If you have enough time to avoid the I-10 freeway and follow a slower but more scenic older road, consider Hwy-79, which cuts off south from Apache Junction and US-60. The first stop is Florence, one of Arizona’s oldest towns, but now best known as the site of the state’s largest prison. Florence has a pleasant nontouristy Main Street of bars, general stores, and junk shops, parallel to and a half mile west of the highway. The penal history is documented in gruesome detail at the Pinal County Historical Museum (715 S. Main St., 520/868-4382, Sept.-July 15 Tues.-Sat. 11am-4pm, Sun. noon-4pm, donation), where an actual hangman’s noose and chairs from the retired gas chamber are displayed along with photos of people put to death.
West of Florence, some of the state’s largest and most perplexing prehistoric remains are preserved in the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (520/723-3172, daily, $5), off Hwy-287 midway between Florence and I-10. A small visitors center at the entrance gives some background on the Hohokam people, who built the four-story “big house” and the surrounding village, but no one knows what it was used for or why it was abandoned.