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Scenic Drive Through Verde Valley
Road Trip into Arizona's Past

by Robert Schaller

More information about the area covered by this road trip can be found in RoadTrip America's Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips, a new book by RTA contributing writer, Rick Quinn. Specific planning and route information for Rick's trip can be found here:
Rick's SST 9 Phoenix to Flagstaff (west) scenic roadtrip
Rick's SST 10 Phoenix to Flagstaff (east) scenic roadtrip

Montezuma Castle
Robert Schaller
Montezuma Castle

Parade Ground & "Officers' Row"
Robert Schaller
Parade Ground & "Officers' Row" at Fort Verde State Park

Zane Grey's cabin
Robert Schaller
Zane Grey's cabin in Payson

While cruising along a highway in central Arizona, it occurred to me that if you wanted to see Arizona history in three dimensions, Verde Valley is the place to go. No other location in Arizona offers such a complete and vivid glimpse into Arizona's fur-trading, ranching, farming, mining, railroading, and rip-roaring Wild West past.

The Verde Valley extends from Jerome, Cottonwood and Sycamore Canyon southeast toward Camp Verde and beyond, to the foot of the Mogollon Rim. If you have an interest in southwestern American history, you can get a quick tour of Arizona's past in just four days, seeing some of the state's most spectacular scenery outside of the Grand Canyon at the same time.

From Phoenix, drive north to Camp Verde and Fort Verde State Park. In the 1860's, as Arizona's American settlement began with miners, the U.S. Army was tapped to calm the threat from the preexisting inhabitants - mostly Yavapais and Apaches. The Army came to establish Fort Verde (and others nearby such as Fort Whipple at Prescott and Fort Apache near Whiteriver). Today, a visit to Fort Verde State Park provides a glimpse of Army life on the southwest frontier. Visitors experience "living history" displays of frontier Army life, and several buildings furnished in 1880s style are open to the public. In early October, Fort Verde Days celebrate the fort's past with parades and commemorative events.

When George Crook commanded the Army in the Arizona Territory from Fort Verde, he built a wagon road to other outlying posts. If you follow State Route 260 east from the Verde Valley, you follow the "Crook Trail." Some of the boulders that were used to identify mileposts along the way can still be seen. The route is spectacular, leading onto the high country atop the Mogollon Rim (locally pronounced "Muggy-own," or simply, "the Rim"). The basins, canyons and peaks along the 6,000 ft. to 7,000 ft. rim were the setting and inspiration for Zane Grey's western novels. He lived and wrote along Tonto Creek a few miles away, surrounded by the rocks and Ponderosa pines.

Bob Schaller
December 31, 2006

(Updated July 21, 2023, RTA)

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