll pass lush fields and beautiful desert. The road goes through Cunningham Pass through the Harcuvar Mountains and the desert is particularly nice there. We've often seen deer along Alamo Road, as well as wild burros and a huge variety of birds.
The Harcuvars may not look like much from down low, but a couple named Ralph and Boonmee Rose spent five springs up in the mountains and put together a wonderful video showing an amazing variety of flowers, plants, and animals. I remember seeing parts of it years ago, and when I searched for it online I could only find a VHS copy on Amazon. I dearly wish it was on YouTube or DVD. Anyway, if you'd like to try your luck at finding it, it's called "Spring Comes to the Harcuvars – A Desert Awakens" by Ralph and Boonmee Rose.
We've always been going to Alamo to fish on previous trips, so we had always headed straight to the State Park Entrance to take advantage of the boat ramps and the awesome camping opportunities, especially the little cabins which we absolutely love. They are a godsend in the summer with their air-conditioned bedrooms! But this time were on a road trip only, so we turned right onto Park Road a few miles before the State Park entrance. This road took us to Wickenburg Road. Right where the Park Road T's into Wickenburg Road there is a roadside Inn called The Wayside Oasis.
The Wayside Oasis
We went inside the Wayside and had a great lunch. The proprietor was very friendly and helpful – fun to chat with. There is a restaurant (bar and grill) and an RV park there, and it's very near shore access to Alamo. In fact, if you turn left at the T (north), you'll get to the lake in just around three miles. Depending on the lake level and the weather, the roads might be muddy and rough, so be sure to go slowly and don't be too proud to stop off and walk the rest of the way.
This area is several miles north of the State Park entrance, toward the river end of the lake. We saw people launching boats from the shore there. There are trees and plenty of places for dispersed camping, too. There are also incredible views of the mountains from this road.
Alamo Lake is on the Bill Williams River where the Big Sandy and the Santa Maria rivers come together, and it was created in 1968. It is generally kept at a low elevation because there are wetlands downstream. We love fishing Alamo, and in the winter it's a very nice place to camp and spend the weekend.
Since you must be going to Alamo on purpose, and it's far off the beaten path, it is usually one of the least crowded bass lakes in Arizona. Tournaments are held there often though. There are also crappie, sunfish, channel cats, tilapia, and bluegills. At the State Park there is a store with camping and fishing items, groceries, and park souvenirs and clothing.
Wickenburg Road Home
After exploring the roads around the end of the lake there, we opted to take the Wickenburg Road back to Phoenix rather than going back through Wenden because we had never been that way before. So, we kept to Wickenburg Road after passing Wayside, and soon we were among some of the biggest Joshua trees I've ever seen! We took a little side trip to thenorth of the road to Date Creek Well and passed some incredible mud cliffs created by the creek, which is dry most of the time. We found a large corral with some big black cattle and a windmill. We didn't take Date Creek Road; we took a smaller road farther along because we spotted Date Creek Well on the map.
A Pleasant Desert Drive
From there it's a pleasant desert drive for around eighteen miles until you reach Highway 93, the Joshua Tree Parkway. If you want to find the Wickenburg Road from 93, it's near mile marker 180, about four miles north of Highway 71 to Congress. We've had many adventures on the Congress side of 93, but this was our first road trip on the Alamo side and it was lots of fun.
You can stop in Wickenburg for a great meal or an ice cream, then it's on past Pleasant if you take 74 to I-17, or you can get on 60 and go straight into Phoenix.
Do It Before The Weather Gets Hot!
I highly recommend this little road trip – there are just enough places interesting enough to make you want to get out and walk around, plus there are many fun, small places along the road to stop for a cold drink or a snack and a chat with the locals. Do it before the weather gets hot!