ILX Drive: Montezuma’s Castle & Tonto Natural Bridge

Odometer (Legend):  519,285


Odometer (ILX):  26,491


It was time to head for the hills in my freshly-washed Acura ILX 2.4.  Beckoning mountain roads, a full tank of gas, and a weather forecast of sunshine with 75-degree temperatures are all the motivation that I needed.  This weekend’s trip looked something like this.  Google told us to expect a 249-mile round trip of just under 5 hours drive time:


On Friday night, Alex the ILX got a much-needed bath.  I’ve always used Meguiar’s car care products, and my preferred product for cutting the grime is called Deep Crystal Car Wash.  Just a little bit in a bucket is all it takes!



These 10-spoke 17″ accessory wheels can be a chore to clean, but the results are always worth it.




Saturday morning, I revved up that 2.4 liter engine and joined a few friends for the drive.

  • Aaron:  2013 Audi S5; Turbocharged 3.0 liter V6.  333 horsepower through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission
  • Matt:  2012 Nissan 370Z; 3.7 liter V6.  332 horsepower through a 6-speed manual transmission
  • Tyson:  2013 Acura ILX; 2.4 liter inline-4.  201 horsepower through a 6-speed manual transmission

It was a perfect day for moonroof-open cruising as we made our way up Interstate 17 from my home in Scottsdale.


Aaron’s S5 was clearly the glamour girl of the group.  Those LED headlights looked extremely sexy coming up in my rearview mirrors.



Our first stop was a place called Montezuma’s Castle National Monument.  These ruins are located just off Interstate 17 in north-central Arizona.



That car wash on Friday night really paid off.  This ILX’s Silver Moon Metallic paint was gleaming in the sunlight!



I enjoyed seeing some of the featured displays, including some historic pictures like this 1933 traffic sign that once led travelers to the site.



According to Wikipedia, the dwellings were built around 700 AD and had a maximum population around 1300 AD.  This is around the same time that the Casa Grande Ruins that a visited a couple of weeks ago in the Legend were also thriving.  The ruins are in fact not a castle, but rather a form of apartment housing.  It is estimated that they were abandoned by around 1425.  There are 20 rooms.


We were able to walk a 1/4 mile paved trail from the visitor’s center to get a closer look at the ruins, but we were not able to go inside them.  Prior to 1950, tourists could scale a series of ladders to get up and inside the ruins, but there was too much damage to the area (and too much looting) so that level of access was discontinued.  Today about 350,000 people still go see the monument each year.

Here, our tour guide Ruth talks to Aaron about some of the history here.


Matt and Beau take a look at the remains of one of the castles.  The monument’s cliff dwellings are well preserved due to their location in the hillside.


There’s a whole lotta silver paint going on here.  Technically, though, Aaron’s color is called “Monsoon Gray Metallic.”


After our visit to the castle, we headed to lunch at the (Urbanspoon-recommended!) Verde Cafe on at 368 South Main Street off Hwy 260.


Breakfast is served until 3:00 p.m.!  Three of us ordered the breakfast burrito, and we highly recommend it!


Another group of satisfied customers.


Next door was the Thanks a Latte coffee shop – I thought it was quite a clever name.  Camp Verde is home to about 10,000 people.  Since the town is at 3,100 feet in elevation, it’s more likely to get winter weather than the Phoenix area at 1,900 feet.


A few photos of the Audi before starting off to our next destination.



For about the next 40 miles, we climbed on 2-lane Highway 260 toward Payson, Arizona.  These mountain roads are where the 6-speed manual ILX and 6-speed manual 370Z really required some driver input.


There were lots of nice curves including some hairpins posted at 20 miles per hour.


We rolled through the tiny towns of Strawberry and Pine, where’d I’d last been in September 2011 with my Legend.  Once we’d taken the turnoff from Hwy 87 toward Tonto Natural Bridge, the two-lane highway quickly got more technical in nature.  There’s a particular 1-mile stretch with sharp curves and grades up to 14% – this is where the ILX demonstrated its tight handling.


The Tonto Natural Bridge Lodge is where we each paid our $5 entry for admission into the park.  The lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic places, having been built between 1925 and 1927.


Inside the lobby:


The lodge had some unique artifacts from the area, including some chairs from 1900 and an organ from around the same timeframe.  It had been transported to the lodge via wagon around 1903.



The Gowan Trail is the hiking route that leads to the overlooks of the natural bridge.  It’s short, at only 1/2 mile in distance each way, but it’s very steep.


Here’s the view as we got started – standing on TOP of the natural bridge and looking down.


Beginning our descent down the trail.



According to the Arizona State Park website, Tonto Natural Bridge is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world.  It’s 183 feet high and stands over a 400-foot-long tunnel.  It was discovered by a prospector in 1877.




Here is what the bridge looks like from the ground level.


Blue shirt twins posing for a pic.  Josh copied me, I swear.


Yikes – bees!


Back up at the top (and panting from the steep climb!) we enjoyed the view for a few more minutes.


We practically took over this Giant gas station in Payson, Arizona when we stopped in for drinks.


Once again, just like with the Sedona group drive from a few weeks ago, my ILX was the high miler of the bunch.

  • Aaron’s S5 turned over 5,000 miles this trip
  • Matt’s 370Z has just under 19,000


I was very impressed with how well the 4-cylinder ILX held its own with two V6 cars (of over 100 additional horsepower) during some high-RPM sprints.  Plus, I don’t think either the Z or the S5 are getting 32 mpg like I am!

Dale’s Legend

My friend Dale stopped by this morning in his 1993 Legend L Sedan 5-speed.  I’ve known Dale since I first moved to Arizona seven years ago.  Our first meet-up was in October, 2006.  His car had 140,000 miles on it and mine had 255,000 miles on it.  These are pictures from back then.



We also attended a Legend meet together in March 2008.  By that time, he’d installed a set of 17″ wheels off a 2002 Acura CL Type-S:


His car today is largely unchanged, except that it has 80,000 more miles on it.  Mine has 264,000 more miles on it.


One of the first things you’ll notice about Dale’s car is that he’s completed a headlight retrofit project.  His headlight housings have projectors inside them.


Notice the difference between Dale’s modified headlights and my stock ones.  The beams on his are much more precise.



Just 220,617 miles on his Cashmere Silver Metallic beauty.


Rare cloth interior!   It’s held up really well after 20 years.







I had Dale take the ILX for a spin and he commented about how well it handled and how smooth it shifted.


Thanks, Dale, for stopping by!

Final parting shot taken this afternoon with the ILX near historic Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona.  I haven’t been able to dig up much information about the “A.H. & V. Co” but the building is currently occupied by a beauty salon.  Quite a transition from a place that once apparently specialized in “hardware & vehicles.”


4 Responses to “ILX Drive: Montezuma’s Castle & Tonto Natural Bridge”

  1. Kevin Amoth Says:

    Another great blog Tyson. Cloth interiors rock!

    • Thanks Kevin! I thought you’d appreciate seeing that interior! It sure does hold up well. Dale told me he’s thinking of swapping in a leather interior, and I told him not to!

  2. “weather forecast of sunshine with 75-degree temperatures” I jealous! Nice write up on the weekends adventure.

    • Dave, glad you enjoyed coming along for the ride / hike. How are your Legends doing? One of my upcoming posts I am planning on talking about some of my past Seattle trips. I’m really itching to make up that way again soon…

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