December 26, 2013

Dead Horse Ranch Camping Weekend

I hope and pray that everyone had a Merry Christmas yesterday.  We had just the right amount of Christmas presents and Christmas surprises.  My parents went for the fun and sentimental by buying a slot car track for us and our kids.

I am getting "caught up" with the blogs that I have been wanting to write but limited by time.  I started this sometime in May but didn't get very far.  The pictures were taken with Eric's Nikon and I think that he is also the principle photographer.

We spent Memorial Day weekend of 2013 camping two hours north of the Phoenix-metro area at a state park called Dead Horse Ranch, which is located near the Verde River.  It is a great location to camp for an extra long weekend because it is within 30 minutes of Sedona and even closer to Jerome and Tuzigoot National Monument.
View from our campsite the first night at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
It reminds me of that scene from Star Wars of Luke at dusk with the setting suns.

Background:  Dead Horse Ranch State Park got its name because a Minnesota family looking to buy a ranch in Arizona decided to buy the ranch that had a dead horse on its property.  They named their ranch "Dead Horse Ranch."  When they decided to sell it to the state, they made the state keep the name.  Most people think of sand, cactus and canyons when they think of Arizona, but this location, like Woods Canyon Lake and other camping areas near a river, this place is GREEN.  It has big Cottonwood trees, tall grasses around the dammed ponds, and I even heard and saw red-winged blackbirds, which is one of the birds I REALLY miss from my days in Lake County, Illinois.  And all this green is surrounded by the red rock cliffs and high desert.
This looks more like a photograph taken in
Lake County, Illinois or Minnesota
rather than Arizona.

However, expanding the scope of the picture adds
elements that you won't find in either IL or MN--cliffs

To do in Dead Horse Ranch State Park:
First of all, Memorial Day weekend was pretty hot.  This is a better place to camp at during the early spring/late fall.
*  Fishing:  There are three stocked ponds and the Verde River.  The problem with camping on Memorial Day is that it is right before they re-stock the lakes, which means that only the REALLY smart fish are there, if any.  We didn't catch anything. If fishing is your focus, check with the park to see when the best times to fish are.
*  Hiking:  There are several trails to hike around the park.  The hike we liked the most took us near the river, where the kids and I took off our shoes and walked around in places up to our knees.  Eric fished without success in a different part of the river.
*  State Junior Ranger Badge activity worksheet:  For those campers who have kids, a lot of state parks and most national parks have Junior Ranger programs where kids complete activity sheets based on the park's features in exchange for a button.
*  Facilities:  Dead Horse Ranch State Park has four camping areas.  We stayed at the Raven loop, which was set up just for tents.  It is the highest camping area in the park, which is NOT ideal for tents.  There were few, short trees around the area and therefore very little respite from the sun unless you have a sunshade, like we do.  Furthermore, while we were there, every afternoon the wind whipped up, blowing up sand.  Therefore, lounging around the tent was NOT an option in this area.  The most ideal place to camp is the Quail Loop, even though it is set up for RV campers, because it is near enough to the river that there are tall trees and grass in the tent areas, which makes the area cooler.  Note:  I have nothing against RV campers other than RVs with air conditioners make a lot of noise and create light pollution that obliterates the stars. There might be some envy, too regarding the sleeping arrangements.  All of the camping areas have free showers, which I REALLY prefer to have when camping.
Wading in the Verde River on a hot day

Because our family is not a fishing family in general and our kids tolerate only so much hiking, we took the opportunity to drive to Jerome and Tuzigoot in one day.  Jerome is a former mining ghost town and current tourist trap, a la Galena to Illinois natives, about 20 minutes of twisty roads from Dead Horse Ranch.  There is a place where you can go to look down one of the mine shafts and a state park which details the town's history.  The town is built on the sides of the mountain, so driving involves twisty roads, also similar to Galena.  We didn't really tour the whole town, so I can't give a review of it.  The state park is nice and gives kids a chance to earn a Junior Ranger badge.  We had our dog with us, so I stayed out with the dog while Eric toured with the kids and then they hung around the outside while I toured the inside.  I didn't spend a lot of time in the museum and have forgotten most of the information.  But I DID spend a lot of time looking at the surrounding area.  You can see the red and white cliffs of Sedona from Jerome.  We could have spent 1/2 a day there touring the rest of the town, but we wanted to see Tuzigoot National Monument.
A view of the closed mine that started Jerome from the State Park parking lot

A view of the red and white rocks of Sedona from Jerome

Tuzigoot National Monument is an the remains of  an old pueblo built by the Sinagua people that sits atop a hill.  What makes Tuzigoot wonderful is that you can tour the remains and actually go inside the biggest building and tour around the surrounding buildings.  There is also a wonderful view of a marsh--yes, that's right, there is a MARSH in Arizona!  The kids picked up their second Junior Ranger badges of the day, this time from the federal government.  Tuzigoot is 10 minutes from the campground.
The main building atop the hill surrounded by
the ruins of support buildings

The kids and I with the main building off to the left.
My youngest is not in the picture, but Jacques is near my feet.

The marsh near Tuzigoot from the hill.  Green surrounded by brown
is common in desert river valleys.

The day we returned home, we took the long way and visited Montezuma Castle., which is roughly 30 minutes away and not too far off of Highway 17, which brings you back into the Valley of the Sun.  It is another National Monument involving Native American ruins.  This is a spectacularly well-preserved pueblo of the cliff-dwelling Sinagua people.  One reason that it is so well preserved is that they do not let people climb in and look at the building.  Because it is built on a cliff, you only get a far-away look. However, the park museum has a video tour of the inside of the house.  It is also located off the Verde River, so the area is surrounded by lovely, tall trees.  It is hard to capture Montezuma's castle's size in photographs because it is so high and so far away from the path.  The picture did I choose was because it does show relative size.  The interesting thing is that if you look closely at the picture, you will see black spots, which are more holes carved out of the cliff.  I can't remember if these were store rooms or more rooms for families or a combination.  Regardless, the ingenuity of these people who made Tuzigoot and Montezuma's castle without the wheel or iron tools is quite impressive.

Eric and I trying to give perspective.
All in all, Dead Horse Ranch, because it is close to so many other places, would be a great place to hang out for a week.  Below are some distances to some other fun places to visit:
Sedona:  30 minutes away.  It has shops and lots of great trails with fabulous views.  Some of the trails have pueblo ruins.  There is a lot of New Age stuff there as well as countless ways to separate you from your money, just like Galena, Illinois.
Slide Rock State Park:  40 minutes away
Oak Creek Canyon:  about 60 minutes away, which is a great day hike.
Lowell Observatory:  about 1 hour.  They give a great tour and, last time we were there, they gave you an opportunity to vote on the Pluto decision.
Wupataki National Monument (more Pueblo Dwellings):  1 hr, 15 min.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Park:  1.5 hours
Note:  Lowell Observatory, Wupataki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Park are all very near Flagstaff.  You could probably do two of the three in a day and have dinner in Flagstaff for a break from camp grub.

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