Million Mile Lexus, Meet Arizona: Road Trip to Chiricahua National Monument
Odometer (Legend): 539,421
Odometer (LS400): 922,121
Trip Distance: 466 Miles
I held up the worn-out key to Matt Farah’s 1996 Lexus LS400 at “The Dining Car,” a BBQ restaurant inside a train car in teeny Willcox, Arizona. It was a town of 3,600 people – “The Cattle Capital of the World” (so they say) – and 80 miles from the nearest Lexus service center in Tucson. “Who wants to take the LS next?” I asked. I got two different reactions from the group. Jack kind of shied away like I’d asked if anyone wanted to dog-sit for a week. Jason, on the other hand, piped up enthusiastically, “I’ll take it!”
And with that, the 921,000-mile Lexus added another driver to its list of likely hundreds of pilots who had helped get it to that milestone. Jason’s 37 mile drive from there to Chiricahua National Monument was (as he described it) bouncy, but uneventful.
Chiricahua National Monument covers 18 square miles in remote southeastern Arizona. It’s known for its vertical rock formations, believed to to be the remains of a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. The monument was set aside 91 years ago but it is far less-traveled than many of Arizona’s other natural wonders. It’s almost as if the Grand Canyon steals the show and many of these smaller parks go unappreciated. I know for a fact that I’ve lived in the state for 10 years now and hadn’t even heard of this one until just a few months ago.
It was a perfect day for road tripping on Saturday morning, October 24th. Jack, James, Chandler, and I headed out from Phoenix in roughly 1.6 million miles’ worth of cars: The 1994 Legend, 1996 LS400, and a 2000 Toyota Tacoma. Luckily we had two-way radios (or would it be three-way, since each vehicle had one) on-hand for the duration of our 233-mile trip to Willcox so we were able to pass the time by bantering back and forth. James was the first to give the LS400 a whirl. “Make sure you check out the power seat belt height adjusters on that thing,” I advised. “Oh, trust me. I already did,” he responded. “I’m like a toddler hitting all these buttons.”
Jason and James Z (another James) from Las Cruces, New Mexico met up with us in Willcox just in time for lunch. The service was top-tier at The Dining Car, but James L didn’t have much positive to say about his rubbery rack of ribs. Our next jaunt was to the entrance to the national monument — extremely remote and only accessible via some twisty two-lane back road sections of Highway 186 that go where no T-Mobile cell signal has ever gone before. Sorry, James L, that you were out of cell phone range for virtually the entire day. It’s no wonder we passed a blue sign stating NO SERVICES shortly after hanging a left onto Highway 181 for the last couple of miles. This was not the place to be worried about reliability of your car, let alone one with nearly a million miles on it.
The attendants at the Visitor Center were kind enough to draw out some instructions on a folded map. They asked if we’d be driving or hiking. “A little of both,” I told her. We learned about a 6-mile scenic drive that would take us past rock formations called Organ Pipe, Sea Captain, and China Boy. She also gave us directions to a 3-mile and a 7-mile hike. And we were off! Back in tandem, now 4 cars strong with Jason’s 2004 Mazda 6 in the mix, we climbed in elevation to the final roundabout at “Massai Point,” at 6,870 feet. The wind was gusty but the skies were beautiful and we hiked around on the nature trail enjoying panoramic views. Jack and Chandler got feeling exceptionally brave and dangled their legs off a steep cliff. We also subjected ourselves to Jack’s selfie stick for a group shot.
The afternoon was full of scenery as we made our way around the national monument, snapping pictures and capturing a little GoPro video along the way, too. My favorite part of the hike was “The Grotto” where we could actually climb through a cavern of sorts created by all the rhyolite rocks coming together.
At 4:30 p.m., we set out on a hike up to a fire lookout station that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a steep and rocky trail originally blazed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. From the vantage point at the top, administrators could view on a clear day for more than 50 miles in any direction. I hurried back down the hill and made it to the parking lot just in time for dusk. Then we rallied back into our Japanese high-milers and returned to Willcox.
When I asked the front desk attendant at our Super 8 motel for dinner recommendations, I said, “What about that Rix’s Tavern on Haskell Avenue?” “You have to cook your own steak there,” he said. Oh. Well, forget that! We instead went to Isabel’s South of the Border, a Mexican place with great tacos and some of the tastiest horchata I’ve ever had. I chugged two glasses at $3 each and it was worth it.
Here are the pics from this segment of the trip! The final leg – and a short video – await you on the next go-round.
See you then!
NSX making a new friend
Tyson, Jack, Chandler, and James at Chevron pre-departure from Phoenix
Driving Jack’s truck with the Legend + LS in my rearview
Here comes that luxo-barge, now!
Getting close – just 33 to go until Willcox
Rare view, getting to see my own car when it’s on the roll.
Arrival in Willcox… otherwise known as…
… “Cattle Capital of the World.” Okay!
Lunch spot at The Dining Car / Big Tex BBQ
Inside it’s pretty much what you’d expect from food inside a rail car.
Jason meets the LS400 just prior to his 40-mile test-drive
My sign in at the Chiricahua Nat’l Monument guest register
Park attendants showing us the lay of the land
Heading on up the scenic highway
Views for days!
Lexus + Legend at the Massai Nature Trail parking area
Let’s go hiking!
Awesome rock formations throughout the area
Tyson, Jack, Chandler, James Z, Jason
Heading out on the nature trail
Jack perched on top of a rock way in the distance there
Scenery all around. This remote area was free of excessive tourist traffic, which I loved.
Acura, Mazda, Lexus, touring about the area
And some more
Evening hike on the Sugarloaf trail to 7,310 feet in elevation
Fire watch station at the summit of Sugarloaf, with Chandler
James L’s photo of the vehicles in the parking lot
And a great shot he captured of the Lexus’ rear
Best time of day to drive!
Dinner at Isabel’s South of the Border. Colorful place, tasty food.
See you again soon!