After saying goodbye to Steve and Deb we left Usery around 11:30. It took us about 2-1/2 hours to drive north to Dead Horse Ranch State Park and we arrived with plenty of time to get settled in. Dead Horse State Park is very popular and I was happy we had been able to get a spot for Sunday through Thursday so we could see what all the fuss was about. It has a pretty cool story! In the 1940’s a family was touring the area and looking at ranches, and they found a dead horse on this one. When the dad asked the kids which ones they liked, they said “The one with the dead horse.” The state acquired the land in 1973, and the only caveat from the family was that they keep the name, thus Dead Horse Ranch State Park was born. It’s a big property with numerous easy trails, three lagoons, and a river. Unfortunately the campground sites have little separation side-to-side, but since we are on the outer loop we do have a nice view of the hills. I wouldn’t recommend the inner sites though, because you don’t have much of a view. Our site 51 is right next to the camp host site and pretty nice.
Now that we have stayed in a couple of Arizona Parks I will say they give their camp hosts premium spots. Unlike many other parks that tuck hosts away, these sites all have very nice views. Plus the volunteers/hosts are generally very friendly. They are serious about the rules, which is fine with me, but also friendly, and the parks so far have been neat as a pin. We weren’t planning on spending a ton of time at the park though, because the area has so much stuff to do. We have one visit with a friend who lives right here in town scheduled this week, but we had so many things to see we had to strategize a bit to make sure we got to see our favorites. Plus our summer job company is trying to schedule our physicals and drug tests this week so we are trying to make sure we are available for that as well.
To gather information Lee Googled “Things to do near Cottonwood” and I went back and read Deb/Steve and Jim/Barb’s blog posts from the area. It became clear pretty quick there was more to do than we would have time for so we had to start prioritizing. As I have mentioned before, every couple has a preferred way of seeing an area so the list should reflect what you like to do best. Deb’s favorite activity for example are hikes, while others prefer museums, historic sites, ATV trails, local restaurants/breweries, or shopping. There is no right or wrong way to prioritize your list and when researching it’s important to look not only at blogs but also cast a wider net. Our absolute favorite thing to do is scenic drives, and Lee found in his research there was a “hidden gem” of a scenic drive along a road called Perkinsville. Well, that was a no-brainer, but I also knew from blogs we wanted to see some local ruins and check out Jerome. So we got up early, were out the door by 9am, and off we went. (9am is not early. Dawn is early. – Lee)
Our first stop, the Tuzigoot National Monument was just a few miles from the campground. I really liked Jim and Barb’s pictures from there, and wanted to check it out. It is a small monument, with a steep entry fee of $10 per person, but since we have an America the Beautiful pass we got in for free. This ruin was excavated in the 1930’s and dates back to to 1300 AD when most people in the area were hunters and gatherers. This location was perfect with a hill surrounded by good farmland, and a river they could use to irrigate. Originally about 50 people built on the hill but by the end the community was 200 strong. Each family had it’s own one room “house” and those with the highest status lived higher on the hill. If you visit this site the paths are ADA compliant but the walk to the top is pretty steep so keep that in mind.
Lee thought it was great, but I was on the fence. I’m just not a huge fan of ruins personally, and it was pretty small. There are three distinct sites in the area created by the same tribe of people. If you saw them all it would cost $30 a person which I think is a little steep. It was a nice visit though with the America the Beautiful pass and took less than an hour to walk through.
Afterwards we headed towards Jerome and what a great surprise that was. Jerome was a mining town and is located on a very steep hill. It has lots of cute shops and the houses all have crazy walkways and driveways, but it does have very limited parking. We got there early enough to park while I took a couple of photos, but the steepness of the streets gave me a bit of vertigo.
We looked around a little, but then headed back down the hill to the nearby Jerome State Historic Park. They turned the mine into a State Park and it cost $7 per person to get in, which wasn’t that bad, but we decided to skip it in the interest of time. The good news was the mine shaft was outside of the park and totally free to see.
After viewing the shaft area we drove back up through Jerome and out the other side where Perkinsville Road started. This is a primitive road and not recommended for driving when wet or snowy but 4-wheel drive is not required on dry days. It was pretty bouncy, but we’ve definitely experienced worse and the views were really stunning.
After 16 miles we came to an old corral and a bridge on the road and that is Perkinsville. The only thing that is there is the Perkins ranch, but because the railroad stops there it is a place on the map. From Wikipedia: “The Verde Canyon Railroad, a passenger excursion line, runs between Clarkdale and Perkinsville on the tracks of the Arizona Central Railroad, a shortline. The excursion train engines disconnect at Perkinsville and move along a siding to reconnect at the opposite end of the train for the return trip to Clarkdale. The track through Perkinsville is also used to haul freight between Clarkdale and Drake, on the BNSF rail system.”
Unfortunately the ranch was closed to visitors, but we did have a great and very quiet and peaceful lunch by the river, and we saw some more pretty vistas.
We had the choice of turning back or to keep going and make one big loop, and since neither of us are fans of going backwards we went on ahead. The road was actually better on that side, but we made the mistake of taking a side road towards Salt Flats and the road was brutal. After a few miles I asked Lee to turn around because there wasn’t much to look at and I was taking a pounding. It looked like mostly ATV trails and wilderness camping and the road was pretty rough, the main path though wasn’t really that bad and before we knew it we were back on blacktop. Eventually the road ended up in Williams, Arizona and what a pleasant surprise.
Williams is one of the few old Route 66 communities that is still thriving despite I-40. The town had instant charm and we loved the main street and especially the Route 66 gift shop. We have been on sections of Route 66 in our travels, but never seen a town like this, so we had to do a little souvenir shopping. I bought a magnet and cool coffee cup with a rubber bottom and Lee bought a license plate for the front of the truck. We don’t do this type of souvenir shopping often, but liked the place enough that we jumped right in.
It was a bit of a drive back to Cottonwood, but we got back by 3:00pm (you can do a lot when you leave by 9am) and relaxed a bit before going over to Sherry’s house. We met Sherry at our very first RV-Dreams rally back in 2014, but not long after the rally Sherry and her husband Jesse left the road because he had ALS. Through sheer providence the house they had sold prior to becoming full timers was back on the market and they were able to buy it back and move in before Jesse was confined to a wheelchair. Sherry and I have been Facebook friends for a long time now, and my heart went out to her over what was happening and I was also incredibly impressed by how she and Jesse handled the end of life experience. I’ve always wanted to visit her and when we had this extra time reached out to find out where in Arizona she lived and that’s how we ended up in Cottonwood. Turns out Cottonwood is a pretty cool place in and of itself but it started with us wanting to see Sherry. She and Lee are practically identical twins when it comes to political views and since I rarely want to talk politics with him, he was excited to get to get to talk to someone who gets his viewpoint.
I offered to meet in a neutral location, but she immediately invited us to the house and said she was cooking dinner and baking a pie. Oh yes, and she fed us all of Lee’s favorites including rib-eyes, baked potatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, and the most delicious blueberry pie either one of us had ever eaten. The conversation was wonderful, and I was so happy to see she had settled back into a sticks and bricks life. I know we won’t be doing this forever and it is good to know you can go back and still be happy when the time comes. In her case the time was cut short, but she is extremely grateful for the 5 years she and Jesse had together. She has her kids and grandkids, her local community, and her RV friends who stop and see her when she is passing through. Beautiful person, beautiful love story, and it reinforced once again why we are glad we didn’t wait. This life isn’t always easy and it often calls for sacrifice, but the time we have together is precious and we are making the most of it. Love you Sherry and next time we are absolutely taking you out to dinner!
It was a long day, but a wonderful one and next up I am very excited to go to Sedona. Heard quite a bit about that town and really looking forward to it.
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