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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The Sonoran
Myth #3: Deserts don't have seasons

U.S. 93 descends back into an astonishingly dense profusion typical of America's most famous desert, the Sonoran. Here the blessings from earlier December rains become apparent. One survival strategy for desert annuals is to show up only when there's water, and flower seeds are perfect at this, lying happily dormant in the dust until properly hydrated. Now we drive openmouthed through a landscape that's blanketed in color: lupine, owl's clover, poppies, and ― according to another stop and a brief survey of a field guide ― at least 25 other species of annuals, which is a very conservative estimate. Desert rats know that you can see this twice a year here: Summer rains bring out an entirely different crop of flowers. We don't just have seasons, we have extra seasons.

Outside Wickenburg, we drive past another common Arizona habitat ― noted for having 18 holes and lots of grass ― and into a quintessential desert experience. Rancho de los Caballeros has been a working guest ranch for more than 50 years, and elegance has settled onto it like a well-worn saddle blanket. After a campfire cookout and a sound sleep, we take horses into the ranch's 20,000 acres of desert wilderness, swishing through wildflowers, watching a herd of mule deer, and counting three dozen kinds of birds.

The Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg wows us with its permanent display of Western art and artifacts. Then, after a meal like Mom would make at the March Hare, we return to Phoenix, stopping, before plunging into suburbia, for a hike off the Carefree Highway (State 74). It's here we confront one final myth about deserts: Everything is sharp in them. We decide this one's true. Watch where you're walking …


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