As I mentioned previously, Old U.S. 80
once tied together towns such as copper producing Bisbee & Douglas with
Texas and Phoenix. Tucson and other Ari-'Zonies'
once traveled 80 in hordes to the beaches of San Diego to escape the sweltering
heat. So it' no surprise to me that with Highway 80 being such a major east-west
route through the Southern states that there still exist many ghosts of the old
roadway. That, coupled with the dry desert air, ensure that many a
photo-op still exist for the intrepid soul willing to get off the interstate for
I've had the pleasure to do a quick bit of
exploring and have at least done a quick drive-by of most of the remaining
highway in Arizona with the exception of the western Phoenix/Buckeye area.
I'm sure that will come soon! So sit back, take a look at these pics
(presented in a general east-to-west order), and imagine what it must have been
like to cross arid Arizona with nothing but a water bag slung across the hood
for cooling air and cable TV not even an idea as of yet...
Check out my Arizona 80
Although the route I-10 takes across
southeastern Arizona might seem intuitively obvious today, recall, that times
were far different back in the early part of this century. Old 80 dipped
down from Rodeo, NM to connect Texas with the
great copper producing towns of Bisbee and Douglas. This ore was then
shipped 1st via train and later trucks to the great ore processing facilities
back east. Also, 80 evolved from the trails established to serve the large
number of cavalry forts that originally were built to protect the early
settlers. In fact, Geronimo and the last of his Apache warriors finally
surrendered near the Arizona town of Apache after successfully holing up in the
Chiricahua mountains for quite some time. Old 80 is conveniently marked as
AZ 80 through these parts and is easy to follow. Here is a shot of AZ 80
looking north towards the Chiricahuas near mile marker (MM) 396. Note the
broad vistas and grassy landscape indicative of this area. No wonder
ranchers settled here in droves. The many white concrete bridges along
this stretch serve to remind one that this indeed, was the route followed by our
Bisbee, home of the great copper-producing
Queen Mine, is today a rebounding artist colony and tourist destination. Home to world famous 'Bisbee-Blue' turquoise, Bisbee is also a popular
destination because of its higher elevation and cooler temperatures than Tucson/Phoenix.
One of my favorite finds in all of Arizona is the quaint Shady Dell Motel &
RV Park on the southeastern side of town. The 'rooms' are in
fact, a collection of vintage Airstream trailers! The facilities are also wonderfully
complimented with an original 10-seat Valentine diner. Dot's diner will
serve you up a great burger and shake (take my word for
it, I know from personal experience!).
So plan ahead and stay in one of the Airstream 'rooms' as you explore the area.
Heading north to my current hometown,
Tucson, highway 80's earlier presence is still readily apparent. The slew
of old motels
along the Benson Highway, 6th Avenue and south Oracle is rivaled perhaps only by
Albuquerque's Central Avenue (old route 66). Old U.S. 80 was joined by old U.S. 89 coming up from Nogales for its run through
Tucson and although many of these establishments have seen better days, they still
serve as wonderful studies in architecture and motel evolution (or de-evolution in my
opinion as most modern motels have absolutely no unique style or flavor).
For example, check out the diving girl at the Pueblo Hotel downtown on South 6th
Gladly, there are a couple of noteworthy exceptions: The Frontier on Drachman
and the La Siesta on south Oracle are both run by the same couple and are worth
checking out. Take a look at these
pics of the Frontier if you don't believe me! I've seen a postcard
postmarked 1950 of the Frontier Motel on E-Bay with this same sign out
front! Support these folks if you
Phoenix in its highway hey-day must have
really been something. Co-signed highways 80 & 89 met up with
co-signed highways 60 & 70 in Florence Junction and all continued onward
into Phoenix. Can you imagine? U.S. highways 60/70/80/89 all
co-mingling on Van Buren Boulevard-the congestion must have been horrible.
No wonder the interstates had to come. Now although Van Buren isn't what
used to be, like Tucson, there are still a few diamonds in the rough. A
great find is the Buckhorn Bath & Motel facilities on the east side of town
in Mesa. This must have really been quite the resort at one time.
The grounds are huge, and the cottages quite quaint (see pic). It appears
as if some of the units are now occupied by long-term residents, but don't let
that keep you from admiring and wondering about what once was...
Taking another serpentine turn southward
out of Phoenix/Buckeye, 80 dropped down to the oasis of Gila Bend before turning
west and crossing some really barren Arizona countryside. This must have
been a convenient rest and
provisioning stop before heading out into the desert. For its size, there
existed (and still exist) quite a few motels and gas stations to serve the
motorist. I like this photo of the Desert Gem motel on the west side of
town. Note the wonderfully 60's architecture and what once must have been a
Whiting Brothers (now defunct-but notice the characteristic 'Gas For Less' sign)
gas station next door. This scene hasn't changed much in 40 years.
Through Mohawk and Telegraph passes, old 80 headed west on its last sprint
through the Arizona desert. Both mountain passes provide rare glimpses of much earlier roadbeds that
snaked their way through the passes instead of blasting their way through. Take a look at these concrete
remains on the eastside of Mohawk Pass. There is evidence of at least two
earlier paths that earlier incarnations of 80 used as the early roadbeds twisted their way through
the mountain. Both of these reconnect with the last incarnation of 80 near the top.
Zooming down from Telegraph Pass, Yuma and
a quick respite from the mountain curves wasn't too far away. Today
a booming RV winter destination, follow Business 80 to Yuma's 4th Avenue.
There are a couple of very notable motels in here. Number one...the Yuma
cabana! A great retro sign greets the visitor day or night. The
price is right, and business appeared good. I met the managers in the
parking lot, and thankfully, they indicated that the owners have no intention of
taking down or changing their great sign. Check out the detailing of
little cacti & yuccas on my picture of this sign! Irreplaceable.
Right across the street is the very clean looking Hacienda. Looks very
inviting. Support these establishments your next time through.
I have good news for you bridge and train
buffs. The old 1914-15 Highway 80 Colorado river bridge has been refurbished
and is now open to traffic (alternating one-way) as of 06/02. The train
trestle next to it is dated 1923 and is still the main route for the Union
Pacific and BN&SF freights on the way westward to El Centro and San Diego. Let's be sure to
avoid the interstate and take this jewel across the Colorado river to the
next part of our journey-California --or--
click on a state below to jump to the Highway 80 state of your choice!