So crazy name for a park right? Well there is a story behind the name. Dead Horse Ranch State Park was the name of the ranch prior to becoming a state park. The MN family was looking to buy a ranch in AZ and toured several, one having a large dead horse on the side of the road. At the end of the tour, the kids were asked which one they liked best and they said the one with the dead horse! In 1973, when the AZ Park System acquired the land, the family made it a requirement for the name to stay with the park. There you have it! Now it makes sense.
The park is located in Cottonwood, AZ. A perfect location to explore central AZ red rock country and all of the amazingly unique features and history the area has to offer. Camping is spread out throughout the park, with 4 loops, another cabin loop and an overflow/group area. In my opinion the Red Tail Loop is the best loop for larger RV's. We lucked out with a fantastic back-in site with a mesahill right behind our site. The view from the top of that hill was amazing. You could see Mingus Mountain and the city of Cottonwood.
The park also has plenty of hiking trails and a couple lagoons for fishing. You can also launch canoes and kayaks in the lagoons and there is really nice walking trails around them as well, that are very popular. We took a walk around the lagoons one morning and it was quite busy with walkers and folks fishing. We saw several large catfish and bass but the folks fishing said they just weren't biting.
With soo much to see and do in the area, we made the most of our short stay here and lived like tourists. Our first full day we explored Cottonwood with its rich downtown history and had a delicious "brunch" at Crema. We love to seek out the local eateries. Rick went breakfast with a delicious spinach and roasted red pepper benedict and I went for the cuban with a side salad. The food did not disappoint and the ghostly history behind the location made for a fun time.
We then headed down the street to Arizona Stronghold Winery for a wine tasting. Unlike tastings we are used to, they have wine tasting groups for you to choose from. We chose two of the red wine tastings on the menu so we could share them since they were generous pours! We sat out on the courtyard and enjoyed the wine tasting. Our steward also gave us a bonus taste of one of their best (and most expensive) red wines. Several were very good and we decided on one of the cheaper bottles to take with us as a $38 bottle of wine really does not fit into our budget!
Needing to walk off our delicious food, we headed over to Tuzigoot National Monument. Every year we purchase the Annual National Park pass and for $80, we can get into all the national parks, monuments, forests, etc. We are definitely putting it to good use!
Tuzigoot is an ancient pueblo on a desert hilltop built by the Sinagua people around 1000 A.D. You can walk through the ruins and there is a nice visitor center that tells the story of the people who lived here with displays of artifacts they found in the ruins.
The next day we headed to Sedona. This trendy little town is known for its beautiful red rock vistas, which are everywhere you turn. Breathtaking views and unique rock formations are at every turn. We visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which was built high up in the red rocks overlooking Sedona by a vision of a local rancher and artist, Marguerite Brunswig Staude who was inspired by the Empire State Building. The church no longer holds weekly services because of the small space and even smaller parking area. The cross inside was absolutely beautiful and had a very earthy, lifelike look...sorry, best I can describe it! Behind the church is a rock formation that is said to look like Mary and the baby Jesus, which inspired Marguerite to choose this location to have the church built.
We also took a jeep tour out into the red rocks near Devils Bridge. It was beautiful to see the landscape from that vantage point and I was amazed by the absolute silence, except for an occasional bird. After the jeep tour and some lunch, we continued to drive around the area taking in the beauty from every angle. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, pictures just cannot do it justice!
We took a day to do the basic household chores like cleaning up a bit, groceries and laundry and explore the park.
The next day we were back in tourist mode, with a jam packed day as it was our last in the area and there were still 3 spots we wanted to explore. We started at Montezuma Well in the Verde Valley, just south of Sedona. This is a hidden National Monument gem that turned out to be pretty interesting. Another influence of the Sinagua people, this is an oasis in the desert. Along the wall of the well, you could see cliff dwellings. The well is fed by water that permeates the rock and a vertical wall of volcanic basalt under the well area acts like a dam and pushes the water up into the well at a steady rate of 15 million gallons a day! It then flows through a long, narrow cave into a subterranean waterway on the south side or the well. The walk down to this area led you to, what felt like, a whole other world with prehistoric looking trees and lush greenery hidden in this dry, desert area.
From the well we traveled about 10 miles south to Montezuma Castle, which had more impressive cliff dwellings on a larger scale. THe main dwelling is a 20 room, 5 story high rise in the side of a limestone cliff and is in really good shape considering it was built sometime between 1100 and 1300 A.D. Up until the early 50's, visitors could climb several ladders on the side of the cliff to tour the castle. Now the below diorama shows how life would be in the dwelling. The park also has a really nice visitor center with alot of artifacts discovered in the excavation of the site.
Our final stop of the day was to Fort Verde State Historic Park. This Indian Wars era fort was base for US Army scouts and soldiers from 1870's to 1890's. We took the self guided tour through Officers Row, which has restored buildings for officers quarters, and surgeons quarters. They also have an extensive museum and film that told the military history of the area. The ranger here was more than happy to spend time with us and give us the history of the fort and allow Rick to handle the guns and rifles of the time. She even dressed us up in period wear and took pictures of us.
Throughout the year, the fort hosts many different reenactments and events.
Our time in the Verde Valley went by quick, but we got to see alot of great things and the views never got old!
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