Questor Insurance Travel Features

Autumn and Winter Travel - Introducing Arizona Part 2

Date Created: 16 November 2013

From Sedona, we head South and feel the temperature rise. Stopping en route at the Tuzigoot National Monument in Verde Valley, we explore this atmospheric hilltop pueblo which was once occupied by the Sinagua Indians. It is easy here to imagine native American families existing in the stone rooms that spiral around the hillside. From this high vantage point they could easily see any unwelcome visitors making their way across the wide expanse of dry valley below.

The valley is ringed by the sort of mountain ranges made familiar by wild west movies. Peaks of pink and grey give way to pale green foothill, which is where the nearby mining town of Jerome was established in l916. For more than 70 years the town's booming mines produced copper, gold and silver and many saloons, gambling dens and brothels thrived here. The collaboration of miners and madams was not always easy. Jenny Bouters, who ran Jerome’s most successful bordello, was said to have been the richest woman in Arizona until a former boyfriend shot her down. No wonder then that a New York newspaper called it the ‘wickedest town in the West.’

Three times fire destroyed the High Noon style timber frame houses but Phoenix like, the town rose again. The mining activities caused massive damage and even caused the town’s jail to slide away down the hillside to the position it occupies today. In l953 the mines closed and Jerome became a withering ghost town. However, during the l960’s artisans, artists and retirees rediscovered it’s originality and now, as a living museum of early 20th century American architecture it is unsurpassable.

That afternoon, we take a trip on the Verde Canyon Railway. Weaving and hooting slowly through a red rock canyon, we see the sort of landscape into which lone cowboys disappear to lick their wounds after a gunfight. The carriages are luxuriously appointed with sofas and refreshments and food is served throughout the journey. It is the most agreeable way to witness a wilderness where eagles glide down the canyon. Occasionally, the peace is interrupted by the voluminous Carol, our cowboy style stewardess whose lacquered hair is layered like the petals of a chrysanthemum. “Look over there,” she bellows, “That’s a bear cave. You know how we know it’s a bear cave? Well, we stopped the train, went hiking up there, and yep, it was completely bare!”

That evening we arrive at the Blazin M Ranch in Cottonwood where we are shown into a vast barn filled with trestle tables lined up in front of a stage. Tin trays are handed out and we wait in line for them to be filled with mountains of stewed beef and cake. The Chuckwagon style dinner over, the lights are lowered and four cowboy musicians step on to the stage and in perfect harmony sing the sort of Wild West classics I remember from Children’s Favourites.

When it comes to Ghost Riders In The Sky, the lights dim further and spooky strobes flash outside. During the chorus a ghoulish rider, his skeletal face fixed in a rictus of eternal damnation, gallops past the windows on a fluorescent white steed. In the midst of his flight the steed suddenly executes a perfect 360 pirouette and gallops on into Hell. It is a brilliant piece of theatre only surpassed when the audience stand to sing Irving Berlin’s God Bless America at the end of the show. I glance at one of my American travelling companions who has tears glistening in her eyes and feel envious of her visible patriotism.

We travel on to Wickenburg, ‘The Dude Ranch Capital of Arizona’ where the exotically barren landscape features diverse species of cacti including the flame tipped Ocotillo and the Saguaro, known as the sentinel of the desert. Horse enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to Rancho de los Caballeros, a former ranch which, like many other former working ranches, has become a resort offering horseback riding across it’s vast acreage. Three miles Southeast of downtown Wickenburg is the Hassayampa River Preserve, a lush home to many indigenous species of wildlife including hummingbirds, their tiny wings beating so fast as to be invisible.

By the time I get to Phoenix, as the song goes, my exposure to cowboy culture has left me hot, dusty and in need of some serious luxury. In the foothills of the mountains at nearby Fountain Hills I find the CopperWynd Country Club, one of the most gloriously self indulgent locations I have had the pleasure to visit. The English proprietor has spared no expense on establishing his dream of a first class country club with a health spa, two swimming pools, tennis courts, exquisite dining and beautifully appointed rooms featuring a snuggly bed made up with heaps of downy pillows and the finest Italian bed linen.

In the spa, I experience my first Desert Stone massage. During this Flintstone form of relaxation, the masseur places hot flat rocks beneath my body, tiny stones between my fingers and toes and proceeds to gently massage me with a warm boulder. After this strangely relaxing buffing, I undergo a facial during which the beautician confirms I have ‘some sun damage’ on my face. Undeterred I slap on the factor 30, make for the pool and order one of CopperWynd’s perfect Margaritas.

A further reason for staying at CopperWynd is that Taliesin West, a futuristic home built by celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright is only fifteen minutes away. He was a man who loved nature and the great American outdoors and his philosophy, ‘Life is only worth living if you can make it more beautiful than you found it’ can be seen in practice at Taliesin West. Having experienced the diverse natural wonders of Arizona, I understand why he chose to build his home in what still is a wonderfully Wild West.

The Arizona Office of Tourism

Written by Beverley Byrne.