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Verde Valley of Arizona: Exploring the towns of Cottonwood, Jerome, Montezuma Castle and Well

The Verde Valley is mostly famous for the city at its upper reaches - Sedona, but the Valley offers unusual off-the-beaten-path places that are well worth a trip.

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Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well

These are the fascinating but mis-named ancient sites of the people who were likely the foreparents of some of the local native American tribes. Early settlers thought the structure must have been Aztec in origin and named it after the famous ruler and general Montezuma. But these two National Parks are small jewels.

Both were built by the Sinagua farmers (variously pronounced as seh-nah-WAH, or seen aug wah - but in a sense irrelevant since they were named Sinagua after the fact by an archaeologist) who lived in the valley.

Montezuma Castle is five-story 20-room dwelling, and the highpoint of the visit. Another building was crafted at the base of the mountain and has become badly decomposed but its accessibility allows visitors to peer into the recesses. The nearby creek was the source of water than made the land arable and gave rise to the settlements. The Castle itself, the showpiece of the park, has had extensive repair work to show how the original building probably appeared.

A little further north of Montezuma Castle is the even more interesting (but still mis-named) Montezuma Well. It's now a lush lake - actually a limestone sinkhole formed by the collapse of an underground cavern. It’s fed by a spring that the Sinagua used to irrigate their crops. If you look carefully you can see the remnants of more dwellings up on the cliffs. Take the walk along the top, and then hike the well-maintained trail down to the bottom. It’s a lovely and restful spot. Fort Verde State Historic Park Valiantly maintained by volunteers, Fort Verde State Historic Park has only the bare bones left of the original fort. There are several restored and partially furnished buildings but it is one of the few preserved examples of an Indian Wars fort in Arizona. The former administrative building is now a museum and visitors center, plus there. Particularly interesting are the stories of the doctor and his wife in their restored house/medical office.


The area is dotted with scenic roads and overlooks and state parks and attractions. But we headed into Jerome and old mining town that clings rather precipitously to the mountain side.

The town has certainly had a variegated past. The whole town is considered a Historic National Landmark. It thrived in the 1920s as one of the King Copper mining towns, and then plunged (figuratively speaking) to a ghost town some 30 years later. But by the 1960s and 70s, artists discovered the town and started to move in. Today, it clings as carefully to its economic recovered as it does to the mountain. There are galleries and restaurants and some B&Bs and the Jerome Grand Hotel that was once the town hospital. Essentially a vertically built town, there are areas to explore built where the land cooperated. It still maintains its wild atmosphere rather than being all prettied up, and it is well worth the scenic trip.

On your way into or out of town, stop by the old Jerome High School which now artist studios and galleries in the old classrooms. It’s a wonderful re-purposing of a building that keeps its history intact and still supports the arts. Artists and craftspeople display their work in an open-air art park in nice weather, but they welcome visitors in their "high school" studios. Another place to see the artists of Jerome is the The New State Motor Company Building was built in 1917. It is a three story reinforced concrete building with the capacity for 650 cars. There was a machine shop and garage as well as an interior elevator to raise and lower cars.

If You Go

Food and Lodging

We stayed at the Lodge at Cliff Castle, the casino and hotel of the Yavapai-Apache nations. It offers comfortable motel style rooms separate from the casino building, and its own restaurant and bar. The staff was helpful and friendly, and the food in the Gallery restaurant (also separate from the casino and its food concessions) was surprisingly good and well-priced. Free wi-fi is available in the restaurant, bar and lobby. And, of course, gaming and entertainment. It's well-located and an excellent lodging option.

Another possibility is to use the town of Cottonwood with its national motel chains as home base. It offers more dining choices, including the new yet retro Bings Burger Station. Imagine burgers, fries and chicken all delicious and thoughtfully prepared. Their hand-made patties are 100% Certified Black Angus ground beef, their cheese is real cheddar, and their chicken cutlet is marinated, grilled and juicy. It’s burger food done right and we loved it. It’s in the historic area of Cottonwood, which is where you want to go for a stroll and local shops and dining.

Another possibility for food and entertainment that we were sadly not able to experience is the Blazin’ M Ranch Chuckwagon Supper & Western Stage Show . That will have to wait for the next trip.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: June 26th, 2013

Updated: August 7, 2016

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