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Feel like a desert astronaut as you zip through rocks, time and space in this unexpected road trip to the Copper Corridor just north of Tucson.
What makes this route so “out of this world?” Like a constellation of stars, old roads connect historic mining towns to form a road map of Arizona history. Here you can check out Biosphere 2, a facility built to simulate some of earth’s ecosystems, before visiting the town of Globe to taste some of the best Mexican food in the state.
Offbeat destinations like Besh Ba Gowah, The World’s Smallest Museum and the Boyce Thompson Arboretum will teleport you to unique environments you wouldn’t think to find in the desert.
So what are ya’ll waiting for? Let’s blast off!
First stop! Fuel up with a Mexican breakfast in Oracle
If you follow Oracle Road straight up for about an hour, you’ll get to the small town of Oracle, Arizona. Take a right on American Avenue, the charming main drag, until you get to a boxy red brick building with mossy boulders out front. This is Casa Rivera’s Taco Express. The name makes it sound like a fast-food taqueria, but Casa Rivera’s is actually a homey Mexican restaurant with a first-rate breakfast menu. Our server recommended the chorizo and eggs with fluffier-than-usual flour tortillas, and boy was it rich.
You can also get a saucy plate of cheese enchiladas topped with two fried eggs. But beware, they give you a lotta food, so you’re probably gonna need to walk it off at your next destination …
If you go
Address: 1975 W. American Ave., Oracle
Hours: Sunday-Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; closed Saturday
Take a guided tour of the Biosphere 2!
With futuristic architecture inspired by the Mayan pyramids, the Biosphere 2 research facility, located just a mile outside of Oracle, looks it belongs in a science fiction film rather than nestled along the Catalina Mountains.
The complex was built and funded by a Texas billionaire in the 1980s and '90s who was interested in demonstrating what a self-sustaining space colony could look like. This included experiments where researchers actually tried to live inside the walls of this closed ecosystem.
Today, Biosphere 2 is owned by the University of Arizona and serves as a laboratory for climate research. And the best part is, you can visit! Biosphere offers a number of tours where you can explore a mini desert, rainforest, ocean, and the inner workings of the facility all under one roof. And this fall, Biosphere is offering a new beach tour where visitors can get an inside look at what’s being researched inside the world’s largest indoor living ocean.
If you go
Address: 32540 S Biosphere Rd, Oracle
Hours: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Gallop to Globe
After you’ve experienced Earth Pt. II, it’s time so see what the real world has to offer with a drive to Globe, Arizona. Just head north on Arizona Highway 77 past the Pinal Mountains and take a short left onto U.S. Highway 70.
Founded as a mining camp in the late 1800s, Globe is a charming town full of cool old buildings, an artsy downtown and funky vintage signs. Think Bisbee, but further north, and way less hyped.
Be sure to stop at the town’s archaeological park and museum Besh Ba Gowah, where visitors can walk inside the ruins of ancient village that was occupied by the Salado people nearly 800 years ago.
Afterwards, stop by the Pickle Barrel for some Southwestern-inspired finds. This 8,000 square foot warehouse has everything from upscale wood carvings to crazy lawn ornaments.
If you go
Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum
Address: 1324 S. Jesse Hayes Road, Globe
Hours: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Pickle Barrel Trading Post
Address: 404 S. Broad Street, Globe
Hours: Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Explore Globe’s rich Mexican food scene at this restaurant
For a town of only about 7,000 people, Globe sure does have a lot of Mexican restaurants. You can see the signs on the old buildings all throughout the city: El Ranchito, La Casita Cafe, Guayo’s El Rey and more. Turns out, the majority of these restaurants are owned by members of the same family. We visited Chalo’s Casa Reynoso, owned by second-generation Reynoso family members Chalo and Juanita, and run by their son Johnny.
The menu is similar to something you’d find down on South Fourth Avenue in Tucson, with the addition of fry bread tacos that are more common up here. Their specialty is green chile meat, which goes into the signature Gollo Burro along with beans and a runny fried egg. Don’t pass up the sopapillas for dessert.
If you go
Address: 902 E. Ash St., Globe
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sundays
Stop by this roadside oddity, World’s Smallest Museum
Head down the I-60 past the “Top of the World” and into the scenic town of Superior, bordered by brilliant rocky cliffs that jut up from the desert floor. You’ll know you’re at this kitschy tourist attraction when you see the massive yellow sign for the Buckboard Cafe. The World’s Smallest Museum in the parking lot was meant to draw in business for the cafe, even though the restaurant itself always seems to be closed.
The museum is basically a shed filled with knick-knacks like vintage food containers and a photo of Oprah from the ’70s, all behind some pretty dusty glass. Also, the website claims it has the world’s largest Apache tear. This whole thing shouldn’t take you more than five minutes to go through, but if you’re really that into it, more power to you!
If you go
Address: 1111 US-60, Superior
Hours: Times vary, but shoot for between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Take a stroll through Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Follow the I-60 west from Superior and you’ll soon get to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the oldest and largest botanical garden in Arizona. Unlike the Desert Museum or the Tucson Botanical Gardens, this state park is a hodgepodge of plants from all over the world. Not only does it have a cactus greenhouse with rare succulents, but it’s also home to one of the tallest eucalyptus trees in the United States, charmingly nicknamed Mr. Big. Nearby there’s also a faux movie set complete with an Australian farmhouse.
And you can’t leave without spotting the Dr. Seuss-esque boojum trees from Baja California. They’re so cool! The 323-acre preserve was created in the 1920s by mining magnate William Boyce Thompson, who got really into plants after he traveled to Russia during a famine. After you head out, make sure to stop by the towering Picket Post Mountain for a photo op to remember your trip!
If you go
Address: 37615 E. US Highway #60, Superior
Summer hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, last park entry at 2 p.m.