In order to get to Rocky Point from almost anywhere in the US, you have to travel thru the towns of Gila Bend and Ajo, AZ. Most of the time you’re just trying to get to Mexico or trying to get home and don’t think about the two little towns that provide the only bathroom breaks and food along the way. (Why is not included here, because Why?)
However, these are two of my favorite towns in Southern Arizona, rich with history, art, and reminiscent of childhood road trips across the country. If you need a break from driving, or are hungry for more than a fast food meal on the road, these towns have unique sights and awesome local eateries. Maybe you’re lucky enough to live in Rocky Point, and these are great tourist stops for you north of the border.
I’ll start with Gila Bend. It has a Dinosaur, a Space Age Lodge, apparently the Worlds Greatest Cactus burger, and my favorite Italian restaurant of all time, the Little Italy – which was also visited by Prince Harry when he was training in Gila Bend. If you’re coming into Gila Bend from 85 South or 8 West, you are greeted by the Shell station Dinosaur. Continuing west down the main road, you come upon the Space Age Lodge, which has made several travel magazines for a must see stop in Arizona. It’s classic 1960’s roadside Americana and definitely worth a stop to eat and get a souvenir coffee mug. Gila Bend also some great local Mexican restaurants.
Only a few very scenic miles south of Gila Bend, is Ajo, where there is definitely more of a slower paced, old world charm that starts setting the stage for your trip across the border. Ajo is an old mining town. It has gorgeous Spanish architecture and quaint bungalow houses along the main road. There’s a historic town plaza where the train station used to bring travelers and supplies. The town plaza now hosts farmers markets, art shows, etc. Across from the plaza are two mission style churches. There is no fast food in Ajo, with the exception of a Pizza Hut, which still has an eat-in restaurant. There are no mega-chain stores in Ajo. If you’ve forgotten some necessity or need groceries you’ll have to stop at Olson’s IGA grocery store or one of the two “variety” stores in town. For those of you who grew up in the 1950’s to 1980’s, this is fabulously nostalgic. There are a few local restaurants along the main road, like Marcella’s and 100 Estrella. Practically, Ajo is your last (or first) somewhat economic stop for gas north of the border. This is also where you want to stop to purchase your Mexican auto insurance unless you bought it online before you left the house.
Leaving Ajo, you are in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, even if you don’t stop to hike or tour the area, you can appreciate the full glory of the Sonoran Desert, it’s truly breathtaking. Then just keep driving south…you’re almost to the International Border!