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


Just doing this and that in Cottonwood, AZ

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I was grateful to Steve for organizing the three-day road trip for us to Canyon de Chelly and Walnut Canyon, AZ.  Not only did he take me to fascinating places, but the trip helped me in coping with my grief.  Like many other facets of our mobile lifestyle, returning after a major life event was challenging and interesting.  One part of that was reading every one of the comforting comments on our blog, and I thank you all for your thoughts.

After the road trip we mostly hung out at our home base at Dead Horse Ranch State Park (Steve’s review here).  Of course, there were many things to see and do in Cottonwood and the nearby cities of Jerome and Sedona.  Unfortunately I had a nagging cough and cold, plus jet lag that slowed me down a bit.

The upside was the gorgeous weather that allowed us to sit outside and be entertained by my favorite Arizona birds.  They came, they ate, they tussled, and then they scurried away. It was such a delight to watch and hear them again!

Great Road Runner

I caught this Road Runner in “non-running” mode

Gambels Quai

These male and female Gambel’s Quails seemed to strike a pose while foraging nearby

There was even one little guy doing an inspection of our coach:


A variety of activities can be enjoyed at this state park – fishing, horseback riding, hiking and bird watching.  Steve got me out of my chair to take a walk and get the blood flowing.  A sunny day with puffy clouds and chirping birds is enough to brighten anyone’s mood!  I felt my head cold clear up after walking around the park’s lagoon.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

During our walk, the erstwhile ghostly town of Jerome could clearly be seen high up on the side of Mingus Mountain.  It was beckoning us to go and pay a visit.


We saw that letter “J” on Mingus Mountain from our campsite

The town had changed little since our visit ten years ago during our flying days.  It’s been called “America’s Largest Ghost Town”, and is a tourist draw for its spookiness.

Our goal on this day was to check out a mexican restaurant that had been recommended for its food and margaritas, Vaqueros Grill and Cantina.  The moment we stepped in we were transported to a uniquely festive and colorful place:

Vaqueros Restaurant

We would say that the food was good but not great, and the margaritas were great but not good!  We enjoyed the meal and the view, and that margarita put my cough into sleep for a while.

Vaqueros Grill and Cantina

The atmosphere was fun, and the drinks rocked our world!


Finally, a dog I WASN’T afraid of…

On our last day at Cottonwood, we got a call from our friends Hans and Lisa who were camped nearby at Rancho Verde.  When these serious hikers invite us on a trek with them we try not to miss it (we enjoyed a great hike with them in Colorado), and we weren’t disappointed on this one either!  All of a sudden my malaise evaporated and I was really excited to see them again.


Apparently they had followed this trail twice in 2014 and called it The Best Hangover Ever, and now on their third trip they were sharing it with us and another couple.  I won’t repeat the details of this moderately-difficult 8.5 mile hike, but refer you to their second blog titled Hangover Hiking with friends.  We were introduced to a lovely creative couple, Lauren and Howard of the Nosh Bus.  Here are our pictures of this wonderful hike:

Hangover Trail

Yes Lisa, I’m right behind you!

Hangover Trail, Sedona

Lunch break at the saddle, bisecting two large red rock formations rising out of the canyon

Hang over trail, Sedona

The Hangover gang – Lauren, Howard, Hans, Lisa, myself and Steve – with a red rock backdrop

Hang over Trail

The section that gave the trail its name – rocks hang over the trail in spots



Hangover Trail Sedona

The trail winds down behind massive red rock formations rising out of the canyon

Hangover Trail

Hans, the leader of the pack gives us some information

This challenging opportunity to hike with Hans and Lisa was just the push I needed to get me back on the trails and more.


Next up:  Really Chillin’ in Prescott, AZ