With all due respect to Ewan McGregor and his epic around-the-world motorcycle trip (“The Long Way Round” – one of my favorite travel series, ever), I had my own – albeit smaller-scale – experience with taking the scenic route this weekend.
Ever since a friend mentioned this past fall that he had taken “the back way” to Jerome from Prescott, Arizona, I had been itching to try it myself.
To be fair, there really isn’t an un-scenic route to get to the mountainside town of Jerome. Taking the usual route over Mingus Mountain on Highway 89A offers its share of spectacular mountainous terrain and hairpin curves.
Still, that IS the “usual route,” and I’ve done it dozens of times. On the other hand, I had never tried getting to Jerome on the longer and slightly round-about way, via Chino Valley and Perkinsville Road.
With plans to meet friends for a late lunch at Jerome’s popular Haunted Hamburger restaurant, I decided this Saturday was the day to give it a try. I was on mission to see new territory!
And from the time the pavement ended just east of Chino Valley, the route didn’t disappoint – from the herd of antelope that crossed the road right in front of me, to the stunning vistas of the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
About 20 miles in, the road came to a T, with left-hand traffic heading to Drake and Perkinsville, and right-hand traffic heading toward Jerome. While I intended to take the Jerome route, I decided to see what I would find in the other direction first. About a mile in, I came to the Perkinsville Bridge – a picturesque old structure that spans a surprisingly narrow stretch of the Verde River. I had been there years ago, in the summer, when the leafy green trees framed the bridge. No green trees this time, though – just a rusty, lonely old bridge.
Back on my planned route toward Jerome, Perkinsville Road began to climb into the mountains almost immediately, with long stretches of the road visible in the distance. Although I passed a few other slow-moving vehicles, the road felt downright deserted most of the time.
As I got closer to Jerome, I began to wonder nervously whether the recent snow would make the road impassable. No need to worry, though. Other than a few muddy stretches in the shady areas, the road was in relatively good condition.
Finally, after a narrow section fronted by rock walls, the scenery transitioned from the peaks and the red rocks of the north, to the snowy mountains and sweeping views of the Verde Valley – with the old mining town of Jerome just ahead.
Although I was lucky in having relatively clear skies and dry road surfaces, I realized early on that the drive is probably better done in the summer or fall. The high elevation, steep drop-offs, and no guardrails are probably not the best combination for a winter drive. Still, it turned out to be a cool afternoon excursion, and I made it to Jerome with plenty of time to spare.