Odometer (Legend): 550,420
Odometer (ILX): 191,409
Trip Distance: 334 Miles
Food is such a great motivator. I’ve endured a yawn-inducing corporate seminar because there’s a free meal involved. I ran a 13.1-mile race last month just because there were all-you-could-drink chocolate milk bottles at the end. And this weekend, I drove 6 hours and over 300 miles (10 of them on some of the rockiest dirt road stretches I’ve ever put my car through) to pay $12 for a cheeseburger. It was worth it.
The Nellie E. Saloon, better known as just the “Desert Bar,” is just my kind of place. This one came at the recommendation of my friend Chris who’s always on the lookout for driving opportunities to obscure destinations. The drive took me and 3 friends to the Buckskin Mountains in the remote and sparsely-populated western reaches of the Grand Canyon State. It’s a beautiful area: The Colorado River slices through the middle of the desert and creates a border between Arizona and California. Spring breakers flock to the area for wild times at Lake Havasu. But our destination was far from any such refreshing water supply. It was tucked deep into a dusty canyon.
And it seems we weren’t alone. Hundreds of Jeep owners, ATVers, and campers had the same idea that we did and the saloon was a hoppin’ place on a Saturday afternoon. Getting there was (more than?) half the fun. The closest town to the saloon – Parker, Arizona – was hosting an off-road race called the “Bluewater 425” which brought out all sorts of desert-goers. Think baja race.
About 4 miles out of town on Highway 95, we headed east on Cienega Springs Road and were immediately warned by a roadside sign about primitive road conditions. Not to be turned away, I gripped the wheel and shifted the ILX into low gear for a bumpy ride. Sam Haymart, of TestDriven.TV fame, followed closely behind in my cloud of dust with his 2017 Audi A4. We might have been the only ones crazy enough to subject our luxury sedans to such rocky terrain.
At certain times, the narrow road was only one lane wide and we had to carefully maneuver around oncoming traffic. The 5 miles of dirt took us probably 20 minutes to navigate, but eventually we arrived at the oasis: A sprawling, multi-level restaurant and bar crudely constructed inside a canyon with surrounding parking.
From the parking lot, we could hear the bass beat of live music and the closer we got, the louder the music – and the crowds – became. The lunch rush was in full swing at 12:45 p.m. – amazing because the place had barely opened for the day at “high noon.” There were various places to order and the seating was “wherever you want.” I grabbed my cheeseburger and sought after some shade on a set of bleachers.
The people-watching was some of the best I’ve ever had – it seems a few folks had a started happy hour early, as the Coors cans were clearly everyone’s drink of choice to wash down their burgers. The band played on, and I couldn’t help but sing along for a line or two when the song “Wagon Wheel” came on.
We took a short post-lunch hike to the summit of a rocky overlook. It gave us a great view of the entire bar area and the surrounding hills. Desert Bar was lined by a few rusting carcasses of old vehicles including a fire truck. I noticed upon surveying the parking lot from that vantage point, about 95% of the vehicles in the parking lot were higher clearance AWD trucks and SUVs. It was probably for good reason, too. While fair weather cruising wasn’t a huge challenge, I imagine that any sort of inclement weather would pose a real road muddy hazard for someone like me taking a car out there (next time I’ll take an SLX). And while owner Ken could probably attract a lot more visitors if road conditions were improved, the challenge of the trek is part of the allure.
Tyson, Sam, Rob, James
Ken’s vision of the Desert Bar started in the mid-1970s when he had acquired the land of an old copper mining camp. By 1983, he had acquired a liquor license and started hosting guests in a makeshift building. And in the 1990s, further improvements were made to the site including construction of a small church and a covered bridge across the ravine between the parking lot and the main stage. By the looks of things during our visit, more enhancements are probably still underway as we saw some concrete & rebar walls going up. And the entire place is now powered by solar panels. Brilliant, actually!
We made our way back to civilization in one piece and perfectly satisfied with our 6 hour trip for a nice, greasy burger. For anyone looking for an easy day-trip from the Phoenix area, Nellie E. is a definite hit. But keep in mind its limited operating hours: It’s only open from October through April, Saturdays and Sundays, from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. And the entire operation is cash only! Don’t even think of trying to pay with plastic out there. Have fun and check it out sometime!
- Castle Hot Springs because it’s a similar oasis type place in the desert
- Mystery Castle because Desert Bar reminded me of this type of architecture
- Alamo Lake because the Wayside Oasis restaurant was equally challenging to get to
- Lake Havasu because it’s nearby in the region and another great destination
- Six Speed Blog to check out what James has been up to
- TestDriven.TV to see Sam’s auto news and reviews
Road trippers! Yoohoo!
Headed toward Parker
First sign about the Desert Bar, about 4 miles before we got there
Sam following close behind in the A4
Nice layer of dust here.
Paying my respects!
Parking is very limited out there in the boonies
Sample of the menu
Bridge connecting the parking lot with the upper level of the restaurant
Fire truck that was used at one point to bring in water to the facility.
Dirty Acura and dirty Audi
Passing through “Hope, Arizona” on the way home.
They’ve fixed the sign! This was taken last November.
Congrats to faithful reader Hy on (finally) hitting 65,000 miles on his 2004 Acura TSX 6-speed manual! And, happy birthday today!
Horrible winter weather here in Arizona for a Legend GS sedan cruise the other day.
And lastly, check out this cool “infographic” someone shared with me on the highest mileage cars of all time. (credit)