Cottonwood was our first stop after leaving the Phoenix area, where we had been for around a month. It’s an interesting drive north, breaking out of the desert floor and starting to hit some foothills & mountains again. Cottonwood sits at 3450 ft, but to get there you drive over some higher passes and then come down into the Cottonwood area. We had driven in traffic all day in Scottsdale so just wanted the easy route - so stuck to the main I-17 route up. We had recommendations for a more “scenic” route but heard later from a couple who took it and said it was rather white-knuckle while towing a trailer.
Curves and hills aside, the most interesting thing about this drive was how quickly the desert terrain disappeared. In almost a blink of an eye the Saguaros, Hedgehog and Barrel cactus were gone. If you scanned the hills you might find the odd Prickly Pear but the landscape started to include actual trees again and rivers with water in them. The Dead Horse Ranch State Park even has fishing lagoons and I watched as guys were pulling in decently-sized trout.
Our time in Cottonwood was a pretty even split between getting work done and exploring. The State Park had a number of multi-use trails that kept Data going once his schoolwork was done. Miranda seemed less interested in this park, having lost her beloved cacti and there being no beach to hunt for treasures on.
The most interesting thing about Tuzigoot was that the park literature mentioned that the pueblo construction of limestone rock “needed constant maintenance” - it gave me a small chuckle that over the years nothing much has changed, we’re still slaves to our houses. The pueblo was constructed by the Sinagua people, who are considered a mystery in that (among other things) the archeologists don’t know why they left this area. Seems clear to me - they were tired of fixing the dang house! ;)
The Montezuma Castle was next - and we found here what the intersection of a week of free National Park and Monument entrance fees and a school holiday meant. Busy! The parking lot was full, the visitor center was full, and the trail was busy. On the one hand it’s nice to see these resources being enjoyed, but we sure prefer being there when it’s less busy. Miranda did the junior ranger program here, earning a badge from a knowledgeable, patient and involved Ranger (the first who took the time to pose for a picture, even going in the back room to retrieve his hat). The Castle is an amazing structure up off the canyon floor and nestled into the rocks. It’s disappointing that you can tour through it (it’s been closed to the public since 1951), but definitely worth a stop.
From there, even though the day was late we made it over to the Montezuma Well - my favorite of the three monuments. The name has nothing to do with the drink-ability of the water but rather reflects a misunderstanding by the early settlers in this area who attributed both the Castle and Well to the Azteks, while they were again actually created by the shadowy Sinagua.
The well flows out through a hole called a “swallet” which goes all the way through the rock until it exits into a canyon. The water has been used for irrigation - in spite of it’s high carbon content. One report I read online said the actual source of the water is a mystery, as through testing it’s not been found to be part of other water sources in the area. Most of the park literature references a vague “underground river”. The Well is the first place the National Parks used SCUBA gear for diving - used to explore the depth and bottom of the Well.
Back at home we had another surprise - some friends from our hometown of Holland MI stopped by the campsite. They are also traveling full-time, having left a couple of weeks after we did. We’ve criss-crossed paths since leaving but it wasn’t until now that we caught up with each other. I didn’t get any pictures - but we’re planning a joint visit to the Grand Canyon so will be sure to get some there.
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I talked with Cliff and his wife, full-timers with a 40’ Class A and triple-towing a small pickup and then trailer with a quad-runner. Cliff drew me out of the trailer by using his Elk Moose call. They had Texas plates but home-based out of Silver City, NM - not far from where we had stayed. Their place wasn’t involved in the wild fire that swept through during our stay.