A Wonderland of rocks, cacti, and wildflowers (Exploring Arizona and New Mexico, March 2015)

Last updated on December 15th, 2020

This spring’s trip to Arizona included some exploration in New Mexico. Between the two states, we explored a wonderland of rocks, cacti, and wildflowers.

(This page is in progress – I’ll create links as I post each section)

Our itinerary:

Day 1: Phoenix
My plan was to spend the morning exploring Phoenix and Scottsdale before heading out to Apache Junction to see how my mother’s packing is going (she’s coming back to Minnesota with us at the end of our trip), but the time went by way too fast. . .

  • Sleeping in a historic neighborhood
  • Walking into town (almost breakfast at Matt’s Big Breakfast)
  • (Not so) fun and games at Hertz
  • Lunch at the Heard
  • Hanging out in Apache Junction

Day 2: In search of Arizona wildflowers
I scheduled this trip south in hope of catching what is promising to be an amazing flower season in much of the desert southwest. Now that I am here, I want to see flowers! Fortunately, consultation with a few of the Jeepers in my mother’s park resulted in a mostly flower-filled road trip today. We even found a road my mom hadn’t been on before.

  • A few flowers along Highway 60 to Florence Junction
  • Highway 79 is lined with mallow: Once we reached Florence Junction, the flower situation improved dramatically – both in terms of the numbers of flowers and the ability to stop and photograph a few of them.
  • Wildflowers along the Florence-Kelvin Highway
    • What’s with the boulders?
  • Heading north on Highway 177
  • Lunch/dinner at Los Hermanos in Superior

Day 3: A too-long drive to Albuquerque
Somehow we thought we would have time to take a scenic drive through the mountains, explore the Petrified Forest, and still get to Albuquerque in plenty of time for dinner.

  • Highway 60 through the mountains and mining towns of Miami and Globe
  • Lunch at Jalapenos Café in Show Low
  • Racing the rain to the Petrified Forest
  • A wet drive through the park
  • On to ABQ
  • Dinner with friends: We were supposed to be in Albuquerque for dinner with a school friend. I told her we would arrive by six, but somewhere between the Petrified Forest and Albuquerque I realized that I had forgotten to account for daylight savings time. (New Mexico is on daylight savings time, Arizona is not.) Opps. Fortunately, she decided to do pizza at home, so there was still some food waiting when we arrived.

Day 4: Flowers, fish, and more in ABQ
I warned my friend that I am in town seeking wildflowers and suggested that we start at the Bio Park’s gardens. Fortunately, she is willing to indulge me even though it turns out to be too early for most flowers in Albuquerque.

  • Seeking spring blossoms at the Bio Park
  • Lunch at the Bio Park’s Shark Reef Café
  • Fish and other denizens of the deep
  • Gallery
  • Dinner with the cousins: The reason we are in ABQ on this trip is to connect with my husband’s cousins, and we have a delightful evening with them.

Day 5: A lazy day in Albuquerque
We have another day to hang out and relax with my friend. While there are lots of things to do in ABQ, a lazy walk along the bosque and a brief ramble through Old Town seem like enough.

  • Brunch at the Range Café
  • Down in the bosque: The low-lying Rio Grande Bosque includes cottonwood forests and other natural areas in the river’s floodplain. There are miles of bicycle and hiking trails in the area.
    • Jetty jacks
  • Shopping and drinking in Old Town

Day 6: On the road south (with stops) in New Mexico
It’s a driving day today, with a lot of miles to cover, but also with tempting places to stop along the way.

  • Along I-25
  • Church in Socorro
  • Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
  • San Antonio (lunch at the Owl)
  • Through the mountains along Highway 152
  • Evening in Pinos Altos: the cutest casita, skunked at the Buckhorn, dinner in our casita

Day 7: Gila cliff dwellings and Pinos Altos
We head north on Highway 15 despite threatening skies. We are rewarded with great scenery and a lovely morning exploring the Gila cliff dwellings. We follow our morning exploration with a little tour of the almost ghost town of Pinos Altos.

Day 8: Silver City to Las Cruces via City of Rocks
Today’s road trip is pretty short, but there is lots we could see and do along the way.
• Silver City: We take a bit of time to wander around Silver City, which is filled with art galleries, murals, bars, and restaurants. With too many other things to do, we limit or touring to a quick tour of the old town area and lunch (with drinks) at Little Toad Creek.

  • City of Rocks
  • Hatch
  • The big Chili in Los Cruces

Day 9: White Sands
Someday I will learn to get up for sunrise even when rain is in the forecast, but that day hasn’t come yet so we get a rather late start at White Sands National Monument. It doesn’t matter though, as there is interesting light all morning as heavy clouds slowly give way to brilliant sunshine. We don’t stay for sunset either, as the thought of footprint-covered dunes aren’t as enticing as dinner in the Mesilla.

  • White Sands
  • Mesilla

Day 10: Highways, byways, trails and more
We have a long day of driving ahead of us, but too many places to stop. Even with abbreviated stops along the way, it is dark when we reach Willcox.

  • Flowers along the road before and after the Continental Divide
  • Magnificent mimbres and more at the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum
  • Lunch at Si Senor
  • Fort Bowie
  • Chiricahua National Monument
  • Dinner at Big Tex BBQ In Willcox
  • Sunset Inn

Day 11: Cacti and flowers
Now that we are back in wildflower country, I’m on the hunt again. We start to see flowers along the highway as we near Tucson, and then we find vacant lots overflowing with cacti and gleaming yellow brittle brush at the edge of the city. The flower-filled landscape continues in the Rincon (east) section of Saguaro National Park.

Day 12: More cacti in Tucson and on to Apache Junction
This morning’s plan is to explore the west section of Saguaro National Park. I am hoping for lots of flowers, but this section has many more of the park’s namesake saguaros and far fewer flowers. Then it is back to Apache Junction to spend time with my mom.

  • Breakfast at Bobo’s
  • Saguaro National Park West
  • Up to Apache Junction
  • Hanging out with the flowers in the park
  • Dinner at the Handlebar

Day 13: In search of flowers east of Phoenix
While there is still packing to do, central Arizona is awash with flowers. I wanted one more chance to enjoy them, so we all head over to Boyce Thompson Arboretum before getting down to work.

  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum
  • Lunch at AJ’s Fairways Grill in Gold Canyon: AJ used to have a restaurant near my parent’s place and they always like the broasted chicken. That restaurant closed a number of years ago and AJ opened a new one in Gold Canyon. It’s a sports bar, but an upscale one with really cushy chairs. Mom says the chicken is the same (very good). The one very harried staff (AJ himself, it appeared), started us off, including a margarita for me. He was eventually replaced by a waitress who seems to have gotten called in at the last minute to fill in for someone else, but, at any rate, when I told her I didn’t need a second margarita she said I need to try some apple drink. When I said I was fine, she insisted, offering it on the house. Sure enough, after a bit she joined us with a martini shaker and four small glasses and proceeded to pour a drink for each of us and herself. I’m not sure what it was, aside from a mix of cranberry juice, Crown Royal, and some sort of apple liquor. It was good though, and she seemed pleased! (I’d definitely return.)
  • Happy hour with the neighbors: My mother has great neighbors and, best of all for us, they always invite us to their back-yard happy hour when we are around. It’s a great way to close out the day.
  • Sunset down the street
  • Snacks and drinks at Los Gringos Locos Grill and Cantina: Having had a late lunch, we figured a few snacks and a drink would be adequate for dinner. Having heard that the guacamole fresca was worth the price, we headed back to Los Gingos. Service was slow and odd, but I ended up with an extra drink when something got screwed up with our order. (Two bonus drinks in one day, how’s that?!) That was a fortunate turn of events as the drink I’d actually ordered was hideously sweet. (The waitress said it didn’t look right and shouldn’t have been so sweet, but hey, the extra drink was pretty good, so I just drank that instead.) The guac was good (if short on salt), but so were the flautas. We still ended up with too much to eat.

Day 14: Apache Junction – Packing up ourselves and mom to head home
Mom had most of her packing done when we finally arrived, but there was still plenty to do to close up her house for the season. When we were done, we headed back to the Handlebar for lunch before heading to the airport and home to Minnesota.

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2 thoughts on “A Wonderland of rocks, cacti, and wildflowers (Exploring Arizona and New Mexico, March 2015)”

    1. Chirachua is wonderful – beautiful-looking campgrouds and great hiking. We didn’t spend enough time there. I’d like to say I’d have some pictures up before you leave, but not sure that will happen. You’ll love it down there.

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