Arizona’s Verde Valley is comprised of the communities/towns of Sedona, Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, and the Yavapai-Apache Nation.
Sedona and Jerome had so much to see and do that I am writing separate blogs about them.
Sedona is the northernmost community of the Verde Valley, and it was our first destination after we arrived in Phoenix, as well as the first stop of our Verde Valley tour.
Check out my blogs about Sedona, Red Rock State Park, Red Rock Scenic Byway, and about the Amitabha Stupa & Peace Park in Sedona.
From Sedona, you will pass right through Clarkdale and Cottonwood to reach Jerome, but I am mentioning Jerome first since I already have a separate blog about it.
Jerome has been known as the “Wickedest Town in the West” since its heyday between the 1880s and 1930s. Learn more about Jerome here.
We drove into the town of Cottonwood along E. Mingus Avenue until we reached Main Street, then made a right toward Cottonwood’s downtown which is known as the Old Town Historic District.
Cottonwood is a small town of less than 11 square miles, but has the distinction of being called the Gateway to the Verde River.
This sign is over the entrance to the Old Town Jail Trail and community park with parking spaces right off Main Street. The relatively flat and accessible trail is about a mile and a half long.
It starts where the old jail used to be and winds through Cottonwood’s Riverfront Park along the water to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Alternately, you can split off and walk back into Old Town.
The Verde River is one of Arizona’s few federally designated Wild & Scenic Rivers. You can click here to read about the many conservation initiatives that work to care for the land, animals, and people of the Verde River region.
Other outdoor activities and destinations include Oak Creek Canyon, Dead Horse State Ranch, Verde River Greenway State Natural Area, the Verde River Paddle Trail, and the Prescott National Forest.
During this trip, I learned that people here pronounce the city of Prescott like “brisket” though I do not know why.
We found this vibrant mural on our way through town, but the sun was in the exact spot to make taking a good photo of it impossible.
Over the last decade or two, Verde Valley has been focusing on rebranding itself as the Heart of Arizona Wine Country. Cottonwood alone has added about a dozen wineries and taprooms.
This new brand of Cottonwood has been supported significantly by the work of Maynard James Keenan of TOOL and his family. We had just discovered that Keenan owns a music shop, barber shop, and wine cellar over in Jerome.
Even though I’m more of a black metal gal, I grew up hearing TOOL and they are still insanely popular, so it was a bit surreal.
Imagine my surprise when I found out he also owns a farm-to-table restaurant in Old Town Cottonwood called Merkin Vineyards & Osteria. That explains the rest of the name Caduceus Cellars (& Merkin Vineyards) we saw on the signs in Jerome.
Keenan’s family operates their own farms and vineyards, makes their own kitchen goods, and collaborates with other local producers to back the restaurant’s to menu.
He also owns an offshoot called Four Eight Wineworks that we saw in both Jerome and Cottonwood, and he is continuously developing new brands and tasting rooms in the Verde Valley region.
I feel like I am just going to keep stumbling blindly into places he owns for the rest of my life, now. I don’t even drink wine. Maybe I’ll start listening to TOOL instead of Batushka and Carcass, though. Maybe.
We found another mural down the road but that damn sun was hitting it at just the wrong angle again.
Bing’s Burger Station is a stylized diner in a former 40s gas station, complete with original pumps and vintage cars. It has been open since 2009 and is a local favourite hangout.
The owner was in the process of remodeling the left side of the building that leads to an outdoor seating area and patio.
He showed us around and talked about how the new patio will look out across two acres of antique cars, hot rods, vintage gas station and travel memorabilia, owned by the neighbouring business, Larry’s Antiques & Things.
There were so many antique cars and motorcycles around Old Town that it almost seemed like a movie set.
Cottonwood has more than thirty buildings still standing from the Prohibition Era and looks like it came straight out of a postcard.
We could not resist some of Bing’s homemade onion rings before walking over to Larry’s Antiques.
The sign said closed, and it was after 5 pm, but we later found out it is permanently closed now. I wonder how that will affect the situation with Bing’s new patio.
Other restaurants you should check out are Old Town Café, Crema, Three Kings Kasbar, and Fojol Bros Traveling Culinary Carnival.
Cottonwood also has a live “chuckwagon dinner show” called the Blazin’ M Ranch Wild West Adventure.
Arizona’s oldest craft distillery, Desert Diamond Distillery, is in Cottonwood. Belfry Brewery & Wood-Fired Grill across from Bing’s is another great watering hole in Old Town.
Next to Red Rooster Café, we found some lovely aquatic murals.
Cate Studio on Cactus Street has another one by the same artist.
TUZIGOOT NATIONAL MONUMENT
We left Cottonwood for our next stop, the Tuzigoot National Monument.
This giant 100+ room pueblo once inhabited by the Sinagua people overlooks Clarkdale, the Pecks Lake, and across the desert.
You can take guided tours through the federally guarded preserve and learn about the Sinagua people and their lifestyles.
We made our way through Clarkdale along the historic State Route 89A.
Clarkdale was originally created in 1912 as a housing site for miners of the defunct United Verde Copper Company just ten miles away in Jerome, and it still has that small camp village feel.
Clarkdale has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998 and the Clarkdale Historical Society & Museum holds a plethora of information about its early days as Arizona’s first planned development.
Today, Clarkdale is a confluence of ranching, retirement, and arts communities.
On Main Street we saw a lot of interesting places like Arizona Copper Art Museum, Violette’s Bakery, Smelter Town Brewery, and Four Eight Wineworks. Yep, another Keenan enterprise.
We also passed the station for Verde Canyon Railroad, a scenic train route with the longest running nature show in Arizona.
Yavapai-Apache Nation Reservation
We did not get to explore the much of Verde Valley south of Cottonwood, where the Yavapai-Apache Nation Reservation and Camp Verde are, but I will tell you what I know.
The Yavapai-Apache Nation is a sovereign tribe from Verde Valley and the 665-acre reservation covers parts of Clarkdale, Camp Verde, Middle Verde, and Rimrock.
Both tribes lived in the area and became a combined tribal nation in 1934.
Between the Yavapai-Apache Nation and Camp Verde is the Montezuma Castle National Monument, Lake Montezuma, and the Montezuma Well.
Camp Verde began as a US Army post in the mid-1860s, and the Army built a road connecting it to the city of Prescott.
The US forced the Native people out and by 1877, the camp was ready for mining and crude housing for miners.
Fort Verde Historic State Park, the George Hance House, the Camp Verde Historical Society Museum, the Verde Valley Archaeology Center, and Out of Africa Wildlife Park are all popular tourist attractions in Camp Verde.
The Verde Valley is one of the most fascinating places we have visited and I look forward to many returns.
In the area for a while? Follow us to Jerome, Desert Botanical Gardens, Amitabha Stupa Buddhist Peace Park, Sedona, Scottsdale, and Phoenix.
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