Ten Days in Arizona - Part II
Story and Photos By Dana Benner
Click here for Part I
No sooner had I checked into my hotel and stowed my gear that I had to grab my pack and head out the door. I was on my way to Clarkdale and the Verde Canyon Railroad. Once again I would be exploring Arizona’s wild areas by rail. It was an early evening adventure so I needed to be on my way.
Unlike my trip to the Grand Canyon, this trip was one I needed to do for the assignment I was on so I needed to look fairly professional for this event. I had purposely planned this evening trip because I have learned over the years that if you want to see wildlife the best times are either early in the morning or the early evening. This rule goes for anywhere your adventures take you, not just in Arizona. Evening also gives you the best light for outdoor photography as it brings out the best colors. It didn’t hurt my feelings that this was a wine tasting ride as well.
The train takes you deep into the canyon, along the Verde River. I spent the majority of my time outside on the open observation car, scanning the area for any signs of deer, elk or even a bear. They told me that sometimes bear or even a mountain lion is spotted, but that doesn’t happen too often. As I gazed down upon the Verde River I wished that I could take the time to hike into the canyon, explore on foot and perhaps, wet a line. What an experience that would be. Alas, I was given but 10 days to get out here to explore an entire state, a daunting task.
It was after dark when we finally pulled back into the station. Though I didn’t see any wildlife on this trip I was not disappointed. The Verde Canyon is truly a beautiful area and the train is a great way to discover it. If I find myself in Arizona again I plan to spend more time there.
Another early morning found me heading for Camp Verde and the Prescott National Forest. Now I was in my element. Time to get down and dirty. I was heading out by four-wheeler with Mary McDowell of Arizona Offroad Tours. Arizona Offroad Tours is the only permitted company to run tours within Prescott National Forest so it was logical for me to go out with them.
After a safety briefing we were off. While Mary will take out up to six riders at a time, on this morning it was only me and her. We followed a Forest Service road up the side of a mountain until we made a right hand turn onto a barely visible trail. Now the fun really began. It didn’t take long before we started seeing wildlife, mainly in the form of rabbits. They were everywhere, but there was no time to stop and watch them. All of my attention needed to be focused on the trail. Ruts to my left and ruts to my right tried to wrestle the ATV from my control. Limbs from the surrounding brush, liked gnarled fingers, tried to pry me from my motorized steed. It was great!
The trial finally came to an opening and Mary decided to stop. It was a plateau that overlooked the valley below. It was one of the most beautiful spots I have ever had the pleasure to visit. Even though we were on a well-used trail it felt like we were the first people to ever see it. I felt sorry for all those people who simply drive by this magnificent place, too much in a hurry to get out and explore.
Back on the machines we moved downhill, across a ridge, where I finally saw my first deer; and then down a dry creek bed. All too soon I found myself back at where we had started. We had been out for about three hours and had covered about 20 miles, but it seemed like we had just started.
Not willing to call it a day just yet, I headed to Cottonwood and Dead Horse Ranch State Park. It was really starting to get hot and I was glad I had brought plenty of water. Despite the heat I wanted to explore more, this time on foot. I paid my day use fee, parked the car and started walking. You just have to love a place called “Dead Horse”. Keeping my eyes open for snakes I hiked some of the numerous trails. I could have taken a horse, as the State Park does offer trail rides, but seeing that I walk better than I can ride a horse, I figured it was best to keep my feet on the ground. By the end of it all I was pretty dirty and I smelled like a goat, but that is just the way that it should be.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park has some really great shower facilities so I grabbed my bag and took advantage of them. Once I was presentable I realized that I hadn’t eaten much all day. With that I made my way up the road to the Blazin’M Ranch for their chuckwagon dinner and show. Every Easterner dreams about being a cowboy and here, even in my own mind, I could be one for a few hours.
The Blazin’M Ranch has re-created a wild west town complete with roping demonstrations, a shooting gallery and a general store. Like any true cowhand coming off the trail, the first place I headed was the saloon where I was able to wet my whistle with an Oak Creek Amber. The dinner and show is well worth the admission and if you leave hungry then it is your own fault. It was a great way to end the day.
The following morning I decided to take it easy. I needed some time to re-charge, both me and my gear. There is no shortage of sun in Arizona so I laid out my portable solar panels and charged up my camera, phone and other devices. If you venture out I would recommend that everyone carry some sort of charging system. Both SunJack and Bushnell put out some really good portable solar panels that fit nicely into your pack. Keeping you gear fully charged could save your life. With everything set I repacked my bag and headed for Sedona. I had a late afternoon/early evening trip with Arizona Safari Jeep Tours. Our goal was to explore the mountains surrounding Sedona in search of wildlife and Native history. I arrived in Sedona with plenty of time to spare so I walked around town a bit. While a very nice place, Sedona is a little too busy for my tastes so I was happy to hop in the Jeep and get on my way.
It wasn’t long before we were away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Sedona. Dust kicked up as we made our way deeper and deeper into the mountains. I was very lucky to have two guides with me on this trip, the more eyes watching for wildlife the better. Our first stop was a very deep canyon, one of which whose name I can’t remember. One of my guides asked if I was up for a hike and of course I said, “Yes”. So down into the canyon we went, being very careful of rattlesnakes. No snakes were seen, but you can never be too careful. Part way down we came to some petroglyphs left thousands of years ago by the Native people of this area. After a few photos we made our way back up to the Jeep and resumed our travels.
Once back on the trail a roadrunner shot out in front of us. Way too quick to capture on film. The sun was beginning to go down and it was then that the area came to life. Black-tailed jack rabbits seemed to be everywhere. Turning down another trail we came upon our first mule deer. Light was fading fast, too fast, but I tried my best to photograph these animals. It was almost dark when we started back to Sedona; way too dark for photos. It was then we came upon a small group of deer, the perfect end to a ride in the mountains that surround Sedona. Back in town I helped to clean the Jeep and then I was on my way back to Prescott. Tomorrow was going to be a down day. I needed to work on articles, review photos and do laundry. The last leg of my trip to Arizona would find me heading south again. My final destination was the Tucson area and the Sonora Desert.
Part III - Coming Soon!
Link for more info
Arizona Safari Jeep Tours
Blazin’ M Ranch
Arizona Offroad Tours
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Prescott National Forest
Verde Canyon Railroad
Dana Benner has been writing about the outdoors and Native history for 30 years with his work appearing in many regional and national publications.
Pictures from the Trip
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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