Arizona's big loop
Motor through three great deserts ― and lose some myths along the way
Any tourist with deep enough pockets can take a camel trek in the Sahara or a balloon ride over the Kalahari. But why bother?
We have several of the greatest deserts in the world right here in the West ― what they lack in continental vastness, they make up for in scenery. And, with temperatures down and the flowers up, the season to visit has officially begun.
My wife, Roseann, and I took a whirlwind driving tour of three Arizona deserts, hitting all the route's highlights and debunking some persistent myths. As locals, we'd seen these places before, but never all together. The trip was a great reminder of why once you're a desert rat, you're always a desert rat.
The Great Basin
Myth #1: Deserts are always hot
The air's crisp as we head northeast out of Phoenix on the Beeline Highway (State 87), and it soon gets positively chilly as the road twists up into the oak woodland surrounding Payson. We stop for an early lunch at Macky's Grill, then turn east on State 260, gaining another 2,000 feet as the road climbs the Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile-long escarpment dividing Arizona into highland and lowland. Ponderosa pines shade patches of snow, and an experimental poke at the truck's power-window switch results in a blast of frigid air.