Not much to see along that route. You would do best to just get it over with, I-10 all the way (5 1/2 hours), or take the Phoenix bypass. At Buckeye, take 85 south to I-8, over to I-10, and down to Tucson (add 10 minutes, but no chance of getting stuck in Phoenix traffic).
The only other way, which would be about 6 hours, would be to take 86, just past Indio. That will take you by the Salton Sea. You would have to detour off 86 to actually see the sea. Then down to I-8 through Yuma, and to I-10 to Tucson.
If you do the second route MikePin suggested, you could take Hwy 111 down the eastern side of the Salton Sea, rather than 86 which goes down the western side.
Along the eastern side are a couple of odd and lesser visited places like Salvation Mountain and the Mud Volcanoes, which are just a few miles from each other. Here are pics of both.
From there you can head down thru Calipatria, and cut over and catch hwy 78 thru the Glamis Sand Dunes. Pics of that.
After Glamis continue east to Ogilby Road, turn right and head south to meet Interstate 8 west of Yuma.Edited: 01 July 2012, 19:32
CA 86 to I-8 is a little more interesting of a drive than I-10 to AZ 85. I'd always take that route to/from LA. CA 111 is a good suggestion. It's two-lane versus the divided 4-lane CA 86, and there are a number of spots where you can pull off and look at the sea and the area's other points of interest (mostly abandoned buildings). CA 78 over the dunes is another good suggestion. It's just a more interesting route than I-8, and you skip going through El Centro, which can be annoying.
To add one more variable to the mix, you can take AZ 85 from Gila Bend to AZ 86 to Tucson via Ajo. This will add around an hour because the mileage is more and the speed limit is less. But it's an interesting drive.
Lookig at the variuos suggestions on Google maps. CA111 missing El Centro says 7hrs .. would that be right?
Not to confuse 111 from Brawley to I8 to 111 through Coachella Valley. That last one is timeconsuming with many traffic lights. Taking 111 south from Brawley is good but you'll also hit traffic lights in Brawley but not as timeconsuming as El Centro.
Hwy 111 from Palm Springs to Indio can be a very slow drive. There are something like 100 stop lights between those cities. They are numbered, and the numbers are on a pink, white and blue sign at each intersection.(Gives you something to look at while waiting for the light to change!)
Beyond Indio, Hwy 111 is a two lane road, down the side of the Salton Sea.Watch your speed, as the highway patrol is definitely out there writing tickets.
You seem to be asking for the most scenic, not the fastest route to Tucson. My personal experience is that the Salton Sea area is a nightmare. In addition, Mike always recommends the Route 85, but I think it is one of the most dangerous roads in America. It is full of huge trucks sneaking from one Interstate to another. In addition, when you get to the end you will find yourself in Gila Bend...one of the most notorious speed traps in all America. Not worth it.
I suggest you pull off left after you cross the border at Brenda (the "Brenda Cutoff") and travel along US 60, which is the "Route 66" of the south. You will see the same kind of odd towns and interesting places to eat along the route. I especially recommend you stop at Salome and gas up. Go into the cafe and look up at the ceiling, look at the historic pictures on the wall, and then sit on the stools at the counter or at a table and get some great pie and coffee. Driving on you will find fantastic rock formations and wild cactus before you get to the VERY historic wild west town of Wickenburg. Great food, home-made ice cream, authentic buildings from the 1870's, and very friendly people. Take the route south to Phoenix and you can jump on the 101 that will take you to the I-10 and on to Tucson. This is the way to travel and actually see something other than a gas station and a Subway stand.Edited: 02 July 2012, 19:34
If you want a diversion from the interstates, the best suggestions were the routes along the Salton Sea. Don't bother driving to the "sea" itself; it smells horrible as it is a dying body of water. No idea why the area is a "nightmare." I have never encountered heavy traffic in that area.
I have driven the Hwy 85 link between I-10 and I-8 many times. It is intended as a means to bypass Phoenix, so the trucks are not "sneaking" anywhere. I do not find it full of huge trucks, nor do I consider it dangerous. It is a busy road as a lot of people and truckers do want to bypass Phoenix.
Hwy 60 veers considerably north, and your destination Tucson is south. Other than the small towns, Hwy 60 is not much more scenic than I-10.
I agree with Mike that the best way to travel this route is to get it over with, I-10 east to Hwy 85 south to I-8 east to I-10 east to Tucson
We can agree to disagree. Whether the huge load of semi trucks are sneaking or not, you will find youself either behind, in the middle of, or in between them. It is a scary experience at best. And the speed traps still exist. The only thing to recommend Gila Bend is the double burger at the local Dairy Queen.
For the small detour out of the way of I-10 to Route 60, I have to question ANY statement that they look even remotely the same and have to ask the poster if he has even been on the Route or just looked on the internet to give his advice.
I have to wonder how long it has been since you have driven the 85 / I-8 Phoenix bypass. It is virtually all 4 lane road, except for maybe 5 miles. So you are not at all likely to find yourself "either behind, in the middle of, or between" big trucks. I find driving through Phoenix to be much more congested and scary that the bypass.