Odometer (Legend): 522,172
Odometer (ILX): 38,027
Trip Distance: 330 Miles
From the narrow, twisty roadways of an 1876 mining town in the Black Hills, to the red rock sandstone landscape of Sedona, to the tree-lined and steep grades of Oak Creek Canyon, I experienced some of Arizona’s finest roads and skies yesterday.
Many thanks to Jason from Las Cruces, New Mexico for making the 400-mile trip to the Phoenix area to join me for this weekend’s trip. This was the third time I’ve partnered with Jason for a Drive to Five feature. We met previously for a trip to Bisbee, Arizona in January and then for a trip to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico in March.
First order of of business when Jason arrived was to check on those model cars on my rooftop. He was impressed at how well they’ve held up considering they’ve endured 3 years of Phoenix inferno.
Dinner at Phoenix’s “Central Bistro” on Friday night with my friend Matt. Jason and I both recommend the Bolognese pasta!
This was an extra nice gift: Jason presented me with a hand-made ceramic tile featuring a 3D “A” emblem. This is now proudly displayed in my home. I wish I had those kind of craft skills!
Saturday morning, bright and early, we revved up our Honda engines and set sail for the alluring cooler temperatures of northern Arizona. But first, I treated myself to a blueberry muffin from Starbucks. My friend Chris took the shotgun seat of the ILX for the duration of the drive and Jason followed us in his silver 2004 Honda Accord coupe 6-speed.
Coming from an Acura Legend with zero cupholders, I was pleased to note that all FOUR of the cupholders in the ILX were used that at morning. Our Starbucks beverages took the center console and we each had a water bottle in our door pocket. This car can transport almost as many beverages as a minivan!
Our cars filled up on some 91 octane fuel at the Circle K on Phoenix’s 7th Avenue & Loop 101 before we headed out from the Phoenix Valley.
Fewer than 50 miles up Interstate 17, we veered west on Highway 69, northbound toward Prescott, Arizona.
Here, we awaited the third member of this caravan.
Austin arrived shortly in his 1987 Acura Legend. It has over 280,000 miles on the body itself, but the engine and transmission are not original to the car. Lovingly referred to as “FrankenLegend” by its owner, the car’s engine is upgraded to a 2.7 liter (as opposed to a 2.5), and the transmission was swapped to a 5-speed from an automatic. The original 1986-1990 Legend sedan has a classic bodystyle and Austin’s is in nice shape!
The next 19 miles of two-lane highway up Highway 89A would lead us through some very technical and fun curves leading to our lunch destination in Jerome, Arizona.
Chris zoned out for a bit from the passenger seat and when he started waking up, he commented, “I didn’t even realize you were driving a manual transmission, those shifts were so smooth.” That’s what I pride myself in! Perfection in rev-matching. While an automatic transmission may offer faster paddle-activated control, there is no substitute for a traditional three-pedal manual transmission for an engaging driving experience.
We climbed to over 5,000 feet in elevation and the temperatures dropped as we did so. Jerome’s high temperature for the day was in the high 70′s Fahrenheit — absolutely perfect weather for a moonroof-open cruise.
Jerome, like many of the other towns where I’ve taken my readers in recent months, got its start as a copper mining town in the 1800′s. Once having a population as high as 10,000 people, it’s now home to fewer than 500 people. The town is built precariously on the side of “Cleopatra Hill.” Roads are narrow (some are one-way) and steep.
Here’s a view of Jerome that I took from the Jerome Historical Society Museum. This town was named “Wickedest Town in the West” in 1903 by the New York Sun.
We were greeted by heavy traffic as there were special events taking place in town. Jerome is a very popular Saturday destination for bicyclists, motorcyclists, and car clubs.
We parked our trio of Hondas at a lot a few blocks from town and walked over to find a lunch destination.
Brandon, pictured at right in the black shirt, and his girlfriend Alishaba met up with us as well. More about Brandon’s Acura shortly.
We walked past the Hotel Connor, built in 1898. It has 20 rooms on the second level that were first rented for $1 per night. From the hotel’s website:
After it reopened [after a fire] in August of 1899, it enjoyed a heyday of being one of the finest lodging establishments in the booming mining towns of the West. The hotel had its own bus for delivering guests to the train depot, and was full to capacity much of the time. It was one of the earliest buildings in Jerome to be fully wired for electricity, and each room had a call bell for service.
Just down the street, we were lured in by the smell of sweet barbeque sauce so we stepped inside Bobby D’s BBQ for a bite to eat.
The pulled pork definitely hit the spot! Bobby D’s is built on the site of an 1899 restaurant called the English Kitchen which was demolished after the last mine closed in 1953. The building has been rebuilt and boasts amazing food.
Left to right: Brandon, Alishaba, Austin, Tyson, Jason, Chris
Jerome’s curves mean business. This hairpin at the end of Main Street is one example.
Now we got to check out Brandon’s car. Brandon is as Legend-crazy as I am, and this 1995 Sherwood Green LS Coupe 6-speed is his 8th. It’s nicely equipped with the OEM cell phone, gold emblem package, and 16″ chrome GS wheels. Brandon has upgraded the engine to a 3.5 liter from the 1996+ Acura 3.5 RL, but the car retains its original 6-speed manual transmission.
The car looks great for having over 220,000 miles on it.
Time to say farewell to our Legend friends and continue the drive!
Just down the street, off Douglas Road, we weaved up to the Jerome Historical Museum’s “Audrey Headframe Park.”
Named for the adopted daughter of the mine’s superintendent, this is the oldest piece of mining equipment in Arizona. Admission is free and the park is open daily from 8 to 5. The main attraction? This special glass floor.
In that picture, I am standing over a mine shaft that is 1,900 feet deep. To put that into perspective, look at how the depth of the shaft absolutely dwarfs the height of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building!
Looking straight down. The shaft was built in 1918 and over $125 million worth of ore was harvested here. Though tough to tell from this picture, there are lights and mirrors going all the way down the shaft to help capture the sheer depth of it. It was a bit unnerving to stand there!
Though mining efforts in Jerome closed in 1953, over the 77 years that it was in operation, Jerome’s mining industry produced over 33 million tons of copper, gold, silver, lead, and zinc ore.
Time to head toward Sedona!
We wanted to stretch our legs a bit and enjoy the perfect weather, so we went to a trailhead of the Devil’s Bridge Hike off Dry Creek Road, just west of Sedona on Highway 89A. An even closer trailhead is accessible via 1.3 mile dirt road, but it’s only suitable for high-clearance vehicles. My ILX would have easily bottomed out if I’d attempted to drive it there. Here I’m giving a thumbs down to the fact that I can’t take my car on this dirt road.
After hiking those 1.3 miles down the road, Jason and Chris and I arrived at the “official” start to the trail.
From here, we were only about a mile from the bridge.
Jason led the way as we headed toward our destination. Few other people were out hiking; it was a special experience being out in the wilderness in such a beautiful landscape.
We climbed 400 feet in elevation on natural red sandstone rocks until finally laying our eyes on the prize.
Devil’s Bridge is the largest natural sandstone arch in the Sedona area. It’s 50 feet above ground. For this shot, we had another hiker take our picture after we carefully crept out to the narrowest section of the bridge. I enjoyed sitting for a few minutes to admire nature’s beauty before we started heading back out.
Time for the descent.
And relieved to get back to the driver’s seat after my shoes became full of red sand. It had taken us roughly 2.5 hours to complete the journey.
The first place I thought of for some much-needed refreshment was the Red Planet Diner, where I had eaten in January with other friends who joined for a Sedona day trip. I had to poke fun at Chris for a bit. Red Planet is famous for its burgers, yet he ordered a teriyaki bowl. Notice the employee in the background has a black T-shirt which reads, “Welcome Earthlings.”
I went for something a little more simple: grilled cheese and a root beer float.
This time, I let Jason take the lead and he took us up a road toward the Sedona airport. Picturesque views surrounded us there.
The last thing on our to-do list for this trip was to drive Highway 89A the remaining 30 or so miles to Flagstaff, Arizona. This stretch of road climbs in elevation to a heavily wooded forest called Oak Creek Canyon.
This is the type of road where Jason’s Accord and my ILX felt right at home. Both of our cars are equipped with manual transmissions for maximum control and have suspensions that are designed for handling the curves with balance. We were lucky that traffic was minimal, so when the hills begged for a little speed, we responded.
Chris did his best at video recording the above twisty section. Thanks to Enrique Iglesias for the soundtrack! I’ve got to invest in a GoPro camera for better stability one of these days.
At the end of the line, Highway 89A meets up with Interstate 17 which is where we parted ways with Jason and he headed to Flagstaff, while Chris and I returned to Phoenix.
Thanks for coming along!