Verde Valley provides window to past

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Now that the summer heat has begun to subside, many Luke members are ready for traveling and sightseeing in Arizona. 

For those who like adventure and want a taste of the Old West, Camp Verde is not too far from the Valley. 

Camp Verde, a small town on the Verde River, offers southwestern scenery, local American Indian history and a multitude of recreational opportunities. It is approximately 120 miles north of Luke, just east of Interstate 17 on state Route 260. 

Fort Verde State Historic Park is located in the town of Camp Verde. The primary attractions in the surrounding area include Montezuma Castle National Monument and Montezuma Well National Monument, and Out of Africa Wildlife Park. 

All attractions at Camp Verde are within miles of each other, and take a short time to visit. 

Fort Verde was an active military post from 1871 to 1891. Today the park covers 11 and a half acres, and supports four of its original buildings. These quarters stand next to an original parade field. 

Barbara Haacke, visitor center worker, says the quarters are completely furnished with 1880s furniture and artifacts. There is a presentation in the museum about the importance of American Indian scouts to the U.S. Army's mission at the Fort. 

Park hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is $2 for visitors 14 and older. 

Fort Verde's 50th annual, Fort Verde Days, 'where the past comes alive' is Oct. 13, 14 and15. Local residents say this is a popular event that they look forward to every year. 

"We have many events during Verde Days, but I really like the bull-bash," said Paul Buker, Fort Verde chamber of commerce representative. "If you've never seen a bull bash, it's very exciting. It's also fun to see all the period costumes and reenactments." Admission is free during this three-day celebration. 

North from Fort Verde, are two national monuments, Montezuma Castle and Well. Early in the 12th century, southern Sinagua Indian farmers built a five-story, 20-room dwelling high in a chalky-white limestone cliff recess. Not too far from this cliff dwelling is Castle "A". It was once a sixstory cliff house that included approximately 45 rooms. 

The park features a short, hard-surfaced walking trail, cottonwood trees, wildflowers, shady resting benches and ledges, a peek at Beaver Creek and a picnic area. 

Rangers mingle with guests to answer questions and share information about the people who once lived on these lands. It's open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is $5 for those 15 and over. 

Some people say Montezuma Well is even more interesting than the castle. There's a huge round sink hole with a spring-fed lake inside. Long ago it supported the Hohokam and Sinagua tribes' needs to farm and irrigate their crops. 

The springs that feed this 55-foot-deep well flow continuously. Visitors who stop at the "well outlet" part of the trail, can see the ingenious method the inhabitants used to irrigate their crops with, swift flowing water. They can also see the man-made, limestone-coated irrigation ditches that run parallel to Beaver Creek. 

The paved trails are marked with signs that highlight facts and figures. This attraction is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free and includes a picnic area down the hill from the park's entrance. 

Those who have time to explore and spend the night, there are numerous recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds in and around Camp Verde. Local residents recommend Dead Horse State Park, 17 miles west of Camp Verde. 

The camp features two main campgrounds with 127 camping sites. Tenters are welcome and many of the tent sites in the north sit atop a hill. In the evening campers have a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains and city lights of Jerome. 

There are many recreational opportunities available at Dead Horse including hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, horseback riding and relaxing. The main attraction, however, is fishing. There are three lagoons, stocked with trout, catfish, bass and sunfish. Resident and nonresident anglers 14 and older need a state fishing license, and fishermen should check to see about required stamps. 

Open every day, 8 a.m. to dusk, except Christmas, this park is also centrally located if you want to visit Sedona, Jerome, Cottonwood or Clarkdale. There are arts and crafts and antique shops, restaurants and other conveniences in nearby Cottonwood. If time allows, Out of Africa Wildlife Park is nearby. 

Currently a hookup campsite (includes electricity, water, picnic table and grill) is $19 and $12 for all other sites. Daily use is $6 per vehicle. 

For camping equipment, check out Luke's recreation services. Which offers necessities such as tents and popup campers. Active-duty members can make reservations for items six months in advance. Outdoor recreation is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (623) 856-9334.