Bob Woodall's home page

2004 Travelogue #33 "Montezuma"
Thousand Trails Park at Verde Valley
Cottonwood, AZ

9/9 After collecting our mail this morning in Cottonwood, we drove through nearby Dead Horse Ranch State Park. We were very impressed with the size of the pull-thoroughs; also the North Campground has 92 sites with a clear view of the Verde River Valley and the Greenway. The Park, rimmed by the Mogellon (MO-gee-own) Escarpment and mountains to the west would be a good placed to stay in the future.

The 180-mile-long Verde River is a major resource for the State of Arizona. There are few free flowing rivers in the desert; the Verde is one of them. The River creates an environment that sustains a large regional wildlife population and a lush riparian community. The riparian habitats are green ribbons of trees, shrubs and grasses along the riverbanks amidst the Fremont Cottonwoods and Gooding Willows. This Riparian Gallery Forest is one of five remaining stands in Arizona and one of twenty such stands in the world.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park and the Riparian Gallery Forest that runs through it, support some of the highest breeding bird densities of any North American habitat.

There is a large Del Webb Retirement Community in town called Cottonwood Ranch. It's very similar to other Del Webb Communities, like the one in Georgetown, TX. A big difference, however, is that here the yards are gravel and cacti not grass; no major upkeep like in Texas.

9/10 This morning we hiked to the upper rim of the Valley, near the entrance of the Thousand Trails Preserve. From there we could see as far as Camp Verde in one direction and the red rocks of Sedona in the other, plus three mountain ranges.

Returning from our hike, we packed for a day's outing, our first stop being Camp Verde. This is the oldest community in the Valley, established as a US Fort in 1865 to protect the settlers from Indian raids, and remaining active until 1891. At that time, the Post consisted of 22 buildings and 55 acres.

Today, the town of Camp Verde is a ranching and agriculture community for the Verde Valley Basin. We stopped at the hardware store on the outskirts of town, so I could browse. Peggy likes upscale and trendy shops, but I like hardware stores where the men folk go; these stores just say something about the area. I bought a hummingbird feeder. There are so many "hummers" in the Valley; just needed to hang one near the motorhome.

Five miles north of Camp Verde is the Montezuma Castle National Monument, described as America's most dramatic and best-preserved cliff dwelling. Montezuma Castle was the center of trade routes connecting the California coast and the plains of eastern New Mexico. Here the Mimbres might have passed as well as the Anasazi.

We did a brief tour of the Center's Museum, which described the lives of the Sinagua people. Early explorers named the dwellings, thinking the Aztec Indians from Mexico had built them, hence the name Montezuma Castle. From the Museum, we walked the Sycamore Trail leading to a five-story dwelling tucked into the side of a steep-walled canyon.

The Castle is a complex the Sinagua built in phases between the years of 1100 to 1300 AD. This five-story "high rise" apartment building had 20 rooms and possibly housed around 35 people. The Castle, built high in the sandstone cliffs, gave protection from the elements and with its southern exposure, the solar heat provided warmth in the cold months. The rooms had portals and viewing slots so they could look out over Beaver Creek and the Valley, giving them early notice of intruders. The structures were built of rocks from the riverbed, cemented with red mud.

As we walked the Sycamore Trial, we couldn't help but notice the magnificent sycamores growing in the Beaver Creek Valley. They were Arizona Sycamores; found only in Southwest New Mexico, Arizona and Northwest Mexico. Their white molting bark is unusual; it has large maple-like leaves and swinging "button balls", its seed balls. They can grow to a height of 80 feet, providing a wide shade canopy for the streams and ponds, cooling the water and slowing evaporation. These magnificent trees were the vigas that supported the ceilings in the Castle and are still doing their jobs after 700 years.

Leaving these impressive ruins, we returned to town to check out the food and activity at the local Indian Casino, which is close to I-17. These places amaze me; the glitz, the lights, and people nestled up to their slot machines, not even pulling handles anymore, just pushing buttons. Here we experience unexpected sights and sounds. One man had his walker next to his stool, another had his oxygen tank, and yet another was tethered to a cord attached to the slot machine, looked like a credit or debit card was stuck in the slot. There was also a small line getting tickets to the Kenny Rogers Show, due to arrive on September 20. When exiting the Casino, we followed a couple most upset with the Pit Boss who wouldn't let them back inside…another strange situation.

A few miles further down the road was the Montezuma Well, at an elevation of 3585 feet. This Well is a natural limestone sinkhole formed by a collapsed underground cavern 55 feet deep and 386 feet across. The subterranean springs produce a million and 1/2 gallons of water a day, with a constant temperature of 76 degrees; here, in the midst of the Upper Sonoran Desert.

The Sinagua, living here hundreds of years ago, engineered an elaborate irrigation system to divert water from the spring-fed well to their fields of corn, beans, squash, and cotton. Their homes were built around the huge cavern, as well as on the inside walls of the cliffs. The homes on the west cliff were popular because they faced the eastern sun, receiving warmth on a winter morning.

We took a different route home, through the small community of Cornville, east of the Thousand Trails Preserve. We were told that it was an up-and-coming community, where home prices weren't out of sight. This was per the SPCA Director, a lady we chatted with the other day while in Cottonwood.

9/11 We stayed home today; time to start packing and cleaning for our departure on Monday. The temperature was warmer (hot) than in days past, encouraging us to move north toward Flagstaff and a higher elevation.

We hung the hummingbird feeder on the passenger side-mirror this morning and by afternoon we had a couple at the feeder. We so enjoy watching their antics. I also set out a small dish tub of water with river rocks in it, so the Gambel quail could stand and drink. Shortly thereafter, a little rabbit came for a drink, and then several dragonflies found the water.

The Gambel quail have provided us much entertainment. While sitting outside in our lawn chairs, we'd watch their parades pass by, proud and erect. They were out "scratching out a liv'en". The slender, teardrop-shaped knot that curves gracefully forward over the bill, most easily identifies the Gambel. The male is particular striking with a russet crown and black face. A little interesting fact about the quail is how they settle at night. They sleep on the ground in a protective circle reminiscent of pioneer wagon trains. If frightened suddenly, they fly in all directions, confusing the predator and then circle the wagons again after danger has passed, communicating in a low clucking sound.

We sat outside; watching the sunset, then took a short walk. Approaching the Family Center, we remembered that the Bluegrass Gospel Express was playing and singing tonight. They started at 7 pm and it was about that time. The group, based in Prescott, AZ played for over an hour. We enjoy bluegrass but joined with gospel, the music was even better. They sang some of my favorites, like Ralph Stanley's, "Rank Strangers", "Sweet Beulah Land", "Over In Gloryland", and "Amazing Grace". We bought a CD and will enjoy listening to them, remembering our fun times in the Verde Valley.

9/12 A large covey of Gambel quail greeted us this morning, clucking and pecking the grass and rocks in front of the coach. They showed no interest in my water tub; I guess they're used to standing under the dripping faucets here at the Park, a water trough is not in their repository.

Tomorrow we head to Flagstaff and cooler temperature; the beginning of our Grand Circle tour.

Bob & Peggy Woodall


Bob Woodall's home page