Dead Horse Ranch State Park + Tuzigoot, Clarkdale & AZ Copper Museum!

February 2023 – Back in mid-November we spent the better part of a week at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in central Arizona. 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.

Rich fall colors at Dead Horse Ranch State Park Arizona

Autumn splendor at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in central Arizona.

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.

The lagoons in Dead Horse State Park Arizona

The lagoons are a highlight at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

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!

Trees near the lagoons at Dead Horse State Park Arizona

Under the golden arches.

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!

Fast dog sprints in the woods

“You wouldn’t believe what’s up there!”

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.

Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

Tuzigoot National Monument is a 110 room ancient Indian ruin.

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.

Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

Tuzigoot’s rooms are all adjacent. It is thought the residents climbed in and out of each room by a hole in 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.

View from top of Tuzigoot National Monument

The hill that Tuzigoot is built on has panoramic views that go on forever.

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.

Inside Tuzigoot National Monument ancient Indian ruins

A reconstructed room interior.

Mark noticed a mortar and pestle up on a ledge.

Mortar and pestle at Tuzigoot national Monument

This mortar and pestle were originally found at the site.

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!

Pottery found at Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

Pottery found in the Tuzigoot ruins are on display in the museum.

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.

Clarkdale High School now the Copper Museum in Clarkdale Arizona

The old Clarkdale High School is now the Arizona Copper Art Musuem.

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.

Bucket of copper ore at the Copper Museum in Clarkdale Arizona

Copper was a huge industry in the Verde Valley at the turn of the last century
as it is elsewhere in Arizona today.

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.

Outside the Copper Museum in Clarkdale Arizona

William Clark was a busy and massively successful man. We kinda like the quieter life!

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.

Barrel of Monkeys at the Arizona Copper Museum in Clarkdale AZ

Who are these guys??

Chess game in Clarkdale Arizona

Buddy ponders his next move.

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.

Autumn color in Clarkdale Arizona

Golden leaves were falling everywhere, leaving a thick blanket of yellow on the ground.

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!

St. Cecilia's Mission in Clarkdale, Arizona

Saint Cecilia’s Mission holds mass in Latin!

Down another street we came across a vintage gas station that is still intact and is a wonderful throwback to earlier times.

Classic historic gas station in Clarkdale Arizona

Clarkdale’s old gas station evokes an earlier era.

An old gas pump served many customers over the years.

Old gas pump at a historic gas station in Clarkdale Arizona

An old gas pump.

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!

Historic gas prices in Clarkdale Arizona

Old gas 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.

Verde Canyon Railway in Clarkdale Arizona

The Verde Canyon Railway takes tourists on the tracks that were built to haul copper ore.

VIOLETTE’S BAKERY

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!

Violette's Bakery Cafe in Clarkdale Arizona

Violette’s Bakery is in an antique train car.

Buddy was delighted to order puppaccino. It totally made up for him not being allowed on the Verde Canyon train!

Puppaccino at Violette's Bakery Cafe in Clarkdale Arizona

Buddy orders his favorite treat.

Puppaccino!

Puppaccino!

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.

Street lamp in Clarkdale Arizona

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In the meantime, Dead Horse Ranch State Park was calling us back with its its lovely campground and beautiful lagoons wearing their Fall finest.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park Lagoon in Arizona

Fall color at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Fall colors at the Lagoon in Dead Horse Ranch State Park Arizona

View from the water’s edge at the lagoon.

RV camping at Dead Horse Ranch State Park Arizona

We enjoyed our stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park — and we’ll be back!

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Dead Horse Ranch State Park + Tuzigoot, Clarkdale & AZ Copper
Article Name
Dead Horse Ranch State Park + Tuzigoot, Clarkdale & AZ Copper
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Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Arizona is a great place for an RV trip with a wonderful campground and lots to do nearby.
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10 thoughts on “Dead Horse Ranch State Park + Tuzigoot, Clarkdale & AZ Copper Museum!

  1. I remember attending Mass in Latin as a child. Latin is a beautiful language, but it was difficult enough for a youngster to sit through Mass in English. Not understanding Latin made it excruciatingly painful. Mea culpa. I sincerely hope Buddy wasn’t waiting for the confessional to open!

    I’ve been reading about mining in Arizona as I’ve been planning our trip to the southwest. (We now have a site at the end of Loop B in Catalina, the booking of which was inspired by your last post – thank you!). I know copper figured prominently in Arizona’s economy, and I found your photo of the mining cart full of copper ore fascinating. The three of you always find such intriguing places to explore!

    • I’ve never been to a mass in Latin, but a very close friend used to be an acolyte. He couldn’t understand Latin as a child, but he could do a hilarious imitation of the priest saying/singing, “My father can beat your father at dominoes” while making the sign of the cross. Heretical, yes, but so funny!

      Copper and mining in general is fascinating. We visited a museum in Globe, Arizona, one year and got talking with the docent. She commented that miners are a special breed that move around the world in pursuit of mining jobs. We were also fascinated to learn that one of the largest copper mines in Arizona today — the Ray mine — is owned by a Mexican conglomerate. Yet one of the largest silver mines in the world (in Guanajuato, Mexico) is owned by a Canadian conglomerate. It’s a very international industry.

      It’s not a pretty site, but a trip through the gorgeous area south of Globe to see the open pit copper mines is quite moving. The size, scale and utter destruction of the land as mountains are leveled and then turned into massive pits is breathtaking.

      Enjoy your stay at Catalina State Park and in Arizona in general. It is a beautiful state!

  2. It has been quite some time since we have seen you guys. Buddy looks as strong as ever. Thank you for sharing your Verde Valley experience!

    Dave and Sherry Denny

    • How great to hear from you Dave and Sherry! Buddy is truly a miracle dog and he’s doing very well. He loves his home here but he sure comes alive when we take the trailer somewhere and start exploring! He would hike all day every day if he could. Thank you for reading our pics and stories. I hope we see each other in some remote campsite again soon — I’m sure after all the snow you’ve had this winter you are itching to get out again!

  3. Happy to catch up with you again. Fascinating to see the multi-level Indian ruins and learn about mining in the southwest….and loved the pic of of Buddy enjoying his “puppachino” !!!!!

    Love, Mom

    • One of the things I love about sharing our travel stories is looking up all the historical details afterwards! The story about William Clark really surprised me. He must have been a very famous man in his day, but hardly remembered now. Buddy got his first taste of a puppaccino as a puppy at a coffee shop near the Mackinac Island ferry in Michigan, and he has been hooked ever since!

  4. It seems that we are following in your tracks! We also recently visited the Copper Museum, Tuzigoot, and Clarkdale! I truly enjoy how you frame these places for all of your readers. We missed the bakery, but there is always next time! Thanks again for your blog, it is truly a treasure!

    • The Verde Valley has a lot to offer and it’s very scenic (Sedona is out of this world!). It’s a little cooler in the Verde Valley than the Sonoran Desert areas but is full of interesting things to do. If you go back to Clarkdale, definitely check out Violette’s bakery, and while you’re in Camp Verde, check out another wonderful coffee and breakfast bistro called “Thanks a Latte!”

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