ILX Drive: Coronado Trail in Eastern Arizona
Odometer (Legend): 527,207
Odometer (ILX): 56,713
Trip Distance: 537 Miles
Confession Time: When I was 8 years old, I got carsick and threw up Hawaiian Punch in the back of my aunt Jodi’s SUV. It made a mess of my Cabbage Patch doll, and to this day my family has never let me forget about it. It took a couple of decades until I could stand to drink HP again.
Curvy roads don’t agree with my stomach — unless, I’ve discovered, I’m the driver. On Saturday morning I put my Acura ILX’s suspension to the ultimate handling test on some of the tightest twisties and hairiest hairpins of any road I’ve ever driven.
The roller-coaster ride is called Highway 191. Formerly known as US 666 – the “Devil’s Highway” – it’s famed as one of the all-time favorite driving destinations in the southwestern United States for motorcyclists and sports car drivers. This weekend’s trip took me and 5 friends to the eastern part of Arizona, where the White Mountains are just undergoing the transition from summer to fall and the leaves radiate vivid color. This was the third time I’ve driven Coronado Trail and with each visit I’ve been in a different vehicle and had a vastly different experience.
On Friday afternoon, Paul stopped by in his 2013 Acura TL SH-AWD. He accompanied me as copilot for this journey, while my other friends Mike and Matt followed along in a 2012 Volkswagen GTI 6-speed. Our ascent from the Phoenix desert floor of 1,100 feet to the town of Payson at 5,000 feet meant we needed plenty of grunt to climb the grades. Thankfully due to the gearing of the ILX, my cruise control held me at highway speed in 6th gear on the Beeline Highway while rarely needing to downshift. We spent the night in Springerville, Arizona where my friend Jason had arrived from Las Cruces, New Mexico earlier in the evening.
Saturday morning greeted us with the brightest of blue skies and with crisp 32-degree ambient temperatures. For the first time since last winter, I donned a hooded sweatshirt for insulation from the chills. After chowing down on some breakfast, the open road awaited us. Over the course of the next several hours, we dipped from over 9,300 feet down to 3,400 feet in elevation over some technical, narrow roadways. This was a both-hands-on-the-wheel driving experience. Follow along on the journey via the photos and video below!
Paul did a pretty nice job of taking this ‘selfie’ of us while we made our way up Highway 87 to Payson.
Matt and Mike reviewed the menu at Buffalo Bar & Grille in Payson, Arizona. A sign on the wall read: “Rednecks Welcome. All Others By Appointment Only.”
We had Highway 260 almost entirely to ourselves as we headed east from there toward our nightly destination in Springerville, about 2.5 hours away. When we arrived, the ILX was again reunited with Jason’s silver Accord. I’d last met up with Jason on our drive to Denver, Colorado a couple of months ago.
Cozy in the America’s Best Value Inn. For $78, the place did not disappoint!
I was somewhat prepared for the chill that greeted us the following morning. Jason resorted to using a microfiber towel to clean the ice off his windshield.
It had been quite some time since I turned my ILX seat heaters to “HI” setting and cranked the heater to full blast.
For us Arizonans, frost on the car is a rare sight.
My favorite part about staying hotels and motels is the breakfast buffet. This waffle and OJ hit the spot.
On the way out of Springerville, we laid our eyes on some of the town’s highlights, including Rusty’s Meat Shop. Note that Rusty’s is also an official Trophy Elk Contest Scoring Location.
There was a classic car show going on nearby. Probably the biggest event this town of 1,700 had seen in quite some time.
Ready to drive? Here we have our contenders:
- 2013 Acura ILX 2.4 6-speed
- 2012 Volkswagen GTI 6-speed
- 2004 Honda Accord 3.0 6-speed
The ILX had the GTI beat in the horsepower department by just one measly horse. The GTI’s powerplant is a 2.0 liter, 200-horsepower turbocharged inline 4. Jason’s Accord reigned supreme at 240 horses from its 3.0 V6.
As we got underway and headed southbound on Hwy 191, we were quickly alerted (multiple times, in fact) that this route is not snowplowed on nights, weekends, or during snowstorms. Basically, if you’re caught in a blizzard during any of those times, you’re out of luck! Thankfully, our weather conditions were perfect.
Our first pit-stop was about 25 miles down the road in Hannagan Meadow. This grouping of log cabins was established in 1926 and remains today as a resort-type destination with cabin rentals around $200/night.
The cars lined up for a photo-op, looking photogenic despite some bugs on the front ends.
That blue Acura hoodie happened to match my shoelaces perfectly. I promise I didn’t plan it that way.
We took a peek inside a couple of the rental cabins just for fun. They’d make a great place to escape for a weekend.
It was a good thing we were fueled up because it would be about 120 miles until we saw any form of civilization. This was the warning at the top of a map we picked up at Hannagan Meadow:
Back on the road! Up until 1993, Highway 191 was actually Highway 666 – thus the reason it has been referred to as the Devil’s Highway. It’s also now known as “Coronado Trail” – named after a Spanish conquistador who followed this route between the years 1540 and 1542.
Views are spectacular, but the narrow road offers very few places to pull off and enjoy them while sitting still. This happened to be one of those locations.
We stretched our legs and pulled out the cameras for a few shots. I smelled burning brakes and/or tires when I approached Matt’s VW. I think he was having a little too much fun with those curves.
This shot of the ILX also shows Jason’s Accord’s headlight.
Left to right, our group:
- Jason, from Las Cruces New Mexico
- Paul, originally from Michigan
- Matt, originally from Pennsylvania
- Mike, originally from Minnesota
One of my favorite signs along the entire stretch of road is the below “10 MPH NEXT 11 MILES.” These curves mean serious business. I think Paul might have regretted riding with me when I took a few of the corners at an aggressive rate of speed. My fresh Michelin tires provided plenty of bite, and the ILX’s close-ratio 6-speed transmission was a breeze to flick through the gears with minimal effort. I found body roll to be very minimal and weight transfer to be very predictable. The ILX was engineered for optimal performance on roads exactly like this one.
One more pit stop for some Mega Stuf Oreos and trail mix.
This scenic overlook gave us a dramatic look at the beautiful eastern Arizona landscape.
A gigantic tarantula seemed to be enjoying the view, too. Here, the guys were following it.
I turned over the ILX to Mike for a piece of the drive. He commented on how smooth the transmission was.
Meanwhile, Jason let me take the wheel of his Accord. At 139,000 miles, the suspension still felt tight and the car delivered power at RPM ranges that vary greatly from my ILX. It’s a great touring ride!
The last piece of Coronado leads sharply downhill toward the mining town of Morenci.
The Morenci mine is the largest copper mining operation in North America and is operated by Freeport-McMoRan.
It was awesome to stand at the rim of this massive man-made canyon and soak in the scenery.
Highway 191 treated us to a tunnel as we made our way through the rest of the mine.
Clifton, Arizona is a town stuck in a 1913 time warp. That’s when most of these streets along the former main street were constructed. 100 years later, it has an eery ghost town feel to it.
We feasted at PJ’s Mexican-American Restaurant.
Mike, Matt, and I opted for the Mexican food and it was top notch.
Note that PJ’s offers a “daily rate” for folks who want to sit and drink coffee all day. Just $9!
And finally, after looping back to Phoenix, Paul and I unloaded the ILX.
Thanks for joining me on yet another fun-filled Acuradventure.