Named for the trees along the Verde River, Cottonwood provides a handy base for visiting the old mining town of Jerome, prehistoric ruins at Tuzigoot, wildlife areas, and the other attractions of the Verde Valley. The town is 14 miles northwest of Camp Verde, 17 miles southwest of Sedona, and 41 miles northeast across Mingus Mountain from Prescott.
Cottonwood has a split personality between the original "Old Town" and the strip development along the new section of AZ 89A that bypasses it. Old Town has the most personality, as you would expect, and is worth a visit; take Historic 89A from either Cottonwood or Clarkdale. Staff at the Cottonwood Information Center (928/634-9468, closed Sun.) in Old Town's 1929 jail will tell you about local history and services; a trail to the Verde River begins here.
Clarkdale, two miles northwest of Cottonwood, still has the look of a company town. From 1912 it housed officials and workers of the smelter that operated nearby. Although a lot of residents lost their jobs when the smelter shut down in 1952, others were glad to be rid of its heavy black smoke. You'll see the giant dome and other structures of the Phoenix Cement Company, which supplied the cement used in building Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.
Clemenceau Heritage Museum
The Verde Historical Society operates this museum (corner of Willard St. and Mingus Ave., 928/634-2868, www.clemenceaumuseum.org, 9 a.m.–noon Wed. and 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Fri.–Sun., donations welcome) in the 1923–24 Clemenceau School Building. The imaginative displays include a vintage classroom and permanent and rotating exhibits on local history. The model train room illustrates historic Verde Valley lines. Outside, you can see the restored 1921 Bank of Clemenceau. A gift shop sells books and souvenirs. The museum sponsors a "Crafts American Style" art show on the second Saturday of February and a "Zeke Taylor Bar-B-Que" on the second Saturday of November.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Visitors enjoy picnicking, camping, hiking, and fishing year-round at this park (928/634-5283) beside the Verde River. Giant cottonwoods shade the riverbanks and the three lagoons. Birders enjoy sightings year-round, especially along the Verde River Greenway Trail near the river and from a viewing platform at Tavasci Marsh, 1.5 miles northwest of the park. The Verde Valley Birding Festival (www.birdyverde.org) takes place in the park on the last weekend in April.
Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians enjoy the 40-mile trail network that extends out across neighboring national forest lands. Mountain bikers and hikers can make a seven-mile loop on Raptor Hill, Thumper, and Lime Kiln Trails, the latter once part of an old route between Sedona and Jerome. This intermediate ride, which connects with other trails, takes about 1.5 hours on a mountain bike or 3.5 hours on foot.
The river and lagoons harbor trout in winter in addition to year-round largemouth bass, catfish, and bluegill; fly fishermen use a riverside trail upstream from the River Day Use Area. The lower (east) lagoon has a dock and boat ramp; you can take a boat out in this and the middle lagoons, but without motors or sails. Fish-cleaning stations are nearby.
The campgrounds offer showers and both dry and hookup sites. Tenters have a loop just for them in the upper part of the North Campground; the sites have fine views of the Verde Valley, but no shade trees. Equestrians can arrange to camp with their horses (ask in advance). On spring and autumn weekends all sites may fill and it's best to arrive early; you can call to check availability, but family sites are first-come, first-served. Groups can reserve their own areas. Cabins may be available by late 2005. A dump station is just inside the park entrance. Day use costs $5/vehicle, campsites for tents or RVs run $12–$15 no hookups, $19–22 w/water and electric. From Main Street in Cottonwood, turn north on 10th Street and follow signs 0.9 mile.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Sinagua built and lived in this hilltop pueblo from about 1100 to 1400. Tuzigoot (TOO-zee-goot) stood two stories and contained about 77 ground-floor and perhaps 15 second-story rooms. At its peak in the late 1300s, the pueblo had perhaps 110 rooms and housed 200 people. The large size of the ruin may be the result of a drought in the 1200s, which forced many dry-land farmers to resettle at Tuzigoot and other villages near the Verde River. Most rooms lacked doorways—a ladder through a hatchway in the roof permitted entry. The original roofs, now gone, had pine and sycamore beams covered by willow branches and sealed with mud. While excavating the site in 1933–34, University of Arizona researchers found a wide variety of artifacts, including grave offerings for 408 burials.
The Apache name Tuzigoot originally referred to nearby Peck's Lake and meant Crooked Water; people liked the word because it had a nice ring to it, so they gave the name to this site. Take Broadway, the old road running between Cottonwood and Clarkdale, then turn east 1.3 miles on Tuzigoot Road to the ruins.
A visitor center (928/634-5564, www.nps.gov/tuzi, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, extended to 8 a.m.–7 p.m. daily Memorial Day to Labor Day, $3/person age 17 and up) next to the ruins displays some of the archaeological finds, including stone axes and tools, projectile points, pottery, turquoise and shell jewelry, and religious objects. Other exhibits illustrate what's known about Sinagua agriculture, weaving, building techniques, and burials. A room replica shows how a living area at Tuzigoot might have looked. Outside, a quarter-mile trail loops through the maze of ruins; it's paved but too steep for wheelchairs. You can climb up to a second-story lookout at the summit for a panorama.
The paved and level Tavasci Marsh Overlook Trail also begins just outside the visitor center and goes out to a viewpoint with good birding in 0.3 mile one way.
Verde Canyon Railroad
Travelers embark at the Clarkdale station for a leisurely journey upstream into the beautiful Verde River Canyon (300 N. Broadway, Clarkdale, AZ 86324, 928/639-0010 or 800/293-7245, www.verdecanyonrr.com). A guide narrates the history and points out some of the historic ranches, wildlife, and geologic features. Bald eagles can often be seen nesting in spring; golden eagles, hawks, and blue herons may be sighted, too. The ride lasts about four hours roundtrip, with turnaround at the historic railway buildings in Perkinsville. Vintage diesel engines pull comfortable, climate-controlled cars. If the weather's fine, you can stroll out to the open cars for the best panoramas. A cafe/grill at the station serves lunch, which you can have on the picnic tables outside or take on the train. A few snack items can be purchased on board; first-class includes hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. A small railroad museum (free) in the station exhibits historic photos and artifacts. A gift shop sells souvenirs. From Cottonwood, head north on Main Street, which becomes Broadway; if coming from Jerome, follow signs for Clarkdale and the railroad.
Tickets for coach class cost $54.95 adults, $49.95 seniors 65 and older, and $34.95 children 12 and under; first-class has plush, more spacious seating at $79.95 (all ages). Trains run 3–6 days a week depending on season—spring and autumn have the most departures. Special excursions include the Starlight Tours, which run on Saturday evenings near the full moon in the warmer months. Wheelchair users have access to the station and train.
Lower Sycamore Canyon
About four miles west of town, Parsons Trail #144 drops into the mouth of Sycamore Canyon and winds upstream past lush foliage and towering cottonwood trees to Parsons Spring, 3.7 miles one way with a 300-foot elevation change. Shorter hikes can be just as enjoyable as you admire the canyon walls, sparkling water, wildflowers, and birds. The trail makes six crossings of Sycamore Creek, which are easy except during spring runoff or after storms. You could also continue far up the canyon beyond the springs on a multi-day trip. Another possibility is to hike Packard Trail #66, which connects the west rim with the creek, meeting where the Parsons Trail first joins the canyon bottom. Note that no camping is allowed in the lower canyon—you must proceed beyond Parson Spring. Nearly the entire canyon lies within the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness.
From Cottonwood or Clarkdale, follow directions toward Tuzigoot National Monument across the Verde River, then turn left on Sycamore Canyon Road and follow it about nine miles past the abandoned mansion, once used by the Clark family, and the smokestack of the former Arizona Power Company. Most of this road is unpaved but possible for cars in dry weather.
On to Cottonwood Practicalities
On To Jerome