Odometer (Legend coupe): 549,086
Odometer (Legend sedan): 150,755
Odometer (Integra): 238,331
Odometer (Vigor): 106,387
Odometer (ILX): 188,457
Odometer (NSX): 106,412
Trip Distance: 390 Miles
My maturity level took a deep dive on Saturday when I sat in my driver’s seat and looked out upon a gigantic expanse of perfectly flat land in all directions. I was unsupervised. I had a slick-shifting 6-speed transmission at my fingertips. And my sense of adventure begged me to go have some fun. So, I hit the Traction Control button to deactivate any kind of traction aid, gripped the steering wheel, and let ‘er rip. Result? I haven’t had that much fun driving a car since my autocross adventure in 2009. Talk about a riot.
My friends Jason and James were there to witness it — encouraging it, even. The Willcox Playa – some 3.7 square miles of dirt flatlands – is a dry lake bed in Arizona’s Cochise County in the southeast corner of the state. But for me, it was a playground where I could pretend I was a professional rally driver. I can only imagine how much more fun the experience might have been in a rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle. Time to plan another trip back.
This weekend trip started out as an excuse to meet up with one of my road trip partners in crime, Jason Pawela of Driven for Drives. Jason was crazy enough to join me on the 8,000-mile Alaska trip earlier this year and I hadn’t seen him for about 6 months since. We decided to plan a lunch meet-up at the exact geographic midpoint between us: Willcox, Arizona. The town of 3,700 people lies 194 miles from Phoenix and 195 miles from Las Cruces. It was absolutely perfect from a logistical perspective.
Joining for this one was another seasoned road-tripper, James Lee of Six Speed Blog, who typically joins our group drives in whatever “flavor of the week” he’s road testing at the time. This week, it happens to be a saucy red 2017 Toyota Corolla with a host of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) goodies. Yes, I just used the words “Corolla” and “racing” in the same sentence. I was surprised, too. Jason’s car of course was the 2004 Mazda 6, now with 217,000 miles and still as robust as ever, and I was in my 2013 ILX.
It took us about 3 hours to get to Willcox, and we met up with Jason spot-on at our 1:00 predetermined time. Dining options in a town of 3,000 people are sparse, and I’d already eaten at 2 of the 3 top-rated spots on Trip Advisor. (See: Chiricahua National Monument road trip). Next on the list? “Grandma D’s Cafe.” It sounded safe. And it ended up being one of the most hospitable places I’ve ever dined.
Housed in the historic part of Willcox at the northwest corner of Haskell Avenue and Maley Street, the place appeared to have been there forever. Luckily we had enough time to eat before the 2:00 p.m. closure (grandma cooks breakfast & lunch only!). I went with the Cochise Burger, adorned with green chiles, avocado, and an over-easy egg for a little extra protein.
Grandma was nice enough to get a photo with us and I jotted down our blog websites on a notepad for her. If you’re reading this, thanks for the hospitality and the great food! Hope to see you again, Gma!
At this point, we did a car-key-swap and I got to drive Jason’s Mazda the few miles toward Willcox Playa. To get there, we headed west on I-10 about 4 miles, then south on Highway 191 to a dirt road turnoff that we’d scouted out thanks to Google Earth. The entrance to our playground was right where we thought it would be. Luckily for us, the dirt was hard packed for the most part — I’m sure if it had rained recently, we wouldn’t have gotten past the gate. And also luckily for us, we didn’t venture into any dangerous parts of the Playa. It wasn’t until after our visit that I read online that the U.S. Military uses portions of the area as a bombing range. Yikes!
It was a memorable journey for us and I hope you enjoyed being a part of it! Some additional photos and a short video are below. Don’t mind the circus music 🙂
Fueling up at Picacho Peak, midway between Phoenix and Tucson
Entering Grandma D’s in Willcox
The Cochise Burger at Grandma D’s
Lined up outside the restaurant: James’ Corolla, Jason’s 6, and my ILX
Park near the railroad tracks
Arriving at the Willcox Playa
Clearly James was having a good time!
Where’d those skid marks come from?
Getting down and dirty.
Wide open spaces, just like that Dixie Chicks song.
It was colder than it looks. Definitely a breeze in the air!
Headed back to Phoenix near Picacho Peak (at left) on Interstate 10
I’m going to put in a plug here for my friend Darren of “IDrewYourCar.com.” Darren contacted me after my recent Jalopnik feature offering to do some digital artwork for my garage. I am thrilled with what he put together for me! Each of my five “old” Acuras has been drawn up in exact detail and printed in 13×19 size. Even the colors are spot-on.
A perfect addition to the garage! Thanks Darren!
Finally, I’m a nerd about anniversaries and last night just happened to be my 5th anniversary with my 1992 Acura NSX. It was December 17, 2011 when I flew to San Jose, California and picked up the car. Last night, James and I went over to Tempe Town Lake for a couple of celebratory photos with the Mill Avenue Bridge in the background.
Of course I wore a T-shirt to match the car. Duh!
It’s been a fun 5 years and 26,000 miles with that one. Have a great rest of your weekend!