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

Best Things to See and Do in Arizona in 2019

For fun and adventure consider this your road map of the best things and see and do in Arizona in 2019

From cactus-studded deserts to snow-covered peaks, from vibrant cities to charming towns, Arizona defies description.

To the unfamiliar, its name invokes visions of cowboys and rattlesnakes, a land not for the faint of heart. The stereotype ignores the lush pine forests that carpet Arizona’s mountains, and the rivers and streams so plentiful that they have nurtured residents from ancient civilizations to today’s suburbanites.

Consider this guide your treasure map of the best things to do and see in Arizona in 2019.

Hop aboard Verde Canyon Railroad

You’re part of history aboard this excursion train on century-old tracks. But it’s the scenery and wildlife that truly capture the imagination.

The train departs from Clarkdale on a 40-mile round trip through a remote wilderness. Loads of ore from Jerome mines were once hauled on this line.

Today visitors enjoy towering canyon walls and the cottonwood-draped Verde River. Stand outside on open-air viewing platforms watching bald and golden eagles circle overhead, and remind yourself you’re still in Arizona.

Browse for treasures at Hubbell Trading Post

Founded in 1876 by John Lorenzo Hubbell, this is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. The National Historic Site in Ganado is part museum, part art gallery and still a functioning trading post, virtually unchanged since its early days.

Wooden floors creak at every step. The store is crowded with goods and spicy with old aromas. Adjacent to the shop, a trader sits in the jewelry room, which also contains carvings, paintings, and clay work. In a third room, gorgeous hand-woven rugs are stacked in casual piles.

Details: Near mile marker 446 on State Route 264 in Ganado on the Navajo Reservation.

Look for spring wildflowers

Good years for spring wildflowers are sporadic. Super bloom years are rare indeed. Yet it doesn’t matter. There is no better reminder why we love Arizona than to spend a balmy February or March day in shorts hiking in fields of poppies, brittlebush, lupine, and their showy friends.

While the rest of the country is lashed by blizzards, nor’easters and ice storms, we revel in 70 degrees. Wildflowers are a Technicolor welcome mat the Sonoran Desert extends. It would be downright foolish not to accept the invitation.

Every year is different, of course, but reliable locations include Maricopa County Parks and Picacho Peak and Lost Dutchman state parks.

Walk the streets of Tombstone

Follow in the footsteps of a legendary cast of characters when you mosey down these wooden sidewalks. Horse-drawn stagecoaches still clip-clop along the street, steely-eyed men in black frock coats still march toward a date with destiny and it’s easy to forget what century it is.

At one end of Allen Street you can walk into the O.K. Corral to see the famous gunfight reenacted. At the other end, you can tour the Birdcage Theatre where more bodies fell and ghosts still linger.

In between, impervious to the hail of bullets and river of whiskey that once defined the town the world’s largest rose tree grows. It was planted in 1885 and blooms every spring. There has to be a moral there somewhere.

Climb 7,000 feet in 24 miles

Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains just 25 miles northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, you’re going to have a lot more fun than she did in 1881 when she made the first ascent by horse and on foot.

Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a near 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. The best news is since there’s only one paved road up this mountain, when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.