Ancient Ruins and Happy Hikes – Verde Valley, AZ

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With the Sonoran Desert in our rearview mirror, we settled in for a week in the Verde Valley at Cottonwood, midway between the cold high country and the desert floor of Arizona.  Several small towns (Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale and Cottonwood, to name a few) in the valley have a quaint character and richness in history.  The valley is named after the Verde River, which winds its way through those communities and provides all sorts of recreational opportunities including fishing, birding, wine tasting, history and outdoor activities.  This was our second visit here, and this time we focused on three historic sites containing ancient ruins.

Like others we’ve visited, these ruins gave us a rare glimpse into the lives of human beings who lived in the valley under far different circumstances than those we enjoy today.

Verde Valley

Verde Valley taken from Highway 17

Verde River

The Verde River winds through several valley communities

Ancient ruins can be found throughout Arizona, but some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings are here in Verde Valley.  These ruins were left by Hohokam and Sinaguan natives, followed by Apaches and Yavapai Tribes, and finally by early European settlers.  It’s believed that they flourished in the valley hundreds of years ago.  Three of these ancient ruins are in close enough proximity to each other that they can be visited in one day.

Tuzigoot National Monument

Just up the road from our campsite in Cottonwood, the town of Clarkdale holds remnants of a Sinaguan pueblo built 800 years ago, known as Tuzigoot (meaning “crooked water” in Apache).  Archaeologists have discovered the probable order in which Tuzigoot’s rooms were built, beginning as a small cluster lived in by some 50 people.  The Sinagua were peaceful village dwellers who arrived in the valley about 900 AD, with an eventual community of over 200 residing there until about 1400.

The village crowns the summit of a long ridge.  The remains were reconstructed in 1933

We noticed that there were no doors and learned that the inhabitants accessed rooms from a roof opening with a ladder to the floor

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Dating back to 1150, the “Castle A” dwellings hug a cliff 100′ above the ground and consist of an imposing five-story apartment-like building with about 45 rooms.  A little bit further along the cliff is another five story 20-room dwelling dating to between 1100 and 1300.  Historians believe Sinaguan farmers chose this spot due to the reliable water supply in nearby Beaver Creek.

A high rise condominium in ancient times

Close up of a remarkable dwelling – can you imagine yourself living here?

A diorama of how people may have lived in the dwellings

Ancient high rise condominium – balcony views for all!

While strolling along the trail we wondered what life may have been like here.  It must have taken enormous effort just to get water from the creek up to the cliff.  Imagine life with no electricity or running water, but what a view!

Whitebark Arizona Sycamores lined the cliff. The roof of the castle is still supported by sycamore beams, 700 years after construction

Early tourists were allowed to climb to the castle by way of ladders

What we were not prepared for was how busy this monument would be, even at opening time on a Tuesday morning!

Montezuma Well

We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the huge and clear waters at Montezuma Well, and its origins and history fascinated us.  It was only recently in 2011 that its origins were confirmed.  It is a naturally occurring spring in the middle of the desert, a result of the trickling of snowmelt water that came from the Mogollon Rim some 10,000 years ago.  It has percolated slowly down through hundreds of feet of rock, draining drop by drop through the path of least resistance all the way to the well.

Montezuma Well

1.5 million gallons of water emerge each day from an underground spring

When the water reached the valley, it was obstructed by a vertical wall of volcanic basalt that forced it to the surface.  As it was pushed upward it eroded an underground cavern which eventually collapsed and created the limestone sinkhole we saw.

See the cliff dwellings?

More dwellings along the waterline of the well and 1891 Ad for photos!

The water is replenished with 5.7 million liters each day.  The water level remains constant, as cracks on the side of the well allow it to flow through the outer wall.

Montezuma Well

A prehistoric canal is evidence of early farmers channeling water from the well to irrigate acres of produce

Actual prehistoric canal diverts water for agriculture

Throughout the valley, pueblos and villages can be seen on cliffs, in caves and along the river.  The land was farmed until about 1400, when all of the tribes vanished.  There have been various reasons postulated as to the reason for the mass exodus, but no one knows for sure.

Below are links to other ancient cliff dwellings in Arizona we have visited:

Cliff dwellers at Canyon de Chelley

Overhang cliff dwellers at Walnut Canyon

Hitting Trails

Our home base was a return to Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, where convenient access to good trails was one of the reasons we returned.  We tackled two hikes, the 8 mile Lime Kiln/Thumper Loop combination and the 8.4 mile Bones Trail Loop.  Both were good moderate treks with lots of scenic views.

The Red Tailed Hawk campground area – Betsy’s ‘hood for a week

Dead Horse Ranch

The lagoon at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

The town of Jerome can be seen up high on the mountain, with Clarkdale in the foothills

The red rocks of Sedona in the distance

The grasses were almost as tall as me!

We were very happy that we crossed paths with Hans and Lisa during our stay, and they invited us on a hike in Sedona. They know a thing or two about scenic hikes in Sedona, and we enjoyed our last hike with them here a couple of years ago.  Also along on this hike was their friend Linda from Portland, OR.  Off we went on an 8.5 mile loop around Cathedral Rock for a fun, scenic and enjoyable hike!

Hipline Trail

Lisa, Hans, Linda and Steve

Hike leaders, Hans and Steve

Short people need a push now and then!

Our lunch perch with a view

We had views of Cathedral Rock from every direction

Lots of company on this trail, and Linda enjoyed taking action shots

Bloggers and photographers – Here’s my pic of Linda taking a pic of Lisa taking a pic of our hike leaders!  The guys just shook their heads…

Thank you Linda for this snap, It was great meeting you!

Looking back down at the trail still warm from our passing

Happy photographer, Linda’s first time in Sedona

Spot the tour helicopter – they were frequent flyers

Arizona Sycamore forest

Just a slice of the red rock county of Sedona

Our thanks to Linda for this capture!



Next up:  A Tale of Two Train Tours


Whad’ya know, we’re in Mexico!

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Who knew we would make it to Mexico this winter?

Mexico Flag

The Mexican flag flies high here

For years we’ve wanted to drive Betsy south of the border, but it’s been mostly a dream since we haven’t been comfortable doing it on our own.  We recently discovered  that Winnebago Outdoor Adventures had organized a caravan to Puerto Penasco (here’s the 2016 schedule, you can go in 2017 even if you don’t own a Winnebago – for a slightly higher price). After sitting on a waiting list for a while we were offered an opportunity to join our first caravan!  We filled out the documentation and were ready to be part of a 37-RV convoy driving to the shoreline of the beautiful Sea of Cortez.

Puerto Penasco, Sonora

The route our caravan took

We re-arranged our previous reservations and made adjustments to accommodate the detour into Mexico.  Going with a group led by professionals made it easy to take our first drive across the border and deal with border crossings, campground reservations and excursions we could enjoy while in the area.

HIghway 85 S Ajo, Arizona

Cruising down HW-8 in Arizona

The adventure began in Gila Bend, AZ where we had an orientation and met our fellow adventurers.  The two event host couples had led this trip to Puerto Penasco for several years, and their experience with organizing the necessary passportsMexico liability insurance, vehicle registrations, CB radio gear and what not to bring into Mexico was invaluable.  Click here for the official border crossing requirements.

Lukeville, AZ

Lukeville, AZ – our port of entry

Bright and early the first morning we left Gila Bend and traveled highway 85-S for about 80 miles. We regrouped at the U.S./Mexican border crossing at Lukeville to stretch our legs and view the wall that separates Mexico and the U.S.A. here.

Wall in Mexico-USA border

A portion of the wall separating two countries

After a short break we queued up and waited for our turn to cross.  Eventually, Betsy welcomed a Mexican border police official aboard to check her out for compliance.

Lukeville Port of Entry

37 RV’s waiting in line to cross, fortunately we were #5 in line!

After only a couple of questions we were on our way.

Sonoyta, Mexico

In order for all of the rigs to catch up after the crossing and be together at our destination, we pulled over a few miles south of the border to wait for the rest of the group.  It must have been quite a sight for folks passing by!

Highway 8, Sonoyta, Mexico

We got us a convoy!

The next 64 miles to our final destination at Playa Bonita RV Resort was a non-event, as we passed through the Mexican side of the Sonoran Desert, with Organ Pipe Cactus dotting the landscape.

Sonoran Desert, Sonoyta Mexico

At the orientation we were reminded to be extra careful when driving in Mexico – be aware of the many topes (speed bumps); obey speed limits (even if the locals whiz by); and stop at all ALTO signs.

Winnebago Outdoor Adventures

Looking back at the caravan slowing down to negotiate a brutal railroad crossing

Puerto Penasco is declared a “free zone” to promote tourism, which means visitors are not required to obtain visas when visiting for short periods.

Puerto Penasco, Mexico

We’re almost there!

Playa Bonita RV Resort

Betsy taking her turn to enter the park

It took helpful volunteers over an hour to park 37 rigs at the resort, in a very organized manner.

Playa Bonita RV Park

Controlled chaos in the parking area

As soon as we settled in we immediately walked to the beach, dipped our feet into the water and jumped for joy that we were in Mexico and had made an unscheduled stop at the sea this winter.  Time to party and experience everything Mexico!

Playa Bonita, Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Playa Bonita RV Park alongside several condominiums

Playa Bonita, Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Estamos felices de estar aquí en Playa Bonita!


Next Up:  Lots to do at Puerto Penasco