The twisting arms of Joshua trees dominate the desert landscape along the road between Wikieup and Wickenburg.
© Neil Weidner
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Joshua Tree ParkwayWhy drive to California for Joshua trees when you can pile in the car and head to Wikieup?
By Kelly Kramer
When Mormon settlers first saw the plant they dubbed the "Joshua tree," it reminded them of the bushy-bearded biblical leader. When Territorial Governor John C. Frémont caught sight of it during an 1844 trek through the Mohave Desert, he called it "the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom."
Here's the thing: Joshua trees are not vegetables and they're not among the 12 spies of Israel, but they are members of the lily family. What's more, they're plentiful along U.S. Route 93 from Wikieup to Wickenburg.
The drive, which is familiar to anyone who's road-tripped from Phoenix to Sin City (or vice versa), officially begins in Wikieup, a dot on the map that's better known for its pie (you'll pass Luchia's) than its tourism cachet. Other landmarks "in town" include the Snoopy-piloted Wikieup arrow, along with the Wikieup Trading Post and Eat at Joe's Barbecue, as well as the creosote-peppered hills that surround Bronco Wash.
Heading south on U.S. 93, around Mile Marker 127, you'll come to the Big Sandy River, and unless it's been raining, the river is probably just that — big and sandy. Beyond the Big Sandy, sheer, eroded cliffs loom, speckled in spots with saguaros and scrub. Pale, striated canyon walls straddle the highway — green, yellow, white and taupe — and the mountains stretch for miles in front of you.
At Mile Marker 147, you'll start seeing rocks piled on top of each other. They look like hoodoos, with saguaros in between. The rocks are an interesting sight, but not as interesting as Nothing. Blink and you'll miss it, but Nothing was a real Arizona town, and you'll see it off to the left. It's marked with a sign and a pile of ... well, junk. You'll have to see it for yourself, but Nothing really is something.
Joshua trees become the focal point of this drive around Mile Marker 162. One of the first you'll see is a large, gnarly fellow off to the right, and then several more in rapid succession. They're reminiscent of the baobab trees made famous in Saint Exupery's Little Prince, and if your imagination is active, you might see a little blond boy emerge from the trees with a dog and a well-protected flower in hand.
By Mile Marker 169, the forest of Joshua trees is dense, and you'll see a sign that reads: "Joshua Tree Parkway of Arizona." It's a label that formalizes the obvious — that this is an incredibly scenic drive that passes through one of the most spectacular landscapes in the Southwest. The route continues on to Wickenburg, a classic Old West town that celebrates the state's cowboy heritage with the Desert Caballeros Museum and a string of Western-themed shops and restaurants. It's a great place to visit, but the highlight of this drive is the trees. Or, rather, the lilies.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 74 miles one way
Directions: From Wikieup, travel south on U.S. Route 93 to Wickenburg.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: National Scenic Byways Program, 800-429-9297 or www.byways.org/explore/byways/11293
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.