The West's best road trips

Satisfy your wanderlust with a Western classic--a great road trip. Get ideas for the best routes and where to eat along the way

Arizona's big loop

Motor through three great deserts ― and lose some myths along the way

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  • Saguaro cactus populates the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona.

    Arizona's big loop

    Edward McCain

    Click to Enlarge

The Mohave
Myth #2: Deserts are lifeless

The two-lane road quickly drops in elevation as it heads toward Nothing, Arizona. Here the "deserts are lifeless" myth suffers a quick demise ― botanists say this region supports 2,000 species of plants, and ornithologists have recorded more than 350 bird species. We see brittlebush, spindly ocotillo, palo verde, and, yes, the first stately individuals of the iconic saguaro. Luchia's Restaurant (terrific, burrito-like green chile burros and homemade pie) in Wikieup has one out front, along with an even odder plant: a shaggy, multiarmed, Wookie-like thing. The Wookies get denser and more outlandish as we continue south, until a veritable forest of gesticulating Chewbaccas line the road.

 These are Joshua trees, so named by Mormons because they seem to mimic Old Testament prophet Joshua directing immigrants to the Promised Land. Near milepost 172 we park the truck at a rest area and wander into … the Mojave Desert? Well, sort of.

Most maps place the Mojave Desert in eastern California and far southern Nevada, with an eastern limit at the Colorado River. However, botanists agree that the signature plant of the Mojave Desert is the Joshua tree, and it's certainly the signature plant here. A photo taken along Arizona's Joshua Forest Parkway (U.S. 93) is indistinguishable from one taken in California's Joshua Tree National Park. Good enough for us.




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