Old Pueblo Back Way
Highway 177 from Phoenix to Tucson through Winkelman and Oracle.
As the “backroad” to Tucson, this trip satisfies the choose-your-own-adventure crowd, with plenty of possible detours and add-ons. Get an early start from Phoenix to allow time to indulge your whims.
You’re confronted with your first choice of the day at the junction of Highways 60 and 177. Traveling south on 177 winds through old mining country before delivering you to the mouth of Aravaipa Canyon in Winkelman.
Should you continue east on 60, Globe greets you. Visit Besh-Ba-Gowah Museum, unearth a rare find at the Pickle Barrel Trading Post or munch on quiche at the Copper Hen. Follow Highway 77 past the Pinal Mountain-shrouded ghost town of Christmas to join back up with 177.
No matter which you choose, you’ll want to spend time in Winkelman delighting in the fall glory of Aravaipa Canyon. Under the butterscotch tops of cottonwood trees, bighorn sheep graze and creeks bubble by.
Continue south to see the Galiuro Mountains rise from a bed of golden grasslands. Thickets of oak, Ponderosa pines, maple trees and Douglas fir cloak the slopes, the tallest of which caps at 7,671 feet. Stop for a quick visit to the mining camps of Mammoth and Copper Creek.
Next up: Oracle, where the hardwood forests of the Santa Catalina Mountains meet the desert. Oracle is your overnight destination, too; good news because after sundown, you’re rewarded with the celestial sights of the city’s International Dark Sky.
In the morning, venture up the 25-mile, epic-view-strewn National Scenic Byway to the fir-filled summit of Mt. Lemmon, then get breakfast in Tucson.
163 miles from Downtown Phoenix
Drive east on US-60 out of Phoenix. Turn right and head south on SR-177. In Winkelman, pick up SR-77 and follow it south to Tucson.
Where to Stay
Century-old oak trees form an arbor of yellow-golds at El Rancho Robles ($97-$150/night) in Oracle. Opened in 1923, the ranch’s “rustic” accommodations – simple furnishings, no televisions – keep the focus on its majestic location at the base of the Santa Catalinas. 520-896-7651, elranchorobles.com