Acura ILX Trip: Bagdad, Arizona
Odometer (Legend): 520,482
Odometer (ILX): 32,234
Trip Distance: 292 miles
The middle east would make a fun road trip destination, wouldn’t it? Too bad the logistics are a headache. I found a nearby substitute that will have to suffice for now. My friend Justin was raised in a remote town in east-central Arizona called Bagdad.
Similar to some other small towns in Arizona like Bisbee, Bagdad got its start as a copper mining town in 1882. Today, there are around 2,500 people living there. The town is actually owned by Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, the company that operates the mine. Justin told me that since the entire town is technically property of the mine, everyone rents their homes from Freeport.
For this trip, Justin and I took the 2013 Acura ILX 2.4 6-speed and my friend Matt took a “test vehicle” from his work at the Nissan proving grounds. This is a Medium Brown Metallic 2013 Pathfinder 2WD “Platinum” with leather and a huge sunroof.
Our first stop was for fuel & drinks in Wickenburg, Arizona at the Shell station.
I saw this sign posted on the window of the convenience store and it reminded me of a similar anti-litter campaign from the days when I grew up in Utah called “Don’t Waste Utah.”
Located in the hills about 100 miles northwest of the Phoenix metro area, I’ve often seen this sign on Highway 93 northbound and been intrigued about Bagdad.
Heading eastbound on Highway 97, the roller-coaster ride began. This two-laner is posted at anywhere from 15-35 mph on most of the corners — and for good reason. Most of those corners are “blind,” and the road is not banked in such a way that aggressive driving can be done safely. Justin had lots of stories about folks who have lost control of vehicles out there.
The ILX handled the terrain with ease and it was a nice workout for the 6-speed gearbox to slide through its gears.
Soon we reached an intersection and headed left another 4 miles to the town entrance.
Entering Bagdad: “The Best Copper Town Anywhere.”
Here is a story about how the town allegedly got its name:
“Please don’t associate our town’s name with that of Baghdad, Iraq. Please note the “h”. Bagdad has always been a mining town. As legend has it, the first miners were a father and son team. The ore was hauled out on mule teams in bags. (see the “Historical Photos” link) The son would be mining, filling the bags with ore. The father would be getting the things the son needed to mine. When the son needed another bag to fill, he would yell, “bag Dad”. Consequently the name Bagdad was derived. It had nothing to do with Iraq.”
It was about that this time when we realized just how fitting it was that Matt ended up bringing this particular Nissan Pathfinder on our trip. It’s equipped for the Middle East markets! Notice that the “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR” on the passenger sideview mirror is in Arabic.
The air bag warning on the passenger sunvisor is also in Arabic. Matt’s gauge cluster was in kilometers per hour. How fitting that he brought a Middle East spec Nissan to a town called Bagdad, right?
First order of business was to refuel our bodies with some delicious hometown grub. Bagdad has 2 restaurants and 1 grocery store. Only 1 of the restaurants was open on Saturday when we arrived. It was called “The Diner.”
Fast, friendly service in here! A group of people who’d just toured the Bagdad mine were seated near us.
I opted for the classic “Main Street” burger. It rivaled the green chile burger from Sparky’s in Hatch, New Mexico but wasn’t quite as delicious. Still, the curly fries were to die for.
Happy to be experiencing some of the local sights and sounds of Bagdad. That’s Justin seated next to me.
I’m serious – those curly fries were amazing.
The Diner’s operating hours are a bit funky, so I thought I’d share. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. only. It’s closed every Monday. And it’s closed from March 24th through April 1st for Spring Break, so don’t try and go this week!
Next we took a short driving tour of the “hot spots” in town, including the high school. Justin graduated in 2010 and he says his class had 23 people in it. The mascot, appropriately for a town called Bagdad, is the “Sultan” (see the painting on the side of the school in the below picture).
The ILX took a rest while the 3 of us saddled up in the Pathfinder for some off-road adventures. It was a good thing, too, because the terrain that Justin directed us to required some high ground clearance.
Along this one-lane stretch, we dropped down into a canyon that was full of sandstone rock formations that made great hiking potential. This particular pullout had a fire pit and a bench – it’d be a great place to have a bonfire and camp out.
Enjoying our perfect weather and sunshine. It’s too bad that some of these rocks have been been tagged with graffiti.
This one looked like it’d be fun to rappel from – if I knew how to do that sort of thing.
Making our ascent back up the mountainside with Matt at the helm of the front-wheel-drive Pathfinder.
Justin led us on a short hike to a site where we were able to get up close to some rusty, abandoned mining equipment. We only had to cross over one barbed wire fence (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!) to get to it.
I have honestly no idea what this type of equipment was used for but perhaps some of my readers will enlighten me.
Glistening in the distance, I spotted something that looked like chrome. I had to investigate further. What we ended up finding was an abandoned 2-door car with its leaf springs raised up!
Matt and Justin, climbing on/around the overturned vehicle trying to identify it. I’m guessing it’s from the 1960s.
There were no badges left, and there were only a couple of part numbers identifiable. It would be fun to find out what kind of car this was / is. This is taken from the front.
View toward the back, taken from the driver’s side. Notice one of the yellow gas shocks still attached there.
Close up of the back bumper and a slight look at the muffler. I couldn’t believe how immaculate the chrome looked, while everything else had completely rotted away.
View from the rear end. Somebody help us out. What in the world is this car?
It was only about a mile up the road where the entrance to the mine was found. I hadn’t thought to make a tour reservation beforehand, so we didn’t go on-site, but we were able to view some of the tailings from the visitor parking lot.
Some information about the mine can be found here, on the Freeport McMoRan website.
Bagdad is an open-pit copper and molybdenum mining complex.
Bagdad is home to the world’s first commercial-scale concentrate leach processing facility (2003) and one of the longest continuously operating solution extraction/electrowinning (SX/EW) plant in the world (1970). An unincorporated community, Bagdad is one of two FCX “company towns;” the other is Morenci, Arizona.
The Bagdad operation includes a 75,000 metric ton-per-day concentrator that produces copper and molybdenum concentrates, an SX/EW plant that can produce up to 25 million pounds of copper per year from solution generated by low grade stockpile leaching and a pressure leach plant to process molybdenum concentrates.
Fun with a convex mirror just outside the mine’s main entrance.
And just up the road – the Bagdad Airport with a few tiny planes stored there.
Back in the ILX, we looped around Highway 97 toward Kirkland, Peeples Valley, Yarnell, and Congress, and then reconnected with Highway 93 after a dramatic drop in elevation on Highway 89. A few stretches of this road were just one-lane.
Rolling through Morristown, Arizona, home to 227 people as of the last census in 2009. This is also home to now world-famous internet sensation, Tardar Sauce — otherwise known as “grumpy cat.”
For those who haven’t yet met Tardar:
And finally the last stretch of our drive was via a brand new stretch of freeway called Loop 303 which took us to reconnect with I-17 southbound just north of Phoenix, Arizona.
Bagdad – check! I’m systematically crossing off a bunch of to-see destinations in and around Arizona this year.
Classic Car Ad
In the year of my birth, Cadillac launched a new feature in its 6.0 liter V8 engine that powered its mammoth cars: An 8 cylinder that was able to cut fuel to “unnecessary” cylinders under certain driving conditions, thereby increasing fuel economy. Similar systems are common today, but in 1981 this was pretty revolutionary.
There’s more detail on Cadillac’s “8-6-4” engine in the below scan:
My favorite paragraph was this:
“How reliable is it? The system has been proven in over a half-million miles of testing. It’s that reliable. All electronic components are solid-state, including the digital computer itself.”
Yeah, because who could ever conceive a car going beyond 500,000 miles back then? Cadillac’s V8-6-4 system, I’ve learned, only lasted a year before it was discontinued due to issues. I guess they should’ve pushed for a million miles of testing.
Hope the weekend treated everyone well!