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Wandering in the Verde Valley!

Arizona is a wonderfully diverse state. Many people who aren’t familiar with our landscape will often think of Phoenix and Scottsdale as just a mirage in middle of a vast, barren desert landscape. Those that are lucky enough to visit and wander outside of the Valley of the Sun will often travel to Sedona on their way to the Grand Canyon – leaving them in awe of the beauty of Red Rock Country.

Sure, Sedona and the Grand Canyon are a “must see” for their natural beauty, but we’ve been exploring Arizona for a while now and absolutely love checking out “small town America” in lesser-known towns like Bisbee, Show Low, Prescott, Tombstone, Lake Havasu and others around the state.

We’ve made day trips to, or passed through, the Verde Valley and the tiny towns of Jerome, Clarkdale and Cottonwood in the past. Until recently, there really wasn’t a reason to stay. On top of that, the best option for accommodations was the haunted Jerome Grand Hotel. And since it was only about 2 hours away from home, it never made sense to stay.

The booming wine business in this part of the state has lead to a new “grape-rush” in the region. Once sleepy little towns are now bustling with tourists who have more reasons and options, to stay the night. And when wine tasting is on the agenda, you’ll want to have accommodations after hours of day-drinking capped off by dinner with more drinking.

We started our trip Saturday morning and we weren’t alone! Traffic heading up the hill towards the cooler climates was at pre-COVID levels.

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Our first stop was Page Springs Cellars. This place was the first of four options along the back roads of Cornville and they offered a picnic area and Bistro. We opted for the Bistro so we can grab lunch with our first tasting. The picnic area was reserved for bottle sales and to-go meals. Social Distancing was in effect, but we quickly got seated on the outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards.

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After passing on Oak Creek Vineyards and Javalina Leap, we were on to our next stop, DA Ranch Lodge & Estate Vineyards, aka Dancing Apache Lodge.

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The Ranch started in 2002, but turned out their first tastings in 2008.  The setting here is awesome. Tucked in between the hills with a small pond, goats, donkeys, and a modern log-cabin lodge, it was a great atmosphere to grab a glass and listen to the live music being played on the lawn. The Dr. Ron Bot from Chateau Tumbleweed (not joking) was a perfect light red for a warm afternoon.

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The problem with wine tasting is, once you find a place you like, it’s hard to leave – but then again, better options might be out there!

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We made the 15 minute drive to Cottonwood – where we’d set up shop for the night – and checked into The Tavern Hotel. The concierge, Gregory, was incredibly helpful by providing options and a quick overview of the area. You can tell he loves his job and his town!

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This boutique property is owned by The Haunted Group (THG), which also owns several restaurants in the area, including the one that started it all – The Haunted Hamburger, in Jerome. If you haven’t been to the Haunted Hamburger, I’m guessing you haven’t been to Jerome. Both are worth the trip.

The Tavern Hotel sits in the middle of downtown Cottonwood, just a block off Main St. It’s the perfect location for a day of tastings and an evening of dining. Their “Sip & Stay” package was an offer too good to pass up. They include a welcome cocktail at The Tavern Grille, $50 towards dinner at one of their restaurants, single tastings at three different wineries, and $10 towards breakfast at one of their restaurants!

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There are seven tasting rooms available within stumbling distance of the hotel. Each one offering a variety of house made wines and those of others.

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Our choice was Pillsbury Winery. Consistently ranked as one of the better wineries in the area. After several tastes we had our winners. A Pillsbury Diva Red and a Chardonnay that drinks more like a Pinot Grigio. Look, they’re not the best wines you’ll ever have, but they work. And we support local.

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We stopped at the Grille to enjoy our complimentary cocktails and paired them with a tasty Artichoke Dip appetizer. The patio seating allowed us to people watch right along Main St.

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A quick clean up at the room and we were ready for dinner. There are plenty of options, but with the gift card from the package, we had our choice between THG’s sibling restaurants – The Tavern Grille, Nic’s Italian Steakhouse and Pizzeria Bocce. All solid options for a night out, but we opted for the lighter Neapolitan style pizza at Bocce.

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The hour-long wait would have had us sitting near their fire pit sipping on one of their creative cocktails or local craft beer selections, but two seats at the bar had just opened up and we were seated immediately.

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The service was fantastic and the atmosphere was modern and lively. The food was very good, but nothing like we had anticipated given their lofty Yelp reviews.  The Caprese starter and the Shrimp & Hot Pepper pizza, were our choices for dinner.

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The next morning, we grabbed our breakfast at THG’s Crema just across the street from the hotel. We noshed on our balcony before we were on our way for a morning hike in Sedona!

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Sedona, our next stop, off in the distance

Cottonwood sits about 25 southwest of Sedona on 89a. The short ride had us at the trail early, but the temperatures were still pretty warm. We decided to hit Fay Canyon Trail, an easy in-and-out hike that cuts through a canyon of red rock and, thankfully, is mostly covered by a canopy of trees.

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The easy hike turned into a boulder climb at the end that offered stunning views back up the canyon and towards the famed Bell Rock and Courthouse Rock way off in the distance.

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Fay Canyon is also home to a natural arch that’s easy to miss. About half way up the trail, there’s a tiny unmarked trail that shoots off the right. Many people we asked knew nothing about it. On our way back we found the trail and headed towards the arch. The trail here gets pretty small with cactus and bushes squeezing in as you make your way up. We never did find the ruins that are supposed to be nearby, but the solitude of this side hike was awesome.

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After the hike, we drove around the Red Rock Loop road and were rewarded with amazing views of the sandstone rocks.

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We couldn’t help but laugh at this photo. “Keep Sedona Beautiful” with this monstrosity of a home being built into the side of a mountain.

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We headed back to Cottonwood to pick up our wine and grab some lunch before taking the long way home through Jerome. Once again, there was no sign of COVID as the road leading up to the hillside town was jammed with cars.

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House of Joy

A quick pass through Jerome and we went up and over the 8,000′ Mingus Mountain only to wind our way back down to Prescott Valley below.

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View of Sedona
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The haunted Jerome Grand Hotel
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View from atop Mingus Mountain looking towards Sedona

Overall. the quick overnight tour of the Verde Valley was a hit! We will definitely be back to do more tasting and exploring. With so many options, it’s worth a trip or two to experience it all.

In addition to the wineries, there’s more to explore nearby. Clarkdale has the Verde  Canyon Railroad, which has train rides through the canyons and offers some specialty excursions including wine trains. You can even kayak the Verde River as part of a package at the Tavern Hotel. And Jerome, once a rowdy mining town, now relies on tourism and offers some haunted tours of the area.

So, if you’ve already worn out Sedona and the Grand Canyon and you’re looking for a unique getaway, check out the Verde Valley. With lodging like the Tavern Hotel, the area no longer is a day trip.

Stop wondering! Start wandering!

2 comments

  1. Great write up Bill! The pictures were excellent too. Verde Valley is a must-visit and I can’t wait to get back up there. Well done!

  2. You had me at the cover photo, and it just got better and better as I breathed and decanted myself through the experience. Thank you for the flight. Tasty like beauty. You guys spilled a little beauty here. Beauty spilled, that mess that doesn’t need to be leaned up. Thank you.Much appreciated. Prost!

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