Phoenix may be the seventh largest city in the United States, but driving a few miles north puts you in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, it was once the place to be for the Sinagua and Apache Indians, and later, for a horde of prospectors who struck it rich and turned the Arizona territory into a state.
That’s what my husband, Frank, and I, and our boys, John and Eric, found out when we piled into the van and moseyed through the cactus-dotted desert to the fiery, redstone buttes of Sedona, then back through the giant ponderosa pines of Prescott National Forest, during our great weekend getaway.
Read on for our fun-filled itinerary.
10:30 A.M. – Fort Verde
Discovering gold, copper and silver in central Arizona during the late 1860s was good news for Mexican and American miners, but not so good for the Apache Indians who waged war to defend their hunting grounds.
The US government, in turn, set up military posts, such as Fort Verde, the first stop on our trip. After touring the restored officers’ quarters and doctor’s house, we came upon some costumed “cavalry soldiers” cleaning their rifles while their “wives” did needlework on their porches.
John and Eric crept up to eavesdrop on their story–an account of an Apache raid on the latest supply wagon train. Call 928-567-3275 for dates when cavalry soldiers are on the premises. Open daily from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for kids ages 7 to 13 and free for kids under 7.
11:30 A.M. – Montezuma Castle
When early pioneers discovered a five-story cliff dwelling 100 feet above nearby Beaver Creek, they figured such an impressive structure must have been built for the Aztec emperor Montezuma. In fact, it was the Sinagua Indians who shaped the structure’s limestone walls and sycamore beams more than 800 years ago.
At the Visitor Center, we picked up a trail guide as well as a little knowledge about rattlesnakes–Eric was especially intrigued by the native reptile exhibit. Then we struck up the path past spine-tipped banana yucca and saltbushes for a close-up view of the chambers that once housed up to 50 people.
Call 928-567-3322. Open daily from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. in the winter and until 7 P.M. in the summer. Tickets are $3 for adults and free for kids under age 16.
12:30 P.M. – Montezuma Well
A few miles northeast of the castle, Montezuma Well is a 470-foot-wide pool that formed when an underground cavern collapsed. For centuries, springwater (more than 1,000 gallons a minute) was channeled from the well to irrigate the Sinaguas’ fields. After checking out the pueblo ruins around the rim, we followed an old ditch and came upon several tree stumps gnawed pencil-point sharp by the resident beaver. Call 928-567-4521. Open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. in winter and until 7 P.M. in summer. Admission is free.
1:30 P.M. – Irene’s Restaurant, Oak Creek
When we found the booths at Irene’s crowded with locals, we figured we were onto something. We were sure once we’d tasted the clam chowder and turkey sandwiches. Call 928-284-2240. Open from 7 A.M. to 9 P.M. Monday through Saturday and until 8 P.M. on Sunday.
2:30 P.M. – Slide Rock State Park, Sedona
The jagged copper cliffs that encircled us on the road to Sedona reminded Eric of a scene from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. The experience hit closer to home for John, who claimed that one formation looked just like his science teacher’s head. But the best find was the limestone creek bed that serves as a natural water slide in Oak Creek Canyon. After riding into the creek a few times, Frank and I sunbathed while Eric and John careened down the slide for at least ten “just one more” times.
Call 928-282-3034. Slide Rock State Park is open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. in the winter, until 7 P.M. in the summer, and until 6 P.M. in the spring/fall. The fee is $8 per car for up to 4 people.
4 P.M. – The Meadow Muffins
Next we stopped to hike over a couple of slight slopes the locals call giant meadow muffins, purportedly left by Paul Bunyan’s ox. Leading the way, John was the first to spot an enormous redrock mound with a scattering of black basalt stones arranged on top, left by those who believe the rock is a vortex or energy center. Before heading back, we took a few minutes to watch the sunlight play on the valley below.
5:30 P.M. – Sedona Fudge Company
Chocolate raspberry, mocha almond and rocky road are a few of the flavors made from scratch in the Sedona Fudge Company’s copper kettles. We thought it wise to buy an ample supply to ward off starvation, should we get a flat tire the next day. Call 928-282-1044. Open from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M. 7 days a week.
5:45 P.M. – Oaxaca Restaurant
Sit near the window at this flashy Mexican restaurant and you can enjoy a view of the scarlet cliffs along with your fajitas and enchiladas. We found the food tasty and not too spicy–for a family that eats fresh chilies at home. Call 928-282-6291. Open from 8 A.M. to 9 P.M.
6:30 P.M. – Rose Tree Inn
At Rose Tree Inn, the five guest rooms range in decor from Victorian to southwestern, but all come with VCRs and access to a Jacuzzi. Call 888-282-2065. Rates range from $95 to $135.
10 A.M. – The Coffee Pot Restaurant, Sedona
Choosing an omelet from the 101 offered on The Coffee Pot Restaurant menu was no easy feat, but we found #73 (turkey, avocado, pepper and cheese) and #66 (green chilies and cream cheese) both good bets. As you’d expect, breakfast is served with a steaming pot of strong coffee. Call 928-282-6626. Open from 6 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.
11 A.M. – Jerome State Historic Park
Built on the steep slope of Cleopatra Hill in the 1860s, Jerome is now a partially restored mining town. More than 100 miles of tunnels and shafts honeycomb below the streets.
At the pinnacle of the hill, a museum (the former mansion of mining baron James S. Douglas) offers a bird’s-eye view of the town’s original school, hospital and hotel. Inside, hundreds of old photos line the wall, showing life in Jerome during its boom.
Call 928-634-5381. Open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. Tickets are $4 for adults, $1 for kids ages 7 to 13 and free for kids under age 7.
12:30 P.M. – Prescott National Forest
From Jerome, the drive took us up into the peaks of Prescott National Forest where we noticed the ruins of tiny villages–probably past suburbs of Jerome–among the huge ponderosa pines. We also spotted rock hunters searching for gems in a pile of mine rubble and stopped to look for some ourselves. Our second stop was to wait while a half dozen cows meandered across the road.
1:30 P.M. – Kendall’s Famous Burgers and Ice Cream
Rolling into downtown Prescott, we were immediately impressed by the number of large Victorian houses, an unusual sight in the Southwest. We browsed the stores clustered around the town square, then ordered lunch at Kendall’s. This 1950s malt shop specializes in two main culinary offerings: hamburgers and ice cream. Need I say more?
Call 928-778-3658. Open from 11 A.M. to 8 P.M. Monday through Saturday, until 6 P.M. on Sunday.
3:30 P.M. – Historic Walking Tour, Wickenburg
We ended our trip with a tour of Wickenburg, a town that sprang up in the late 1800s around the Vulture Gold Mine, a $30 million find.
The chamber of commerce, in the old Santa Fe Railroad Station, has brochures for historic buildings, such as the old pool hall, the smitty’s house and the 100-year-old redbrick schoolhouse.
Of particular interest to John and Eric was the 200-year-old mesquite Jail Tree. Outlaws were once chained to the tree, and according to legend, there were no escapes.
Back in the car, as we followed the cactus-lined road back to Phoenix, we polished off the sweetest of our southwestern finds–the fudge from Sedona.
Call 928-684-5479. Open daily from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.