Acura ILX Trip: Roadside Randomness in Tucson, Arizona
Odometer (Legend): 522,081
Odometer (ILX): 37,519
I’ve come a long way since this picture was taken in 1982. Many thanks to my great mom for always riding along on my Drive to Five travels, whether online or in person. Happy Mother’s Day!
Today I’m going to take you to 5 different destinations in the Tucson, Arizona area that I visited yesterday in my 2013 Acura ILX 2.4 6-speed. I headed out on Interstate 10 eastbound to make the ~120 mile drive from the Phoenix area with a few hot spots in mind. Here they are, in the order I saw them.
1. Sentinel Peak / “A” Mountain
The University of Arizona was the first university in the state. It was founded in 1885 and currently there are about 40,000 students participating in its programs. In March, 1916, a huge “A” was constructed on the side of Sentinel Peak just west of town. It’s a basalt rock formation that measures 160 feet tall by 70 feet wide. After the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, it was painted red, white, and blue (also the school’s colors) but it’s since been whitewashed.
This is the View of the “A” as seen from Interstate 10 just before exiting the freeway at Congress Road (slightly hidden behind that tree).
Nearing Sentinel Peak Road, I saw a sign that indicated I was getting close to the A. This marker could easily be mis-read as “a mountain,” instead of “A” Mountain. Either way, I continued my ascent up the 2,900-foot elevation gain to the summit.
Much like at Gates Pass where I traveled a few weeks ago, there were several forewarnings about the grade and width of the road as I approached the section with greatest elevation gain.
The road becomes one-lane and one-way as the top of the peak approaches. This was a fun little stretch of road in the 6-speed-equipped ILX as I downshifted to get maximum torque while looping around the top of the mountain.
Strangely, though, this road has no guardrails. It can get a little dicey trying to wind up the hill when bicyclists are trying to share the narrow roadway.
Finally at the top of the peak, I took a picture of my car with downtown Tucson in the background. Tucson is the headquarters of Pima County and is home to over 500,000 people. Since air conditions were favorable, I was able to clearly see downtown Tucson in the distance.
Facing south, the outskirts of town were visible.
2. Longhorn Grill: Amado, Arizona
In my endless search for the most offbeat destinations I can find, I stumbled across this restaurant in southern Arizona shaped like a longhorn skull in Amado. My trip to the Longhorn Grill required a 33-mile southbound drive on Interstate 19 which I talked about in my post on Saguaro National Park. I-19 is unique in that it’s perhaps the only interstate in the country that’s signed with metric distances. Amado is a tiny teeny 295-person town, so the few businesses in operation there were easy to spot.
Before I checked out Longhorn, I first pit stopped across the street from it at Cow Palace.
Cocktails, steaks, sandwiches, and package liquor are found here. This is definitely a one-stop shop. Cow Palace has hosted movie stars and other notable personalities since the 1930’s. There’s a picture of John Wayne hanging in the entrance.
The restaurant is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. I didn’t dine there, but I did take a look at the menu and there are some great sounding selections, including:
- Bacon Wrapped Filet: Tender and lean 6 oz filet with roasted garlic butter. Served with baked potato, smashed red potatoes, palace beans, fries, or Spanish rice. Includes vegetables, fresh baked bread and your choice of soup or salad. $24.99
And for dessert:
- Giant Sticky Bun: House made cinnamon roll baked in brown sugar, butter, and cream glaze. $4.99
This is a storage container sitting near the main lobby of the restaurant where meats are shown. Customers may purchase special cuts of steak that are aged for 7, 14, or 21 days.
At noon on a Saturday, this place was dead. I caught a few glances with the bartender who probably wondered why in the world I was taking pictures of his restaurant. It looked like it’d make a great place to host a party, though!
Next door to Cow Palace lies the “Mini Market Amado Market Market.” I wonder if they’ve sufficiently communicated the fact that this is a market?
My gaze quickly shifted to those 30-foot-tall horns mounted on the building looming behind me: the long-awaited Longhorn. This building was built in the 1970’s and has been home to a variety of different companies — most recently, a steakhouse. The restaurant has been closed since mid-2012, so I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the Cow Palace put this place out of business. Competition is fierce in this one-horse (one-cow?) town!
The temptation was just too great to overcome when I saw a small one-lane road leading off into the middle of nowhere, so I switched the ILX into 4×4 mode (not really, but there were unpaved stretches that did require higher clearance) and began exploring a little.
As it turns out, there wasn’t much at all to see out there, but as always, the drive afforded plenty of scenic photo-ops including this railroad crossing.
3. 25-ton Tiki Head
Exactly one week after pit-stopping to see Giganticus Headicus on Route 66 in the northern part of the state, I decided to find its sibling. I made my way back to Tucson via I-19 (again, notice the metric signage in the picture below). Speed limits are still posted in miles per hour instead of km/h.
I exited at 22nd Street on the same exit that goes to Silverlake Rd & Star Pass Blvd. Talk about a confusing interchange!
On my way to get lunch with my friend Josh, I drove past Chapman Acura, the Tucson area dealership, and saw that they had a nice Silver Moon ILX 2.0 automatic on the lot with aftermarket wheels.
Josh is a long-time Acura fan and currently owns two Integras. I featured his white Integra turbo in a blog post a few months ago, and his daily driver Integra is the red one shown here.
Here that tiki head. The story on this one starts around 1969 when entrepreneur Lee Koplin built a miniature golf course east of Interstate 10 on Speedway Boulevard. The golf course, called Magic Carpet Golf, survived until 2007 when it went out of business. The fate of the tiki head, along with many other stucco sculptures, was quite uncertain at the time.
Thankfully, the head found its new home at 305 North 4th Street, seven miles away from where the miniature golf course was located. It now sits atop a bar called The Hut. It reportedly cost $20,000 for the bar to procure and transport the head by sawing it off its base.
Interestingly enough, nobody wanted the sphinx statue from Magic Carpet which weighed in at several tons. It ended up getting bulldozed in 2011.
4. 30-foot-tall Neon Cactus
Just a little up the road from The Hut stands a huge tribute to neon signs of old. This illuminated cactus was constructed in 2010 on a road that was the first divided highway in the state of Arizona.
The south side of the cactus reads “Miracle Mile.” The name is in reference to a title given by Arizona Highways magazine after the road’s completion in 1937. Since the road had a median, it was considered the “miracle mile of safety.”
I found a picture of what the cactus looks like at night. I’ll have to go back and check it out soon.
5. Muffler Man
We don’t know much about this fiberglass statue on Stone Avenue except that he’s an artist’s rendition of Paul Bunyan and watches over an intersection while holding an ax. The first muffer man on record was constructed in 1963 and since then many more have followed. Most often, these statues are 18-25 feet tall and carry mufflers, tires, or other automotive parts in their hands. This guy looks like he’s got a fresh coat of paint.
During the holidays, his ax is exchanged for a candy cane.
Hope you enjoyed getting acquainted with a few of Tucson’s offbeat attractions! Driving around to find them in my Acura ILX felt a bit like a scavenger hunt. It sounds nerdy, but each time I found one I got a little more excited than I probably should have.
My last stop on Saturday night was the Scottsdale Pavilions car show. This is a parking lot near my place that fills up every single Saturday, year-round, with all sorts of vehicles. I happened to park next to a souped up Subaru.
Hope the weekend has treated everyone well!