February 2023 – Back in mid-November we spent the better part of a week at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in central Arizona and used it as a home base to visit Tuzigoot, Clarkdale and the Arizona Copper Museum. We’d known about this state park for many years but this was our first time visiting. What a delightful stay we had!
DEAD HORSE RANCH STATE PARK – LAGOONS and TRAILS
The first thing we noticed after we got our campsite set up was the trio of beautiful lagoons that are the centerpiece of the park.
The name “Dead Horse Ranch State Park” seems strange, but it has a fun origin.
In the late 1940s the Ireys family of Minnesota was looking for a ranch to buy in the southwest, and they visited several prospective properties. At one of them the kids noticed a dead horse. After two days of driving all over the dirt roads of Arizona ranch hunting, the dad asked the kids which one they liked best. “The one with the dead horse!” was the reply!
The Ireys named their ranch, “Dead Horse Ranch” and they lived and worked on the property until the 1970s. When Arizona acquired the ranch, the Ireys made retaining the name one of the conditions of the sale. Dead Horse Ranch State Park officially opened on June 1, 1977.
Many people think that the desert regions in Arizona don’t have four seasons. However, that’s not entirely true, despite winters being warmer than elsewhere!
There is a distinct Fall season, complete with brilliant autumn colors, that arrives about a month or two later than the northern states, and Spring brings lots of wildflowers. Summer is, well, a lot like being in an oven!
We found some wonderful hiking trails that meandered under the canopy of trees that grow alongside the Verde River. Buddy loved exploring these trails ahead of us and then dashing back to tell us what he’d found!
TUZIGOOT NATIONAL MONUMENT
As comfortable as we were in our spacious campsite inside Dead Horse Ranch State Park, we ventured beyond the park’s borders a few times too.
Tuzigoot National Monument, a site of ancient Indian ruins that were built by the Sinagua people in between 1050 and 1380 AD, is quite close by.
The ruins consist of a series of rooms defined by stone walls that were built onto a hillside.
It is believed there were 87 first story rooms and 23 second story rooms in this community and that it housed about 225 people. The rooms were terraced and entry and exit from each room was through the roof.
A paved path took us to the top of the hill where there were 360 degree panoramic views, and we could look down at the rooms of the ruins below us.
Heading back down to a lower level, we were able to go inside a room that had been reconstructed with posts and beams to show what it was like when these rooms were occupied and were enclosed with full height walls and ceilings.
Mark noticed a mortar and pestle up on a ledge.
As with most Indian ruins in Arizona, lots of incredible artifacts have been found in these ruins. A museum on site houses a large collection of pottery that has been carefully pieced back together again. What a treasure trove of handiwork made by the ancients!
CLARKDALE and COPPER MINING
On another day we took a drive over to the village of Clarkdale. We’d bypassed this town of about 4,200 people dozens of times over the years and never stopped in to see what was there. It is tucked away off the main highway but has a delightful main street and downtown area.
Despite its small size, it is home to one of Arizona’s most famous museums: The Arizona Copper Art Museum which is housed in the old high school building.
In years past, Arizona school kids learned about the “5 C’s” that made their state special: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate.
The Arizona Copper Art Museum celebrates the first C and is situated in the heart of the old Verde Mining District where the twin mining camps of Jerome and Clarkdale grew up around the United Verde Mine which was owned by William A. Clark.
The United Verde Mine and Clarkdale mining camp were just one part of William Clark’s extraordinary holdings. He was a man of vision, energy and drive, and it seems no project was too big or difficult for him to take on.
Besides the copper mine and mining camps he’d built in the Verde Valley, he owned three mines and two banks in Montana, controlled several newspapers in Montana and Utah and owned a sugar plantation in California!
Before he built the United Verde Mine in Jerome, the copper vein there was considered too remote to ever be profitable. However, William Clark managed to make $60 million from his mine! Yet getting the ore out of the ground was just part of the challenge. He also needed to build a railroad to get the ore from the mine in Jerome to the smelter in Clarkdale and from there out to the world. So he built a railroad.
Needing a place to service his trains, he bought a ranch in Nevada and brought in employees to live and work there. That little train maintenance camp and yard is now the city of Las Vegas…in Clark County, Nevada!
And if all that weren’t enough, he then became a US Senator for Montana.
We had fun roaming around the outside of the museum where we found a large bell, a barrel of monkeys and a huge chess board.
The museum wasn’t open yet, however, so we decided to return to explore the inside of the museum another time.
Clarkdale has a pretty park shaded by several huge trees, and these trees were all in the peak of fall color. Every time the wind blew, a flurry of vibrant yellow leaves would flutter to the ground. A blanket of yellow leaves surrounded the base of each tree.
Down one street we discovered Saint Cecilia’s Mission Catholic Church, and we learned later that mass is held here in Latin! If you are visiting the area and want to experience a Latin mass, Saint Cecilia’s is the place to go!
Down another street we came across a vintage gas station that is still intact and is a wonderful throwback to earlier times.
An old gas pump served many customers over the years.
A woman came over to chat with us, and we found out she owns a 50% share of this gas station. She told us it was originally built in 1942 and it served gas right up until 2014.
At that time the government gave all gas stations an ultimatum: upgrade the underground tanks or they’ll be removed (for free). The station had been struggling against more modern competition out on the highway, so they opted to have the tanks removed.
Even though gas is no longer sold there, the original gas price sign was still advertising some very appealing prices!
VERDE CANYON RAILROAD
Automobiles weren’t the only way to get around back in the day or even now. The Verde Canyon Railroad takes tourists out along William Clark’s original train tracks that he’d built to transport copper ore from his mine.
The Verde Canyon Railroad is a very popular train excursion that goes through some red rock scenery as it chugs through the Verde Valley, and they have lots of different specialty rides, from starlight rides to chocolate, wine and beer rides to fall color and spring flower rides and a magical ride at Christmas.
Again, we have wanted to do this train ride for a while, but they don’t allow pets, so this particular trip wasn’t the right time.
But we still got a train ride (of sorts)! In the heart of Clarkdale stands an antique train car that is now home to Violette’s Bakery. Violette specializes in French pastries along with specialty coffees, as well as yummy breakfasts and lunches. We stepped right up to the train car window and put in an order!
Buddy was delighted to order puppaccino. It totally made up for him not being allowed on the Verde Canyon train!
We really enjoyed our few hours in Clarkdale and will get back another time to see the Copper Art Museum and take the Verde Canyon Railroad ride.
In the meantime, Dead Horse Ranch State Park was calling us back with its its lovely campground and beautiful lagoons wearing their Fall finest.
Never miss a post — it’s free!
More info about this area:
- Dead Horse State Park
- Tuzigoot National Monument – Ancient Indian ruins
- Arizona Copper Art Museum
- William Andrews Clark – Mining, railroad and banking baron turned US Senator for Montana!
- Verde Canyon Railroad – Ride the tracks that Mr. Clark built
- Verde Canyon Railroad History
- Location of Dead Horse State Park
- Locations of cool destinations nearby
Other blog posts from Central Arizona:
- Where to See WILDFLOWERS (especially POPPIES) in Arizona 2023!
- Catalina State Park & Roosevelt Lake: RV Camping in AZ
- We’re Alive and Well and Camping in Arizona!
- Castle Hot Springs and Other AZ Treasures near Lake Pleasant
- Rainbows and Wild Horses in the Arizona Desert!
- Camping World Video Shoot — RVing is for Everyone!
- Magical Moments in the RV Life
- Lost Dutchman State Park Campground – Arizona Gold in the Superstitions
- Dolly Steamboat – Gliding Through the Arizona Desert on Canyon Lake
- Lake Pleasant & Canyon Lake – Waterfront Camping in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert
- Ranch Sorting Competition – Cowboy Adventures in Phoenix Arizona
- Fall Colors and Wildlife on the Sonoran Desert Rivers in Arizona
- RV Camping with the Rock Art Petroglyphs in Gila Bend, AZ
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- “RaVeS” Cafe for RVers in Mesa AZ
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- Rivers of Phoenix – Oases in the Desert!
- Saguaros and Sunsets in Phoenix Arizona
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- To Catch a Hummingbird (on camera!)
- Arizona, Here We Come – Space Aliens of All Kinds!
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- Roosevelt Lake, AZ – Desert Oasis
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