Gila Bend is a small town (about 1,800 people) in Arizona that is sure to offer a unique experience, even if you just need to stop for the night. This quaint, retro desert area offers many national and historic sites to explore, as well as some out-of-this-world lodgings. Whether you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind day trip or a short getaway, Gila Bend is sure to surprise you.
If you guessed that this hotel is space-themed, then you guess right. In the lobby the decor and feel is Space-Age retro, though the rooms have been updated to be more modern. There’s even a corresponding family restaurant called Space Age Outer Limits that serves both American and Mexican food.
Best Western Space Age Lodge
Address: 401 E Pima, Gila Bend, AZ 85337 (see map)
Price: 143.99 USD
2. Check out some painted rock petroglyphs
This ancient archaeological site might make you think of UFOs and aliens. Inscriptions, symbols, and other etchings made by prehistoric people and other historic travelers cover the faces of these large rocks. There is a campground, but they don’t provide water, so bring everything you need; be sure to watch out for rattlesnakes and other poisonous creatures. Since it is an archaeological site, please be respectful by not climbing or marking the rocks.
Painted Rock Petroglyph Site
Address: Rocky Point Rd, Gila Bend, AZ
Price: 8 USD for overnight, or 2 USD for day use
Opening Hours: 9 am to 6 pm. Closed on public holidays.
Access: “Exit Interstate 8 at Painted Rock Dam Road (Exit 102) approximately 12.5 miles (20.1 km) west of Gila Bend. Travel north on Painted Rock Dam Road (paved) 10.7 miles (17.2 km) to Rocky Point Road (unpaved). Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is 0.6 miles (0.96 km) west of Painted Rock Dam Road on Rocky Point Road.” Access map.
Contact: Public Information Center: 602-417-9200; Lower Safford Field Office: 623-580-5500 (Office Hours: 7:30 am–4:15 pm, Monday-Friday)
Website: Painted Rock Petroglyph Site
3. Visit the Gila Bend Museum
The Gila Bend Museum focuses on the history of Gila Bend, and exhibits some artifacts such as pottery, rocks, and shells, from the ancient Hohokam civilization that lived near the Gila River, the history of the Oatman Massacre and the Butterfield Overland Trail stagecoach, and more. And, on the same street is the 9/11 Memorial Park, which was built in 2013.
Gila Bend Museum
Address: 644 W Pima St. in the Town Office Building
Opening Hours: 8:00 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday
4. Tour the Gatlin Archaeological Park
This site was once a major Hohokam trade route, and is a National Historic Landmark. Archaeologists William Walsay and Alfred Johnson excavated the site in 1959 under the order of the Army Corps of Engineers, and discovered 300 acres (121.4 hectares) of land, and some ancient Hohokam platform mounds. At this time, the site is closed for maintenance and repairs.
Gatlin Archaeological Park
Address: Stout, Gila Bend, AZ 85337
Website: Gatlin Archaeological Park
5. Explore the Sonoran Desert National Monument
The Sonoran Desert contains over 487,000 acres (~197,081 hectares) of mountains, green valleys, historic trails, wilderness, and the saguaro cactus forest. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities including hiking and horseback riding, camping and stargazing, and some good old fashioned sightseeing — be sure to bring your camera! It is recommended that you visit sometime in October to April, as temperatures in the summer can be extreme. For more information about permits and fees, directions, safety, camping, and other visitor information, please visit their website.
Sonoran Desert National Monument
Opening Hours: Year-round
Access: “From Phoenix to the southern part of the national monument, take I-10 south to I-8. Proceed west on I-8 to Exit 144/Vekol Road and turn south. For information about other access routes, contact BLM” or visit the website.
Website: Sonoran Desert National Monument
6. Walk the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
Around the time the Declaration of Independence was signed, Juan Bautista de Anza led over 200 colonists to the San Francisco Bay area to found the first non-native settlement. This historic trail is 1,200 miles (1,931 km) long, and there are three different routes that combine the trail’s history and culture. The Historic Trail allows visitors to experience Spanish Colonial historic sites, the Auto Route takes you close to the route the travelers took on their expedition, and the Anza Recreation Trail is for those who would like to walk, bike, hike, or take a horseback ride. Information for each site varies, so be sure to do your research before visiting.
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
Mailing Address: 333 Bush Street, Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94104
Price: Fees & Passes vary depending on the site
Opening Hours: Operating Hours & Seasons vary depending on the site
Access: Visit the website for maps
Contact: San Francisco administrative office: 415-623-2343
7. Take in the views from the Gillespie Dam Bridge
The highway Old U.S. 80 goes right over the Gila River, and of course to go over a river, you need a bridge. The Gillespie Dam Bridge is a historic bridge that links the towns of Gila Bend and Arlington, and was built as a Federal Aid Project in 1927. This bridge is on “both the Arizona State and National Register of Historic Places and is referred to in the Historic American Engineering Record as a significant technological accomplishment in Twentieth Century engineering design and construction,” complete with historical markers. Today, visitors like to stop on the bridge and take in the epic views. Over the river and through the desert, to grandmother’s house we go…
Gillespie Dam Bridge
Access: Old U.S. 80 Highway, south of the Gillespie Dam in Arlington, Arizona
8. Try your hand at shooting in the public shooting range
If you’d like to do some shooting, this shooting range is open to the public; all you need to do is ask the Town Office for access, and present a copy of your ID to the Town Office beforehand. It is unclear if guns are provided.
Gila Bend Public Shooting Range
Address: State Route 238 (Maricopa Road)
Opening Hours: 8:00 am to 4:00 pm daily
Access: Contact the Town Office anytime “Monday through Friday, between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm. If you plan to utilize the facility during the weekend (Saturday and Sunday), contact the Town Office before 4:00 pm on Friday.”
Website: Gila Bend Public Shooting Range
Just around the bend
Though the Space Age Lodge and the painted rock petroglyphs are its most notable attractions, Gila Bend’s parks and trails, deserts and iconic cacti, and other recreational activities only serve to add to its small town charm. If you find yourself around the bend, be sure to stop through and immerse yourself in all Gila Bend has to offer.
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