The 2021 Rocky Mountain LTVers fall rally had a special twist – we teamed up with the Southwest Road Runners to host a dual-chapter event in Cottonwood, Arizona that we lovingly referred to as the Rocky Mountain Road Runners Verde Valley Rally. The Verde Valley is known for its striking red rock mountains, contrasting lush riverside vegetation, healing vortex powers, off-road adventures, deep mining history, and an explosion of wine tasting rooms.
Our RV basecamp was at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, just 1.5 miles from quaint downtown Cottonwood, 8 miles from historic Jerome, and 20 miles outside of Sedona. In addition to daily planned activities, we left plenty of time for rally attendees to explore on their own, partaking in the hobbies they enjoy most while traveling. Everyone was pleased with the immediate access to sightseeing, history, outdoor activities, wine trailing, shopping, biking, jeeping, and more, right from the state park.
Day 1: Welcome Dinner
Although some LTVers arrived at the state park a day or two early to enjoy the area pre-rally, most folks arrived on Tuesday, got settled, and began exploring the park. The rain became the threat of the day, and we closely monitored our weather apps as the skies grew darker and heavy downfalls were looming. The late afternoon brought the big droplets we anticipated, and lighting ensued. However, pizza was already on its way and a few of us headed down to the pavilions to receive the delivery, crossing our fingers that the storms would stop in time for the scheduled dinner. And it did.Attendees emerged from their rigs and made their way down to the pavilion to eat pizza and desserts, meet new friends and reconnect with those they already knew, learn about the activities taking place throughout the rally, and cross their fingers that they’d win an LTV raffle prize at night’s end.
Not only did the weather clear right at dinnertime, but the sky became ablaze with a brilliant rainbow and radiant sunset, embracing RVers from all over the country with the magic of the Verde Valley. We couldn’t have planned for a more spectacular welcome for the days ahead.
Day 2: Geology Hike and Verde Canyon Railroad
The first full day of the rally began with a special session led by a fellow LTVer, Mike Lane. A geologist with deep knowledge of the southwest and mining industry, Mike led a short geology hike right from his campsite in the upper loop of Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Coffee in hand, we trotted up the trail, stopping at the vista overlooking Cottonwood, Jerome, and much of the Verde Valley. In addition to providing extensive geology notes leading up to the rally, Mike gave us an overview of the area, the rock formations, and an understanding of the sights and rock formations we’d soak up throughout the week.
For the rest of the day, many rally-goers had pre-booked tickets for a Verde Canyon Railroad adventure. The 40-mile, out-and-back, route takes passengers through riverside twist and turns, all the way up to an abandoned ghost town, before turning back around. Along the way, we pass notable rock formations named after animals for which they resemble, and even petroglyphs. Being fall, we took advantage of the Oktoberfest Ales on Rails package that included a beer tasting and lunch at the charming train station prior to departure. The train was exceptional. We sat in first-class cars featuring leather conversational seating with tables, individually packaged snack trays, bottled water, and the option for more beverages on board. We all had access throughout the ride to open-air train cars where we could feel the wind in our hair, take in the canyon vistas, and snap beautiful photos. Although the leaves weren’t quite yet changing, the views were phenomenal with river bends, red rock formations, and surprises around every turn.
Day 3: Birding, Bike Ride, Pueblos, and Brews
The third day kicked off with a first-class birding experience. Eric Moore — founder of Jay’s Bird Barn and life-long birder — came all the way up from Prescott to introduce our group to bird watching, and take us on an immersive bird walk. Dead Horse Ranch State Park is a birding hotbed and even hosts a large birding festival each spring. We met by the lagoons on the east side of the state park, engaged in an introduction to Eric and the hobby of birding, and were then led on a walk around the lagoons for hands-on spotting and listening. Eric brought along his high-powered spotting scope and would occasionally stop, zero-in on a species, and we’d all rotate to take a quick look. Eric not only talked about how to maximize your bird-watching experience, but he’d also dive into particulars on each species we spotted. Although we were halfway through the fall season, we identified sixteen different species including the Belted Kingfisher, Red-Naped Sapsucker, and two different woodpeckers. In one spotting we saw both a male and female of the same species through his spotting scope, which was quite the treat and allowed us to easily see marking differences.
Following the lagoon loop, we gathered at a pavilion and Eric unloaded a fleet of optics, mostly comprised of different binoculars. He kindly took time to discuss key metrics to consider when purchasing optics, why you might want to make a particular choice over another, what to look for with quality manufacturing, and more. We all got to compare different optics and mentally pick our favorites, with a few LTVers purchasing a new pair of binoculars for their continued travels, hikes, and birding adventures. Eric was so inclusive and thorough that this session exceeded all our expectations and was certainly a rally highlight. Later in the day, Eric sent a list of all the bird species we saw so that we could start our ‘life list’ (tip: the Audubon Bird Guide app and iBird app are two top choices to identify birds and maintain your list). Next time you’re in Prescott, AZ, be sure to stop into Jay’s Bird Barn and ask for Eric for tips or pick up one of his self-published birding guides.
Additionally, some of us opted for a last-minute field trip to check out the nearby Tuzigoot National Monument. About a dozen of us gathered on our bikes — with many e-bikes present — and journeyed a short distance to the famed sight of pueblo ruins. Here we were able to walk around the old structures, and even inside and on top of one reconstructed building. One of our members, a professional photographer, showcased his skills by taking photos of each of us with the ruins trickling down the mountain behind us, highlighting the incredible history and views.
Thereafter we continued up the hill to the nearby town of Clarkdale for a mid-ride brewery stop. Smelter Town Brewery had an outdoor patio that made it easy for us to park our bikes, grab a beer or flight, and enjoy the shade on a warm day. With an array of options from the Cleopatra Hill Pink Guava Gose and the Modern Miner Milkshake IPA to Slag-Out Stout and White Collar Cream Ale, everyone found a taste they enjoyed.
As we biked back down the hill back to Cottonwood, some of us decided to make a second brewery detour to Belfrey Brewery, just a couple miles from the state park. While we were situating our bikes on the expansive, shaded patio, it just so happened that a group of other rally-goers walked in after a day of in-town exploring. We formed a large circle with half the patio furniture and swapped stories from our day with a much larger group of friends.
Traversing back to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, some folks turned in for a restful evening while others joined in on BYO happy hour gatherings. Kurt and I made our way to the most upper loop to join some friends we made at the Rocky Mountain LTVers Garden of the Gods Rally for a margarita-infused mini-party, lots of laughter, and a heavily satisfying finish to the day.
Day 4: Jerome Fieldtrip
The fourth day featured a field trip to the historic mining town of Jerome. Looking up the mountainside from Cottonwood, Jerome seems to float just below the summit, a city in the clouds, marked with a giant ‘J’. The drive up was windy, and the streets narrow, typically not a good idea for most RVs. However, local intel let us know that there’s a huge parking lot on the outskirts, easily fitting LTVs (or our tow cars), and providing a starting point for the day’s adventures.
We began the fieldtrip with another talk led by Mike Lane, this time focused more on the mining history, mineral rights, and feuding families trying to make their claims during the boom or bust years. This presentation served to be exceptionally helpful as we continued to explore the town, providing an understanding of the mines we’d visit, the buildings around us, the local vernacular, and historic names we’d come to read about.
Folks then walked into town, some staying in smaller groups and others dispersing, exploring all that Jerome had to offer. In addition to the wineries in Cottonwood, Jerome also has notable tasting rooms, some even fuelled by viticulture graduates from the local Yavapai College. This town is not short on artisan crafts either, from sculptures to canvases to blown glass, and even a renowned kaleidoscope shop.
Alongside the still-standing hotels and the sliding jail, perhaps my favorite stop was the Jerome Historic State Park. Sitting on the site of the original Little Daisy mine, you’re able to take a tour of the Douglas Mansion and uncover even more details about the mining history of Jerome. A 30-minute video provides incredible insight, and each room displayed a special treat for us including originally kept furnishings, old images of Jerome during different periods of time, and stories of those who had a place in its past. One room featured a 3D model of the mines in the area that was color-coded to show mineral deposits and veins. A highlight was the opportunity to peer down the now-closed mineshaft and muster the courage to perch oneself on a clear covering, staring down the vastness of the deeply drilled hole.
Day 5: Tech Talk and Cottonwood Exploration
The morning of the fifth day began with a tech talk moderated by Towney Sausville, chapter head of the Southwest Road Runners. We took over the underutilized amphitheater at the state park that was conveniently situated between the upper and lower camping loops. The most popular topic of discussion was no surprise: the consideration of replacing old house batteries with lithium-ion batteries.
Several of us who did not participate in the tech talk walked into historic Old Town Cottonwood to do all the things we didn’t want to miss before we left. Traversing up and down the entire strip, we sipped local coffee, purchased artisan crafts, encouraged each other to treat ourselves with a little (or big) gift, tasted regional wines, and enjoyed a delectable lunch.
Of all the daily BYO Happy Hours, this last evening seemed to be the largest. Nearly everyone who participated made their way down to the lower loop to gather at Towney and Wendy’s site, enjoyed the warmth of their new mini propane fire pit, and further connected with a rapidly expanding circle of LTV friends.
Day 6: Farewell Brunch
The last day was planned lightly to enable everyone to pack up for departure without a rush. To make the morning a bit easier, we catered muffins, bagels, donuts, and breakfast pastries and laid out a small brunch buffet at the amphitheater between the camping loops. Folks brought their coffee and revelled in one last meal together. With a late check-out at noon, there was plenty of time for sharing stories, coercing laughs, and exchanging ‘until next times.’
Next time you travel through the Verde Valley, don’t forgo a stop in Cottonwood and Jerome, and certainly, consider a stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Soak in the sights, sip on some wine, and immerse yourself in the historic and outdoor adventures the area has to offer.