Dust storms, snow, and maybe the best road I’ve ever driven.

Big Bend was the first of many national parks on our road trip list, and while it didn’t disappoint, it was truly just the beginning. But, before we get to the parks we’ve visited since then, I have to mention the time we spent in the town of Marfa, Texas. 

After living in Texas for almost a decade, I had certainly heard a lot about Marfa (not to mention flying over it about a thousand times for work). Still, I had never actually visited until now. Even though almost all of its art galleries were closed due to COVID, we still had a great time there. One reason was the hotel that served as our home base for the trip, the Hotel Paisano. It is one of the oldest properties in town and was the primary lodging site for the entire cast and crew of the epic 1956 movie, Giant starring a couple of actors whose names you may be familiar with, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Dennis Hopper, and some guy named James Dean.

The Hotel Paisano courtyard and fountain

While the halo stars reportedly only stayed in the main hotel for a short time before acquiring their own local accommodations, the place was still where everyone hung out, ate dinner, and drank at the bar. With only 41 rooms and a ton of history, the place has a great vibe, and the bar and restaurant provide delicious food and drink. 

Corvette Z06 at the Prada Marfa art installation
Crystal’s Z06 looking good

While we tried to see the famous Marfa Lights at the “official” viewing area on Highway 90, we were not graced with their presence; maybe next time. We stopped at the now-famous (and seemingly obligatory Instagram stop) Prada Marfa installation on our way out of town. I had a grand photo-op planned in my mind, but unfortunately, we were not alone during our visit. In my quest to not get in the way of other people’s photo ops, I wasn’t able to place the cars where I really wanted, but I did get a sweet shot or two of Crystal’s Z06, so that’s good. 

A small example of the amazing scenery on TX Highway 54

The drive from Marfa to Silver City, NM, began perfectly as we traveled on Highway 54 out of Van Horn, TX. The road is in good shape, and the mountains and ridgelines that frame the journey are spectacular. Unfortunately, our scenic drive did not last; the dust storms began as we approached El Paso. From about 30 minutes east of El Paso to west of Las Cruces, NM, we drove in a massive dust storm. I had to convince myself I was still driving in the US because what I saw out my windshield was straight out of my time in Qatar. There was no difference in the color or terrain as fierce winds pummeled us with dust, blocking our view of everything except the cars directly around us on the road. To add insult to injury, that road was I-10, one of the highways I sought to avoid on this trip, but it was the best way for us to travel due to the circumstances. 

Thankfully, when we got off I-10 and headed north toward Silver City, the weather cleared, and the scenery was again spectacular. Then we arrived at our hotel and were greeted with snow flurries, because why not. 

A snow squall was the perfect end to a painful drive

The next day was beautiful as forecast, and we spent over an hour driving to the Gila National Forest to hike around the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The road to the park is extremely twisty and narrow, with several parts still covered in ice and a thin layer of snow from the night before, but the Boxster made quick work of it all. The cliff dwellings are a wonder to behold, but of course, we couldn’t walk through them because of COVID. Regardless, to see the creativity and ingenuity of a long-lost civilization was truly inspiring. 

After our hiking adventures, we sought nourishment in downtown Silver City and were not disappointed. Being that it was St Patrick’s Day, we enjoyed some green beer at the Little Toad Creek Brewery and a GREAT green chili slathered burger!

Tucson, Arizona, was the next destination on our tour, but I had a slightly different plan to get there than an atlas, or any mapping app would recommend. During my Google Maps reviews looking for the best squiggly line roads, I saw US Route 191 from Alpine to Morenci. A little internet research assured me the road was worth the time spent driving completely out of our way. If you are ever in the state of Arizona with a sports car, and it’s not the dead of winter, you owe it to yourself to drive this road. 

It’s not perfect; we encountered terrible road conditions in the last 10-15 miles (the road is actually relatively smooth but was covered in gravel and loose tar as it appears some sections are being prepped for future paving). Outside of that, it was around 70 miles of the best driving I have ever seen, better than Iron Mountain Road in South Dakota or the Tail of the Dragon on the Tennessee, North Carolina border. Those roads may have more turns-per-mile, but they can’t compare with the setting of US Route 191. You climb and descend seemingly multiple mountains with some of the most breathtaking views, and nary a guardrail to be seen (as in the first one we saw was near the end of the road). When driving north to south as we were, there are dozens of corners where if you screw up your breaking, you will sail the car off a cliff and fall a few thousand feet; no one will even know you went off. It. Was. Awesome!!!

Big smiles at a scenic overlook on US Route 191

Eventually, we made it to Tucson, after driving two hours out of our way to drive two hours on highway 191, totally worth it. Tucson is a fun town with a great art scene and some wonderful craft beers. The highlight was our hike through the East Saguaro National Park. The signature Saguaro cactus was everywhere, and they are truly amazing to see; it was spectacular. We also visited the Pima Air & Space Museum, which is cool, but without the Boneyard tours (another COVID cancelation), it wasn’t anywhere near as cool as it could’ve been. And while the outdoor airpark is extensive and fun to walk through, they lack the most lethal bomber in modern US military history (and the best looking), the B-1. There are plenty of them sitting in the Boneyard now; they need to work on that. 

From Tucson, we traveled north to Scottsdale. There really wasn’t a purpose to our Scottsdale stop other than it looked like a cool community, and there is a great coffee shop I know from having their coffee at Rennsport Reunion VI a few years ago. The coffee was worth it, and Scottsdale is a pretty cool spot. We had no desire to venture into the heart of Phoenix, so we spent our time relaxing and walking around the many, many shops and art galleries of Old Town Scottsdale. We also checked out the Penske Racing Museum as well as a half-dozen or so of his auto dealerships. Window shopping for a Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Bentley, etc. is always a fun exercise in fantasy. 

Mark Donahue's winning IROC 911 at the Penske Racing Museum
So sweet!

Arizona has lived up to or exceeded expectations so far, and the best is yet to come. Stay tuned!

Author: Ryan Carignan

I am an automotive enthusiast, writer, and photographer; welcome to my blog!

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