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Lovers of Franklin cars must visit the the Franklin Automobile Museum in Tucson, Arizona. It’s the largest public collection is devoted to the the quirky marque, built in Syracuse, NY from 1902 through 1934. Just getting to the museum is part fo the fun: it’s tucked away in the residential neighborhood north of downtown known as Richland Heights West, one of the last areas in Tucson with unpaved streets. You approach by driving across natural desert sand, much as a shiny new Franklin car might have done in the 1920s. It’s not uncommon to see the odd tumbleweed charting a lazy course across the sand like in some old John Wayne western.

So plan to take a trip back in time. Drive (slowly!) on some dusty sand roads amid cacti for a few blocks before arriving at the museum’s three adobe buildings. The throwback atmosphere is really part of the fun when viewing such a fine assemblage of pre-World War II cars.

Franklin Automobile Museum Tucson Arizona

History of the Franklin Automobile Museum

This 27-car collection of Franklin cars was developed by car restorer Thomas Hubbard. He purchased his first Franklin in 1950 and just kept buying them. He was first attracted to Franklins at the tender age of eight when his family bought a brand new 1933 model. Apparently his friends were not impressed.

Museum guide Bill, who as a child used to hang around helping Hubbard’s auto restorations, recalls Hubbard saying, “They’d rib me about the car. I had to explain to my friends, why if the car was so good they didn’t make them anymore.” Hubbard passed away in 1993 but the foundation he established funds the museum and its continued acquisition of cars including a purchase of a 1905 Franklin Model A Runabout with a rare rear-entry tonneau.

History of Franklin Cars

Franklins were the brainchild of engineer John Wilkinson and businessman Herbert H. Franklin, whose personal motto was “It can be done.” Franklin Automobiles were built in the much colder climes of Syracuse, New York in the early part of the 20th century, from 1902 through 1934.

All of the Franklins were air-cooled. Because air-cooling removed the need for a bulky radiator, Franklin cars took on some unusual front-end shapes including barrel hoods, shovels, and horse collars. They were a considered a premium brand; pricing ran just under a Cadillac. Collections this large are rare: although over 150,000 Franklins were produced, only about 3,500 survive today.

What’s on display at the Franklin Automobile Museum

There are three rooms’ worth of autos here. Because early cars required constant maintenance, the 1918 Franklin Model B Touring came with tool kits; the originals are cleverly hidden inside the front doors of Franklin cars and even included extra spark plugs. Look for the handy (and surprisingly small) golf bag on the 1929 Franklin Convertible Coupe.

In a sign of the times, with Charles Lindbergh having crossed the Atlantic Ocean (with an air-cooled engine) just two years before, an airplane logo was placed on the rear bumper to symbolize the car’s “airplane-type” engine; further increasing its sportiness factor.

A 1929/1930/1931 Franklin Model 153 is unique because it was company founder Herbert Franklin’s personal vehicle. The reason it has so many model years attributed to it was that he brought it into the shop annually to update it to the current model year. 

Franklin 1925 Sport Coupe

A one-off 1931 Franklin Model 153 Sport Phaeton was custom ordered by 21-year-old Stillman F. Kelley, II for his honeymoon. Despite the Great Depression raging, Kelley was able to pay $6,500 for this beauty, and may have survived the financial downturn better than Franklin. The automaker had leveraged his company for growth that didn’t materialize and was unable to shoulder the increased debt burden, declaring bankruptcy in 1934. The aircraft engine division survived but, in an odd twist, was bought in 1947 by Preston Tucker to produce engines for the Tucker 48. It’s not all Franklins though. In an outbuilding there are several other marques, including a 1909 REO Touring, which was the first car Thomas Hubbard restored.

And what’s with those dirt roads?

Part of what makes a visit to the Franklin Automobile Museum so unique is its setting in a quiet area with dirt roads. Dirt roads themselves aren’t really all that unusual-especially in rural parts of Arizona. But the museum is in the city of Tucson, which makes it quite an oddity. Here, you can still find corrals with horses and wild rabbits nibbling on mesquite leaves . . . and the speed limit is a whopping 15 MPH.

The dirt road entrance to the Franklin Automobile Museum harkens back to the 1940s

The neighborhood, known as Richland Heights West, is about 3 miles northeast of downtown Tucson. The 16 square block parcel was developed on a former ranch in the 1940s, before it was part of the city–and before paved roads were the accepted thing. The city offered to pave the neighborhood roads in the 1990s, but the neighborhood association said, “no thanks.” They like it just the way it is: quite, a little dusty, and full of wildlife. It’s also the perfect place to see a Franklin Car.

Unique roadside Americana near the Franklin museum

A visit to the Franklin Automobile Museum offers the opportunity to take in a bit of authentic roadside Americana located nearby. Anyone who loves road trips is aware of the Muffler Man statues that sprinkle the heartland. These distinctive, 20-foot-tall fiberglass figures were mostly erected in the 1960s to lure visitors to various shops and attractions. They were cleverly designed so the statue could hold an object related to the business they were promoting.

They came to be known as “Muffler Men,” regardless of what they held, because so many of them ended up holding mufflers to promote service stations. One of these icons of mid-century advertising presides over an intersection in Tucson, just two miles southwest of the Franklin Museum. The circa-1964 fiberglass giant at the corner of N. Stone Avenue and E. Glenn Street is one of the earliest “Muffler Man” statues. This one’s dressed up as Paul Bunyan holding an axe, yet it’s still auto-related, as it stands in the parking lot of Don’s Hot Rod Shop at 2811 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85705.

PRO TIP: If you’re really into quirky sights, just about 6 blocks south of the Franklin Auto Museum is the intersection of Glenn & Campbell Although the Rhinestone Cowboy spelled his name with only one “n,” the crisscrossed street signs provide a nifty photo op.

This museum showcasing Franklin cars is one of several unusual museums in Tucson. It truly is a one-of-a-kind destination and a real trip back in time. Further information is available at www.FranklinMuseum.org.

Where is the Franklin Automobile Museum?

3420 North Vine Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719

When is the Franklin Automobile Museum Open?

Mid-October through Memorial Day, Wed-Sunday, 10am to 4pm.

What was unique about Franklin cars?

The engines were air-cooled, so there was no need for a bulky radiator.

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Truly Nolen cars are a staple in the Tucson landscape. But why are classic cars perched on random street corners with the words “TRULY NOLEN” painted on the side? We were on a mission to find out.

What are Truly Nolen cars?

Truly Nolen cars are one of the truly (yeah, we really said that) unique things about Tucson: classic cars parked all over Tucson with the words TRULY NOLEN boldly painted on them. There are more than fifty of these cars, turning the southern Arizona city into an unofficial outdoor car museum. They’re such a fixture that most locals take them for granted. Perhaps it’s because, with 350 days of sunshine per year, Tucson is one of the best cities in America to own a classic car. There’s hardly any rain and you certainly don’t have to worry about corrosive salt being put down on the roads to counter ice and snow.

1948 light blue Chevy-one of the Truly Nolen cars to be found on a random Tucson street corner

But that still doesn’t explain why they’re here. As nice as the climate is in Tucson though, we’re not sure we’d leave a classic car parked outside permanently, certainly not a collection of 50 classic cars. But then again, we’re not mid-century extermination magnates. The cars are part of a quirky marketing campaign for the Truly Nolen exterminating company, a national company founded in Tucson by the eponymous Truly Nolen–yes, that was his real name. His siblings included Really and Sincere Leigh. (Seriously. And yes, really.)

How Truly Nolen Cars Began

The whole spectacle began in 1955. Young exterminating entrepreneur Truly Nolen’s car broke down while he was driving around town on business. Truly had to leave the car parked outside a mechanic’s garage for a week while he waited for his next paycheck to cover the repairs. Fortunately for him, that car had the company name and phone number prominently displayed on the side.

We met with Michelle Nolen Senner, the company’s current head of public relations (and Truly’s daughter), who told us, “During that period he received more calls than ever for new business. He loved marketing and he loved old cars, so he got an idea.” And what an idea that was.

From an idea to a marketing classic

Truly started acquiring cars and painting his name on the side. (In the late 50s these would have simply been used cars–who knew they’d become classics?) Then he began parking them at prominent intersections throughout town; in fact, they’re now known as “corner cars.”

The landowners welcomed the classic cars to their site; the conversation piece drew in new customers for their own businesses, many of which were auto-related, such as body shops and car washes. Some of the cars are paired up with businesses that inadvertently create a happy coincidence. For example, a 1956 Pontiac—with its iconic jet-wing hood ornament—is parked in front of a Jet Wash car wash.

Due to the desert sand, this Pontiac looks like it could use a trip through the Jet Wash

Gradually the fleet expanded to more than 50 classic cars and continues to grow. At any one time you might run into a 1929 Nash Cabriolet or a 1934 Hudson and more, either parked around town or participating in various civic activities and car shows. The company gets the best response from chrome-filled cars of the 1950s and 1960s, like a 1950 Studebaker or the two-tone turquoise-and-white 1957 Nash Metropolitan.

Amazingly, all of the Truly Nolen cars are unlocked–what a great photo op!

People really like the cars with prominent tail fins that take them back to a 1950s malt shoppe.

Truly’s personal 1957 red-and-white Chevy Bel Air—his daily driver—is a valued artifact and kept at the company lot.  Senner recalls, “The first time I took it out for a drive was to a Starbucks. When I got back in the car I realized there were no cup holders!”

Sitting in Truly Nolen’s favorite car-truly a treat (even though there are no cup holders!)

“Mouse Cars”: the new classic

In 1961 the company started turning Volkswagen Beetles (no coincidence that an exterminating company used a car named after a bug) into “mouse cars,” complete with mouse ears on top and a tail in the rear. (A 1974 VW “mouse car” is one of the classics parked around town.) The next logical step? The “Mouselimo:” a stretch Beetle that made it into the Guinness World Records as the longest VW Beetle. As it’s an unusual car to stretch, there are only three in the world.

Vintage car lovers in Tucson can go on a cool scavenger hunt by driving around town seeking out these shiny classics parked on their prominent perches. While Truly Nolen passed away in 2017 at the age of 89, his legacy lives on with the corner cars.

PRO TIP: To see additional classic cars parked outside the Truly Nolen offices in Arizona, drive by 3636 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716 or attend one of their car shows.

Bonus sightings: Classic cars in the Truly Nolen spirit

In a sort of homage to the Truly Nolen marketing model, other companies in Tucson also park classic cars out front with the company name on them. A first-generation Mustang painted with a Mexican flag is parked in front of the legendary Sonoran hot dog restaurant El Guero Canelo, while a 1937 Hudson Terraplane is parked outside Buck’s Automotive Repair. When asked if the latter still runs, the owner replies, “Every day. Everything still works, even the original radio.”  The car is a favorite find for kids who are playing Pokémon Go. 

When it comes to marketing exterminating services, Truly Nolen definitely built a better mouse trap and created a unique feature of Tucson that everyone can still, well, truly enjoy.


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There’s something about Arizona’s clear blue skies and wide open spaces that make it perfect for a road trip. But what are the best road trips in Arizona? That really depends on you, and your own personal interests. We’ve driven all over the state–from corner to corner–and have put together 11 different road trips for you to try.

Some of these Arizona road trips are thematic, others are based on geographic areas. Most can be done in 2-3 days, which allows for plenty of time to visit the sights without simply stopping for a photo op. (Of course, you might want to linger for a few days at some magnificent parks and National Monuments!) Any of these Arizona road trip itineraries can be mixed and matched with another (or 2 . . . or 3!), so you can put together your own personalized best road trip in Arizona!

NOTE: Some National Park, State Park, and Navajo Nation sights may be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check prior to visiting.

Road trip in Arizona-Old station wagon with luggage on roof driving in front of Arizona scenery
Photo courtesy Arizona Tourism

Arizona Route 66 Road Trip

For many, driving along old Route 66 would be the best road trip in Arizona. It’s a mixture of the old west with plenty of mid-century kitsch . . . and even a couple of abandoned old sites just withering in the Arizona sun. Old Route 66 parallels (and in some cases overlaps) Interstate 40 across the state, so the route is pretty straightforward.

map of route 66 road trip route in Arizona
Map of Route 66 Arizona road trip

Stops along the way include Petrified Forest National Park, as well as the cool small towns such as Flagstaff, Willams and Winslow (yep, the town from the Eagles’ song Take it Easy!). See more in our Route 66 in Arizona post.

  • Highlights: Petrified Forest National Park, Old Route 66 towns
  • Total Miles: About 260
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Grand Canyon, North Central, Northeast/Four Corners
  • Where to stay: Any of these retro hotels and motels on Route 66
Two 1950s classic cars parked in front of the Wigwam motel

Arizona Classic Cars Road Trip

Anyone who loves classic cars will love Arizona: the whole state is a virtual outdoor car museum! The dry, sunny climate is perfect for old cars, and there are plenty of places in the state where you’ll be able to see them out there sunning themselves. If you love seeing classic cars in all forms, then this is one of the perfect road trips in Arizona for you.

map of Arizona classic car road trip route
Map of a classic car road trip in Arizona

This road trip through Arizona takes you along Route 66, then turns south, almost to the Mexican border. Spend a day in Tucson, where a unique mid-century marketing idea placed over 50 classic cars around town. Finish your journey in the Arizona small town of Bisbee; a street parked with old cars (and a really cool old bus!) looks like “the land that time forgot.”

  • Highlights: Route 66, Cottonwood, Tucson, Bisbee
  • Total Miles: About 600
  • Days: 4-5
  • Connect with these itineraries: Any other road trip on this list–you’ll be all over the state!
  • Where to stay: Holbrook, Cottonwood, Tucson, Bisbee


Northwestern Arizona Road Trip: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is not just a magnificent destination on its own, it also makes a great anchor for road trips in Arizona. Begin (or end) this Arizona Journey at Las Vegas, just a short drive to Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel. Then make your way down to the town of Kingman, which will put you smack-dab in “Route 66” country. Be sure to check out the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum, and the Arizona Route 66 Museum while you’re there.

map of las vegas to grand canyon road trip route
Map of the Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Arizona road trip

Continue making your way east along Old Route 66–this stretch through Peach Springs and Seligman is said to be the inspiration for the fictitious town of “Radiator Springs” in the Disney movie Cars. Spend some time enjoying the Victorian and mid-century ambiance of Williams before heading north to Grand Canyon National Park.

  • Highlights: Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Old Route 66 towns
  • Total Miles: 297
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Flagstaff & North Central AZ, Sedona Loop
  • Where to stay: Kingman, Williams, Tusayan (Grand Canyon Gate)

PRO TIP: If you’d like to avoid the crowds, consider a Grand Canyon November road trip.


North Central Arizona Road Trip: To the North Rim

This Arizona road trip passes through some well-known sites, but then veers off onto the road-less-taken. Begin at the charming town of Flagstaff, with its terrific downtown full of brewpubs and coffee shops. Explore the ancient indigenous dwellings at nearby Walnut Canyon and Waupatki National Monuments, then check out the geologic wonder of Sunset Crater National Monument.

map of north central arizona and grand canyon north rim road trip route
Map of the North Central Arizona road trip that visits the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Head north (be sure to stop at the Cameron Trading Post for some Native American Frybread!) toward the town of Page. From here you can take an excursion to the famous Horseshoe Bend, or go boating on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Head west, skirting the magnificent Vermillion Cliffs (or off-roading, if you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle) on your way to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Continue on toward Utah and Nevada, stopping to see the historic homestead at Pipe Spring National Monument, which still has a working farm.

  • Highlights: Flagstaff, Horseshoe Bend, North Rim of the Grand Canyon
  • Total Miles: 390
  • Days: 3-4
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon and Northwest AZ, Sedona & Central AZ, Four Corners and Northeast AZ
  • Where to stay: Flagstaff, Page, Fredonia/Kanab (near North Rim)
native american frybread taco, topped with meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions

Navajo Country: 4 Corners & Monument Valley Road Trip

This itinerary combines Native American history and culture with some wide-open spaces and some world-class geography geekiness! From Flagstaff, head northeast through the Navajo Nation. Be sure to stop into the Burger King in Kayenta, Arizona . . . not just for a Whopper; this is also the site of a museum commemorating the Navajo “Code Talkers” from World War II. Make your way to Monument Valley, home to incredible rock formations (and a whole passel of John Wayne movies!). From here, geography geeks (like us!) must make the short detour to Four Corners Monument–the only place in American where you can stand in 4 states at once!

map of 4 corners and monument valley road trip route
Map of the 4 Corners & Monument Valley Arizona road trip

As road trips in Arizona go, this one really delves into Native American sites. From Monument Valley, head south through the more of the Navajo Nation. Visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument to see the site of 5,000(!) years of civilization. Stop into the historic Hubbell Trading Post, which has been selling the work of Native American artisans for nearly 150 years. Continue southward to connect up with old Route 66 near Petrified Forest National Park.

Purple heart surrounded by turqouise stones
  • Highlights: Navajo heritage sites, Monument Valley scenery, Four Corners
  • Total Miles: 488
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon & Northwest AZ, North Central to North Rim, Mogollon Rim & Eastern AZ
  • Where to stay: Kayenta, Monument Valley, Chinle

PRO TIP: The Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, the State of Arizona does NOT; be sure to plan your schedule accordingly!


London Calling: Western Az & the Colorado River Road Trip

This is one of the lesser-known road trips in Arizona, but those seeking a to see a different side of the state will be well-rewarded. Head west from Phoenix to the small community of Quartzite, popular with RVers and van-dwellers, made famous in the recent Oscar-winning film Nomadland. From here, head northward, coming alongside the Colorado River. Get in some “beach time” (and camping if you like) along the Colorado at Cattail Cove and Lake Havasu State Parks. Be sure to visit the original London Bridge, which now proudly links the city of Lake Havasu with an island in the Colorado River.

map of western AZ and Colorado river road trip map
Map of the west central Arizona road trip-see the original London Bridge!

This Arizona road trip continues northeast to Kingman, which will intersect with Route 66. Spend some time exploring the museums and memorabilia along Old Route 66 (see the Route 66 itinerary, above). Finally, head back toward Phoenix, stopping in at Wickenburg, an old west town that’s home to several dude ranches and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate.

  • Highlights: London Bridge, Colorado River, Route 66, the town of Wickenburg
  • Total Miles: 392
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon & Northwest AZ, Sedona & Central AZ, Yuma & Southwestern AZ
  • Where to stay: Lake Havasu City, Kingman, Wickenburg

Red Rocks & Red Wine: Sedona & North Central Arizona Road Trip

This one of those road trips in Arizona that offers a little bit of everything: history, ancient native dwellings, stunning scenery and wonderful small towns. Head north out of Phoenix, stopping at Camp Verde to learn some local history at Fort Verde Historic Park before moving on to Montezuma Castle National Monument (and adjacent Montezuma Well) to see some ancient cliff dwellings. Pick up a map of local hiking trails at the Red Rock Visitor Center outside Sedona. Following a trek through Sedona’s jaw-dropping scenery, browse for crystals & new age goodies in the many shops lining route 89A, or explore the many other ways to enjoy Sedona in the Fall.

map of sedona and north central arizona road trip route
Map of a central Arizona road trip to see charming towns & Sedona’s famous red rocks

Continue on to explore the charming shops, restaurants–and wine tasting rooms–of Old Town Cottonwood. Lovers of ancient culture will enjoy a side trip to the ruins of Tuzigoot National Monument in nearby Clarkdale. Stroll the streets of Jerome, an old mining town clinging to the side of a mountain, before taking the mountain pass (best done in daylight!) southwest to Prescott. While there, stroll the picturesque town square or attend the World’s Oldest Rodeo (really!). Continue the Western theme with a mosey on down to Wickenburg (see the “London Calling” road trip itinerary above).

  • Highlights: Stunning red rock scenery & hiking, great small towns, Verde Valley wine tasting
  • Total Miles: 245
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, North Central AZ, Western AZ/Colorado River, Southwestern AZ
  • Where to stay: Sedona, Jerome/Cottonwood, Prescott or Wickenburg

Life on the Edge: East Central Arizona & the Mogollon Rim Road Trip

Those craving a little greenery when planning road trips in Arizona should head to the eastern part of the state. Here, the largest ponderosa pine forest in the US sits along the Mogollon Rim, a giant escarpment. At 8,000 feet, the climate is refreshingly cool in summer (and snowy in winter!). Begin by heading east from Phoenix to the town of Globe, with it’s charming courthouse. Explore the Besh Ba Gowah archeological ruins of the ancient Salado people, then head north to Tonto National Monument to see Salado cliff dwellings.

map of east central arizona and mogollon rim road trip route
Map of the east central Arizona road trip amid the state’s greenery

Continue on to Payson, the central point for much of the outdoor activity located amidst the Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. From Payson, drive east along the Mogollon Rim itself as you catch glimpses of magnificent valley views 2,000 feet below. Stop by the Mogollon Rim Visitor Center, which provides interpretive exhibits and a photo op. Emerge from the forest and continue northeast to the Petrified Forest National Park and its Rainbow Forest Museum, which shows the type of “critters” used to live nearby. (Spoiler alert: they were BIGGG!)

  • Highlights: Ponderosa pine forest with views, hiking, camping, fishing, ancient indigenous dwellings
  • Total Miles: 285
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Navajo Country & NE Arizona, North Central Arizona
  • Where to stay: Globe, Payson, Holbrook
Horton creek in central Arizona with water lily greens in foreground and small waterfall in background-near Payson

3:10 to Yuma: Southwestern Arizona Road Trip

On this road trip in Arizona head west from Phoenix via to explore some of the state’s rugged southwest terrain. Rockhounds will love collecting quartz at Crystal Hill in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Continue to the most southwestern corner of the state, to explore the many sights in the historic border town of Yuma, including its old Territorial Prison.

map of southwest arizona road trip route
Map of the southwestern Arizona road trip

Head back eastward, turning south toward Ajo, a great stopover when visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where you can hike to the abandoned Victoria Mine amid majestic Organ Pipe cactus. Continue eastward and drive up Kitt Peak for a tour of the National Observatory, which will give you a new appreciation for those starry Arizona skies, before you head onward to Tucson.

  • Highlights: Crystal collecting, historic Yuma, Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Kitt Peak Observatory
  • Total Miles: 576
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Western AZ & Colorado River, South Central Arizona
  • Where to stay: Yuma, Ajo

South Central Arizona Road Trip: History, Art & Underground Wonders

Tucson makes a great starting point for many road trips in Arizona, especially those in the southern part of the state. After feasting on plenty of Sonoran Hot Dogs in Tucson, take a cooling stroll underground viewing the wonders at Kartchner Caverns State Park. Loop back south and west, stopping to sip some of the recent vintages at one of the 17(!) wineries in the Sonoita/Elgin region. Continue south to the funky little village of Patagonia, perhaps spending a few days at the Circle Z, Arizona’s oldest continually operating guest ranch.

map of south central arizona road trip route
Map of the south central Arizona road trip

From here, it’s just a few miles to the town of Nogales, which straddles the Mexican border. It’s fun to park your car on the Arizona side and walk across the border to the Mexican side of Nogales. Browse the streets for Mexican wares, perhaps stopping for lunch at Leo’s Cafe. Turn northward, and allow plenty of time to explore the multiple exhibits at Tumacocori National Historical Park. From here it’s just a short jaunt northward to the artsy community of Tubac (pottery, anyone?). Finish this road trip in Arizona by touring another underground wonder–this one of the man-made variety: the Titan Missile Museum.

  • Highlights: Underground caverns, Mexican border town, wineries
  • Total Miles: 218
  • Days: 2-3 (longer if you stay at Circle Z)
  • Connect with these itineraries: Southeast Arizona, Classic Car Road Trip, Southwestern Arizona
  • Where to stay: Benson, Patagonia, Tubac
Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

Southeast Arizona Road Trip: Old West Immersion

Howdy, pardner! Feel like seeing a bit of the Old West? Then this might just be your favorite of road trips in Arizona. The southeastern part of the state is home to the town of Tombstone–home of the famous “Shootout at the OK Corral.” From there you head south to Bisbee, and Douglas, which are old mining towns that are now cool and funky in a retro-sort of way.

map of SE arizona road trip route
Map of a southeastern Arizona road trip

Round this Arizona road trip by visiting two Arizona national parks and monuments: Chiracahua and Fort Bowie. At Chiracahua you’ll see stunning ancient rock formations, whereas at Fort Bowie you’ll learn of the stunning (and often grim) clash between the native Chiracahua Apache and the U.S. Army. If you’re into the history of the old west, these destinations are a must-do on a road trip in Arizona.

PRO TIP: Southeastern Arizona is apple country. If visiting in the fall, be sure to explore ways to enjoy Apples in Arizona!

  • Highlights: The towns of Tombstone & Bisbee, Fort Bowie National Historic Site.
  • Total Miles: About 200
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Classic Car road trip, Tucson & South of the Border
  • Where to stay: Tombstone/Bisbee, Willcox
bizarre rock "needles" at chiricahua national monument

There you have it: 11 different road trips in Arizona. They’re like pieces of a puzzle–mix and match ’em up to make up YOUR perfect road trip in Arizona! Where will YOU go???

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COMPLETE LIST OF ARIZONA ROAD TRIPS

  1. Arizona Route 66 Road Trip
  2. Arizona Classic Cars Road Trip
  3. Northwestern Arizona: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Road Trip
  4. North Central Arizona Road Trip: To the North Rim
  5. Navajo Country: Four Corners & Monument Valley Road Trip
  6. London Calling: West central Arizona & the Colorado River Road Trip
  7. Red Rocks & Red Wine: Sedona & North Central Arizona Road Trip
  8. Life on the Edge: East Central Arizona & the Mogollon Rim Road Trip
  9. 3:10 to Yuma: Southwestern Arizona Road Trip
  10. South Central Arizona Road Trip: History, Art & Underground Wonders
  11. Old West Immersion: Southeastern Arizona Road Trip

Alice Cooper is an Arizona Classic. The Rock-and-Roll Hall-of-Famer has achieved legendary status for his many hits like School’s Out and No More Mr. Nice Guy. He still tours for six months out of the year, with performances that are part vaudeville, part Broadway, and 100% musical thunder. In keeping with his macabre on-stage persona, he slides into a guillotine for the highlight of the show. Shocking yes, but all done with a sly wink at the audience.

Off-stage, Alice Cooper in Arizona is a reflective family man with many interests, including golf and classic cars. He is especially proud of his foundation, Solid Rock, that helps teens explore and develop their artistic talents in his hometown of Phoenix Arizona.

Note: The band was forced to cancel their 2020 tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic; check the official Alice Cooper website for the latest on 2021 tours.

Alice Cooper on stage Christmas Pudding concert
Photo credit: C. Elliott Photography

When I was a kid I was a big fan of the original Alice Cooper group and later on, Alice Cooper as a solo artist. I recently learned that Alice collects classic cars, which I just happen to write about. Our paths crossed in his hometown of Phoenix, where we conducted this interview. Alice was generous and gracious with his time and is provided an insight into Alice Cooper in Arizona.

Portions of the following interview originally appeared in the May 2019 of AAA World magazine. I’ve added a few questions that were cut from the original article for length.

Alice Cooper in Arizona with his Classic Cars

Alice Cooper in Arizona leaning on a black and gold 1966 Mustang fastback
Alice and his 1966 Shelby Hertz Mustang.

MM: How did you first get interested in cars?

Alice Cooper: I’m originally from Detroit so it’s in my DNA. I’d always sit in art class designing cars. In my teens I was at that perfect age, with all the Beach Boys songs about cars and driving. A car was your declaration of independence that also reflected who you were. You had to have something that was flashy and cool.

MM: What was your first car?

Cooper: It was a 1966 Ford Fairlane GT 390, yellow with a black stripe. The band was starting to make some money while I was in high school, so my share went into a drawer. After two years I had enough to buy it new. By this time my family had moved to Phoenix because of my asthma, so my friends and I would drive out into the desert and cut loose.

MM: You mentioned cars being in your DNA?

Cooper: My dad sold used cars on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Unfortunately for him, he was an honest used car salesman. He would point out if the odometer had been turned back or if the car had been in an accident, so he made no money at it. When that didn’t work out he ended up selling new Plymouths so we’d get a Plymouth Fury every year, watching as the tail fins grew larger and larger. By 1958 it was a battleship.

MM: What’s a car that you pined for in your youth that you now own?

Cooper:  The 1963 Studebaker Avanti. People hated how the car looked but I liked it because it’s got this asymmetrical body and was just the weirdest car. When it came out I was 15 and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life. According to an FBI agent that I later met, the one I own was being driven by a Soviet spy when that agent arrested him, so I’ll have to hold on to that one.

Pale blue 1964 Studebaker Avanti in a car museum
This is not Alice’s Avanti. The one here was on display at the Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, California. It’s unique styling gives an idea of Alice’s quirky taste in cars.

MM: What cars do you own now?

Cooper: Let’s see, the ’66 Hertz Mustang signed by Carroll Shelby, a 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, 2015 SRT with the shaker hood, 1963 Avanti, 2003 Mach One with a shaker hood and a 2017 Maserati convertible. That’s a great car. I’m normally an Aston-Martin guy but I drove the Aston-Martin and then I drove the Maserati and I really liked the Maserati. It’s got more power and it’s more comfortable. The Hertz runs as good as it looks, the guy who owned it was a mechanic.

Alice Cooper in Arizona standing in front of purple Dodge Challenger Hellcat
Alice’s 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat SRT comes with a separate red key to unlock 797 horsepower.

MM: What car would you like to add to the collection?

Cooper: I’m looking for a ’34 Ford with a coyote engine, a restomod.

PRO TIP: See our post on A Road Trip through Arizona for loads of examples of classic cars “in the wild.”

Alice Cooper on the road

MM: With a rigorous touring schedule, what are some tips for staying sane on the road?

Cooper: Travel with people you like to spend time with. For the band I pick musicians I like, they all get along, and they’re professionals. I play golf every morning; nine holes if there’s a concert or eighteen if it’s an off night. My wife Sheryl, to whom I’ve been married for 43 years, is a dancer in the show and travels with us, so I bring “home” with me.

MM: What’s an item you always travel with?

Cooper: It sounds crazy, but I always bring kung fu video tapes. I try to find obscure films like Five Golden Shaolins vs. The Army of Darkness. There are thousands of them out there. The dubbing is really bad, but the fight scenes are great, and they get me charged up for the show. Before I go on stage, I watch an hour of these.

I also throw knives to relax. It started about 10 years ago and since then I’ve become a ninja with my knives. There’s also a lot of knives and a real samurai sword in our show and the band members know when to avoid them. I tell them, ‘You’re gonna see the world, you’re gonna get paid, and you’re gonna get stitches.’ We used to do the knife fight from West Side Story in the show (sings the West Side Story riff) Da-DA-DA-da-da and we’d get into a fight. Sometimes someone would get nicked. It just wouldn’t be right to use a fake knife. The audience would hate it.

MM: You’re on the road for more than half the year. Where do you get the energy?

Cooper: In 9th grade my friend Dennis Dunaway [a co-founder of the band] talked me into going out for cross country. I didn’t know I was a distance runner until then and I ended up being a four-year letterman. That endurance still helps me. I also quit drinking 38 years ago and quit anything having to do with drugs. I never smoked cigarettes.

Once you get in front of an audience the adrenaline kicks in. It doesn’t matter if you have a migraine headache or the flu or a toothache. When the curtain goes up and the audience is there, all of that takes a back seat. You do the show and the adrenaline is making you feel pretty good. Of course, when the show is over that’s a different story.

I remember back when I was drinking, I was using a sword that was owned by Errol Flynn—I still use it in the show—and I’m waving it around and decide to stick it into the stage, but instead I stuck it right through my leg. It was spurting blood and the audience thought it was a trick that was part of the show, but the band knew it wasn’t. I pulled the sword out and there’s little puddles of blood all over the stage and honestly, no pain, nothing, until after the show, when I just collapsed. I poured whiskey on it because I figured that’s what James Bond would do.

The next day I could barely walk, but then the curtain goes up again and I’m out there like nothing happened. I’m flying, no problems at all. I still get that adrenaline burst because there are 10 or 15 thousand people out there who want Alice Cooper and I’m more than happy to give it to them. It’s nothing but fun.

Alice Cooper in Arizona: Inspiring young artists

MM: How did the Solid Rock Teen Center get started?

Cooper: While visiting a neighborhood ministry program on a full block in the heart of a gangland part of town I saw two sixteen-year-old kids doing a drug deal on the street. I thought to myself, ‘How does that kid not know he might be the best guitar player in Arizona, while the other kid might be the best drummer or the best artist?’ I thought we could run a program, just for teenagers, where they would come in and learn any instrument for free. Gang kids or the most rich kid in Paradise Valley, what do they have in common?

Music. You put them in a room together and they’re going to start talking about what music they listen to.

We started raising money for the foundation with the golf tournaments and the Christmas Pudding concert (Note: The annual fundraiser takes place in December in Phoenix. Past musical guests have included Slash, Ace Frehley, and Johnny Depp.)

Two girls working at a table in an art studio
Art studio at Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock foundation.

We’ve expanded from music performance to art and dance. We have a recording studio. We tell kids ‘Come in and discover your talent and let us help you nurture it.’ We get 100 kids a day here, from all walks of life, who come because they are going to get something out of it that could change their life. Maybe you get a kid who used to sell meth but now he’s playing guitar in a band. You don’t just change that kid, you change his family and you change his neighborhood. Nobody ever wins being in a gang. You either day or you’re in jail. Parents see this as a way out of that, and it works.

MM: What are some of the success stories?

Cooper: Our first in-house competition was won by Jordin Sparks. When she went on to win American Idol in 2007, she wore her Solid Rock bracelet the whole time.

MM: Do these kids know who you are?

Cooper: When they get here they might have heard Schools Out or they might have seen me in a movie so they go ‘Oh, that guy.’ But a lot of them have no idea who I am but they still come and that’s good because it doesn’t all depend on me, on who I am. It depends on the fact that they come because they are going to get something valuable out of spending time here. Then they wonder what’s the catch. There is none.

We use space in a church but we are not a church. We genuinely want to help them. And if they can’t play an instrument they can produce or they can get involved in our video program. These kids are so bright with technology. At 15-years-old they can do things that would take me 10 years to learn. Here they can learn how to run a recording studio and go to LA and know how to do it. So it’s vocational in a way too.

Alice Cooper on friends, golf, and nightmares

MM: You were very close friends with Glen Campbell. What was that like?

Cooper: Here’s the thing about Glen. To everyone he was just the Rhinestone Cowboy and he had his own TV variety show and he made nice records. But in the musician’s world, Glen was considered one of the top five guitar players in America and was considered the creme de la creme. Eddie Van Halen called me up one time and asked ‘Can you get me a guitar lesson with Glen?’ Every once in a while Glen would pick up his electric guitar and jump up on a stage with a blues band and they would go WHAT?!? He could sound like Mike Bloomfield. He could play anything.

MM: What would be your ultimate rock-and-roll golfing foursome?

Cooper: Dweezil Zappa, he can really play; Adrian Young, the drummer for No Doubt, he’s a scratch golfer who played in our tournament last year; Brandon Flowers from The Killers, I heard he was on a TV show challenging me to golf, and Willie Nelson, but he’s country.

MM: You’ve spent a career giving people nightmares. What scares you?

Cooper: A few years ago I was playing in Romania with my other group, The Hollywood Vampires, that includes Johnny Depp and [Aerosmith guitarist] Joe Perry. [Movie director] Tim Burton was with us. We had a day off, so they put on a special dinner for us at Dracula’s Castle. A guy dressed up like Vlad the Impaler told us all the scary stories of the old days. It was pretty crazy. It was definitely a place you wouldn’t want to spend the night.

Here’s a video of Alice Cooper in Arizona, revving up his Dodge Challenger Hellcat:

Here’s where to go for more information about Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock.