Old West Highway Detour

Roadtrips in the southwest USA tend to take two different forms for me. One kind is about spending some time in a relatively concentrated area and poking around the local roads off of the main highway. The other is the long distance dash across the wide expanses to get from where we live to one of those locales where we intend to poke around. Once per year we make one of those dashes … a six hundred mile (1000 km) drive to Tucson, Arizona (read the article from my Tucson visit) to attend an annual event that has become a tradition of sorts for us.

The quickest route sticks to Interstate highways — I-25 and I-10 and features long expanses through desert landscapes with the occasional small community dotted along the way. We like to break up this drive with an overnight stay somewhere. There are some great looking areas along the way but, at first glance, the places to stay seem limited to the run-of-the-mill motorist motels that dominate interstate exits throughout the US. BORRRING! The prospect of a characterless stopover with a typical chain motel breakfast buffet was depressing to think about.

I started researching using the usual tools — hotels.com, expedia, yadayada … there didn’t seem to be much out there to discover. Then I remembered the mapping tool on Airbnb.com and wondered what I might find. (Read my article about using Airbnb.com.) I centered my search on Wilcox, Arizona — a place that seemed reasonable to break up the drive and zoomed out a bit to see where there were places to stay in the region. There were several interesting listings that didn’t show up on the mainstream travel sites. Cool!

My eye was drawn to a marker off the main route up on the New Mexico-Arizona border. Clicking on that marker I was pleased to find a listing for a room in a 100 year-old historic Simpson Hotel in Duncan, Arizona. Cool! Staying at this place would require us to detour from the fastest route by 45 minutes or so and the $85 per night rate would be a premium over the price of the chain hotels along the interstate. But we would get to explore a little bit and the price included a home cooked breakfast for two in the dining room of the Simpson Hotel. Seemed like an acceptable trade-off for our interests.

We turned off of I-10 heading north to Duncan on US Highway 70 at twilight and soon we were engrossed by the blackness of a moonless night on this very remote stretch of road. It was serious black! Approaching Duncan about 40 minutes later, the smattering of lights stood out brightly from the darkness. It was getting close to 8 pm and we were glad to quickly

find the Simpson, get checked-in, say hi to our hosts, and get a recommendation for where we could find dinner. The Tumbleweed Cafe was our best bet we were told. There are several places in Duncan to catch a meal it turns out, but the Tumbleweed was the only one still open. When we got there they were in the process of closing as well, but the workers there took pity on us and agreed to set us up with meals-to-go. We were able to carry a couple of pretty good green chile cheeseburgers back to enjoy at the hotel dining room.

Following a restful, comfortable night we enjoyed a good full breakfast with good coffee in the dining room together with the only other guest — a bicyclist from England who was on a solo 100 mile per day ride across America from San Diego to the Florida coast. He showed us his kit — a bag about the size of a football that was strapped behind the seat of his bike and contained his entire belongings for the trip. Great sounding adventure!

Our hostess, Deborah told us a bit about the area and what we would find along the way as we proceeded up Highway 70 to Safford and then back down

to get back on I-10 at Wilcox. It sounds like this is a good area for bird watching, hiking, and bicycling. US70 is called the Old West Highway in this area and Duncan is an old agricultural community and stagecoach stop. There are some rustic hot springs just south of Safford that sound interesting for a future visit to the area, and Deborah told us about Fisherman’s Point, an interesting sounding spot that accesses the Gila Lower Box Canyon, a part of a Bureau of Land Management Study area on the Gila River near Duncan. The lower box is a a five mile-long steep-walled canyon said to be 600 feet deep in some areas.

Here are some pictures of the area and the drive … captions where provided appear above the photos.

More images from the Simpson Hotel (parlor and dining room):

Green chile cheeseburger carried out from the Tumbleweed Cafe:

Dramatic rock formation from Duncan, AZ:

Duncan is a community of modest structures … many of them with alot of years behind them …

I love the name of the local pizza place … it fits! I wish we could have tried the pizza …

This part of US Highway 70 is called the Old West Highway …

Desert scenery along the Old West Highway …

A larger community along this stretch is Safford, Arizona. I’ĺl always have a fond spot in my heart for Safford owing to its role in the movie ¨Lost in America¨ — if you don’t know that movie I recommend you give it a try. Being in Safford made me want to see if I could find a school crossing guard to see how they were doing …

Stopping for coffee and excellent baked goods at the Cottage Bakery in Safford … it was highly recommended by our hostess at the Simpson Hotel — excellent pecan roll!

Cotton is blowing around everywhere in the agricultural areas of the Gila River Valley …

Mount Graham at 10,719 feet altitude (3267 meters) is a high peak along the route — the highest in Southeastern Arizona. It is the location for the Mount Graham International Observatory which houses a state- of-the-art collection of telescopes, including the Vatican (yes … that Vatican — read why here) Advanced Technology Telescope and the University of Arizonas Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope.

Sign at the Tumbleweed Cafe — good advice …

Originally published at www.primepassages.com/duncan