Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country

The Spanish word verde means “green,” so the name may seem like a misnomer for arid Arizona. Yet, in the central part of the state, approximately 90 miles north of Phoenix, lies Verde Valley with nearly 80 percent of its land set aside as national forest. The valley encompasses about 714 square miles of red rock formations and lush canyons fed by the Verde River.

In the Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the shadows of Mingus Mountain and in the heart of the Verde Valley, Cottonwood offers a distinctive historic district lined with shops and restaurants on its Main Street. History is alive in nearby Clarkdale whose homes and buildings still reflect its early copper smelting heritage. Four specialized museums focus on Native American cultures, international copper art, and local railroad and town history.

Wine tasting in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cornville/Page Springs offers wineries, tasting rooms, and a relaxed take on some of Arizona’s most pristine high-desert scenery. Camp Verde, located in the geographic center of Arizona, is rich in history and offers a variety of recreation and outdoor activities to experience and enjoy.

Looking toward Mingus Mountain and Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With so much to see and do, where do you start? Here are five attractions that are a sure thing. And, here’s a quick tip: The word “verde” is pronounced so that it rhymes with “birdie.”

Verde Canyon Railroad, Clarkdale

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Keep your eyes on the scenery as the engineer takes you on a four-hour, 40-mile round-trip excursion between two national forests, through a 680-foot tunnel, and past ancient ruins and towering red rock buttes.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gaze at the remote wilderness through large windows as you sit comfortably in climate-controlled passenger cars complete with rest rooms. Or choose to enjoy the open-air viewing car for fresh canyon air and an amazing 360-degree panorama.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located adjacent to and across the Verde River from the community of Cottonwood. Offering over 100 spacious sites, the campgrounds give access to the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. The campground consists of four loops that each have varying numbers of spots available for you to stay.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length. There are three lagoons within the park that offer great fishing and a place to watch the area aquatic wildlife and birds. Dead Horse Ranch is a great place to stay while you explore the natural beauty and rich history of this popular Arizona region.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Clarkdale

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sinagua people began building the limestone and sandstone hilltop pueblo around the year A.D. 1000. They expanded the settlement over the next 400 years to involve 110 rooms housing more than 200 people. Then, in the late 1300s, the inhabitants began to abandon the pueblo. By the time the first Europeans arrived, Tuzigoot had been empty for nearly 100 years. It’s believed the citizens joined what are now the modern Hopi and Zuni tribes or stayed nearby and became the ancestors of people now belonging to the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name of this incredible settlement really is a misnomer. Montezuma Castle was named in the 1860s by people who mistakenly thought the Aztec emperor was somehow affiliated with it. Truth is it was built by the Sinagua people who lived in it and then abandoned it before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle, built directly into the side of a cliff, rests 50 feet above the valley floor. Standing five stories tall, the castle has 20 rooms and covers 3,500 square feet.

Montezuma Well, Camp Verde

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And as they say, wait—there’s more. A second, detached part of the park, known as Montezuma Well, is about 11 miles northeast of Montezuma Castle and has its own extraordinary features. First, Montezuma Well is not actually a well. The water in it is continuously refreshed by subterranean springs in an enormous limestone sinkhole measuring 368 feet across.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An astounding 1.5 million gallons of water per day flow here. Even more amazing, the water fell as rain on the nearby Mogollon Rim between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago. For years, the water has been slowly seeping through the rock until it reaches an impenetrable layer of rock and then is forced back to the surface.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Hit the trail and search for your favorite birds in Arizona State Parks

Many Arizona state parks are considered world-class birding destinations, and, depending on migrations, hold literally hundreds of species to watch throughout the year.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends in some of Arizona State Park’s best birding locations and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

Species lists are available from each park and give birders a preview of what they might encounter on a trip. Simply decide which type of habitat you would like to explore and hit the road!

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

This great blue heron snags his dinner at Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Long celebrated as a world-class birding destination, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers varied opportunities for birders of all levels. The riparian zone trails flanking the Verde River give birders a chance to see nesting black hawks, numerous waterfowl species, plus the chance of seeing a majestic bald eagle in its native environment. Near the lagoons, great blue herons can often be seen snagging a fish lunch near the shore, and seasonally, the hummingbirds buzz around hurriedly in search of sweet nectar.

Picacho Peak State Park

Gambil quails are often seen in the desert parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Desert birds abound at Pichaco Peak State Park, enjoying the cooler weather among the saguaros as winter visitors. Hawks, falcons, quail, and hummingbirds are commonly seen at the park, and if you look closely, you’ll catch sight of woodpeckers, curve-billed thrashers, flycatchers, and warblers. Ask for a bird list at the park’s Visitor Center to guide you as you experience the incredible wildlife within the park.

Red Rock State Park

Cactus wren © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park trails offer a peek into the habitats of myriad bird species. The riparian area along Oak Creek offers a cool spot for wrens, swallows, hawks, and eagles. Some waterfowl species use this portion of the park seasonally. House finches and lesser Goldfinch offer a splash of color for visitors within the native vegetation.

Pair of house finches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park also features a feeding area for birds where you can sit with your binoculars or camera as birds come to eat and enjoy the park themselves. The Visitor Center roof is also a great place for spotting birds, and offers a gorgeous view of the park. 

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserv

Founded in the 1920s as a botanical garden, the 323 acres of Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park serve as a wildlife preserve. The main trail is 1.5 miles and begins at the Visitor Center. Allow yourself at least two hours as you will encounter numerous trails that branch off from the main trail.

The fast-running greater roadrunner is a common sight in the Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Arboretum’s irrigated gardens and protected grounds are a magnet for birds. With more than 250 species the Arboretum has been designated as an important bird area. Gambel’s quail, canyon wren, curved-billed thrashers, and black throated sparrows are among the most abundant species. Bird lists are available at the Visitor Center.

A nesting hummer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, broad-tailed, and broad-billed are among the species of hummingbirds that find nectar in the diversity of flowering plants.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Vermillion flycatcher © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Patagonia Lake State Park and the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Nature Area hosts vultures, owls, and roadrunners in sight of visitors daily, and that’s not all. Occasionally, birders will experience the Gould’s turkeys, white-faced ibis, warblers, vermillion flycatcher, and the elegant trogon! Waterfowl species abound here as well and can often be seen cruising around the lake or flying around looking for a place to land.

Catalina State Park

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Mourning dove at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Arizona State Parks offers an amazing variety of hiking trails that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of terrain.

Arizona has incredible surroundings waiting to be explored.

Arizona State Parks offers an amazing variety of hiking trails that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of terrain.

Pay attention and be observant of your surroundings. Watching your feet can prevent an unfortunate encounter with a rattlesnake or other poisonous wildlife.

Look no further than Sedona’s Red Rock country for one of the best hikes in Arizona. Eagle’s Nest Trail at Red Rock State Park (photo above) supplies panoramic views of the colorful rocks and craggy formations. After hiking through the lush vegetation surrounding Oak Creek, follow the trail up to views only previously imagined.

Eagle’s Nest trail is only one of several options available at Red Rock State Park. The park offers hikes for every skill level, whether you’re going for a relaxed stroll or looking to break a sweat. Numerous bird species call Red Rock State Park home, pick up a current bird ID list at the park store; you’ll be amazed by the number of species that use the park. Be sure to take tons of scenic photos while at this epic destination, the park lends itself very well to creative shots.

Just up the road at Slide Rock State Park, trails lead into Oak Creek Canyon (above photo) and along the creek itself. Best known for its iconic natural water slide, this scenic hiking destination is bound to leave a lasting impression while creating lifetime memories. Birds and wildlife are common along Oak Creek.

The forested mountain views are accentuated by the gentle rumble of Oak Creek and add to the overall experience of this beautifully unique destination. Look up in awe of the jagged formations created by a combination of time and weather as you amble through this small, yet extremely beautiful park in the pines.

Southeast of Sedona, in the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park (photo above) offers a multi-use trail system for visitors to enjoy.

Choose between the higher desert scenery of the Lime Kiln trail, which follows a historic route between Sedona and Cottonwood, or the more densely vegetated Verde River Greenway trail. The trails within the Verde River Valley and along the Verde River itself, give hikers the chance of experiencing many of the birds and wildlife that call Dead Horse Ranch home. Deer, javelina, raccoons, and otters hang out in the thick riverside vegetation year-round. 

Lost Dutchman State Park (photo above) always offers an incredible adventure, like the Full Moon Hike every month to see the starry night sky over the Superstition Mountains. Walk an easy loop around the mountain or wind through Siphon Draw to see all Lost Dutchman has to offer. There’s a path for every view, timeframe, and difficulty level, so pick a trail and take a hike.

Picacho Peak (photo above) and the classic beauty of true Sonoran Desert landscapes is available for your enjoyment. Dive in to the Hunter Trail for a strenuous two mile hike up the rocks, twisting up the iconic mountain, or take a stroll up Calloway Trail for a less strenuous hike to a scenic overlook as you appreciate the scenery of the Sonoran Desert. 

Catalina State Park (photo below) just outside of Tucson is a well-known, incredibly beautiful and diverse natural area that creates a feeling of remoteness, despite the close proximity to Tucson’s metropolitan center. Hike any of Catalina’s various trails for differing levels of difficulty, from short hikes to an all-day adventure, on foot, on a bike, or by horseback.

You never know what you’ll run into at Catalina, from gorgeous Mexican gold poppies, to desert tortoises, to various desert creepy crawlers. Catalina’s landscapes are always showing off and waiting to be explored.

Remember, when you’re enjoying Arizona’s hiking trails to bring plenty of water and snacks, and be aware of the temperature. Arizona hiking destinations offer views of the desert and experiences you won’t find anywhere else. All you need to do is pick a trail and lace up your shoes.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey