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Joshua Forest Parkway

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Arizona’s spectacular Joshua Forest Parkway begins its marvelous journey through the
northern reaches of the Sonoran desert about 70 miles northwest of Phoenix. It generally
follows U.S. Highway 93 from the town of Wickenburg toward the town of Wikieup, some 55
miles later. The scenic Joshua Forest Parkway is home to one of the largest members of the
lily family, the tall yucca known as the Joshua tree. Hundreds of them line the highway.
Named by the Mormons after the Biblical Joshua, the trees can reach more than 30 feet in
height and may live up to several hundred years, although most in Arizona are somewhat
shorter and younger. Many travelers, in their headlong dash to the slot machines and
gambling tables on this direct route to Las Vegas, Nevada, simply miss these magnificent
sights. The first half of the trip contains the majority of Joshua trees. In the second
half, the majestic saguaro cactus predominates. Tying the two together is a host of less
well-known members of the cacti and cholla families. The most prominent of these are the
prickly pear cactus and the teddy bear, staghorn and buckhorn cholla. Just prior to
entering the Old West town of Wickenburg, travelers will see the Nature Conservancy’s
Hassayampa River Preserve. A first stop here is most advisable. A visitors center, a cactus
orientation garden and several self-guided trails are available. Donations of $5 per person
are requested. For most of its 100-mile course through the desert, the Hassayampa, which
means “river that runs upsidedown,” flows only underground. Within the preserve, however,
its crystal-clear waters emerge, flowing above ground throughout the year. The stream side
is home to some of the desert’s most spectacular wildlife, some of which are endangered
species. On the opposite (north) side of Wickenburg are the remains of the Vulture gold
mine. About 40 percent of its gold ore still remains underground – and the mine reportedly
is up for sale! In 1863, Henry Heintzel Wickenburg discovered gold here and named his spot
the Vulture Mine. It eventually became one of the richest gold-producing mines in Arizona.
The government closed it down during World War II in order to mine for other much-needed
minerals for the war effort. Ranching and dude ranches took over as the economic backbone
of the area. The Desert Caballeros Western Museum, located in Wickenburg, features a
collection of Western art by Charles W. Russell, Frederic Remington, Thomas Moran, Albert
Bierstadt, George Catlin and Alan Houser, among others. Its Hays “Spirit of the Cowboy”
Collection is one of the largest and finest selections of early working-cowboy gear. Native
American art by the Anasazi, Pueblo, Hopi and Navajo is also featured. Period rooms offer a
glimpse into the turn-of-the-century Victorian home; the Early Arizona Street Scene
recreates commercial life in Arizona, circa 1915. Dioramas depict historic events that
shaped modern-day Wickenburg, rendered in meticulous miniature detail. There is good news
about the scenic byway for RV owners. Those who remember the twisty old twolane road, often
with narrow or nonexistent shoulders, will be glad to hear that those days are gone
forever. The state highway department’s effort to rehabilitate, upgrade and resurface the
road has been completed. A major attempt to blend the disturbed areas seamlessly back into
the desert also has been accomplished. Passing lanes, pull-offs, a major rest area and, in
places, upgrading to a four-lane divided highway have been added. This is a scenic byway
best traveled by motorhome during the spring and fall of the year. Air conditioning is
mandatory because temperatures in excess of 125 F are not unknown. Be sure to drink plenty
of fresh water during your journey. Dehydration is a serious medical condition that is
easily preventable. Don’t let it bite you!

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