Author Theresa L. Goodrich presents Two Lane Gems, Vol. 1: Turkeys are Jerks and Other Observations from an American Road Trip in serial form. Enjoy!
After we left the Verde Canyon Railroad, our accommodations for the night were at the Tavern Hotel on Main Street in Old Town Cottonwood, Arizona.
We found the address and parked, but we couldn’t see the hotel anywhere so we went into the Tavern Grille to ask for directions.
Well, turns out check-in was at the bar, so we were accidentally where we needed to be.
That’s always a good thing on a road trip. (The being-where-you-need-to-be part, not so much the accidentally part.) Even better was the reason check-in was at the bar: you get a free cocktail just for staying at the hotel.
I knew I was going to like this place.
The hotel and the bar are both owned by the Haunted Group, a hospitality company founded by husband and wife team Eric and Michelle Jurisin. The Haunted Hamburger in Jerome was their first place, and they’ve added five more restaurants in addition to the hotel.
After our early morning ghost town adventure and afternoon train ride we wanted to freshen up, so we took our key and our cocktail credit and found the hotel hidden in plain sight, behind the parking lot adjacent to the bar. This is not a huge parking lot, mind you. What can I say? We were tired.
The Tavern Hotel is gorgeous. Decorated in muted colors that reflect the landscape that surrounds Cottonwood, there’s a warmth and elegance in the common area that’s continued in the spacious rooms.
The hotel’s in a renovated 1925 grocery store with just ten rooms, and two penthouse suites are in separate locations. When we were there construction was underway for a new wing with thirty additional rooms and a spa.
We returned to the Tavern Grille about quarter ‘til six to find that appetizers were half-price until 7pm. Score! We settled in, ordered a couple of drinks and a couple of apps, and enjoyed the ambiance of a bar full of locals finishing up their week.
Our bartender Kris was efficient and made a mean old fashioned and a tasty mojito, and our pot stickers and potato skins were spot on. It didn’t take long before we’d struck up a conversation with Carter and Bonnie, who’d moved to Cottonwood from Oak Creek and absolutely loved it.
It was delightful. They were warm and open, telling us how Cottonwood was more “real,” without the inflated prices and transient residents often found in tourist towns.
It was a perfect example of why I love sitting at the bar, especially when I’m somewhere new. It’s rare that I’ve ever bellied up and not struck up a conversation with someone, and every time it makes the experience so much more personal than just a drink or a bite to eat.
The next morning we met Michelle from the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce at Crema Craft Kitchen and Bar, another Haunted property. She’s originally from Wisconsin, and while she loves Cottonwood, it’s natural for a Midwesterner to miss things like fireflies and walking in the grass.
“Everything sticks you here!” she said.
Prickly thorns and burrs aside, as we dug into our morning pot pie and burrito verde, she jumped into a roll call of all the things that are wonderful about Cottonwood, and what we were missing because we were leaving so soon.
Wineries. Blazin M Ranch and its cowboy chuckwagon. Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Tuzigoot National Monument. Copper Art Museum. Out of Africa. Camp Verde. Fire-roasted pizza at Bocce. An ATV tour in Prescott National Forest. A bird sanctuary. Cliff dwellings. Sedona, only twenty minutes away. Look for the twisted cedar and you’ll find a vortex. Old Town Center for the Arts. The Jail Trail.
“Alright alright!” I wanted to throw my hands up. “We give! We’ll be back!”
And we will. There were many places we visited on this journey that we knew we’d most likely never see again. Cottonwood was definitely not one of them.
We selected a couple of “schnecks”, or sweet baked goods, including a GIGANTIC cinnamon roll, and found the one thing we had time to do. At the end of the street was the entrance to the Jail Trail.
We couldn’t go too far, so we followed the riparian trail for a short way along the rocky floodplain before turning back to town. If we’d continued, we could have gone all the way to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, but switchbacks and saguaros were calling our names.
We headed up to Jerome through softly rippled hills that got steeper and steeper until we entered America’s Most Vertical City. We quickly stopped at the Little Daisy Mine and looked down a 1,900-foot shaft before continuing towards the southwestern corner of Arizona.
The drive through Jerome and down to Prescott was, how shall I say this, HARROWING. I felt like we needed a mule, because it’s the only transportation narrow enough to fit on that tiny road.
Two lanes? Ha! Wishful thinking. A net to catch us would have been nice; there’s no such thing as a shoulder. “Shoulder?” they scoff. “That’s for flatlanders. Shoulder. Funniest thing I’ve heard all day. Next thing you’ll be wanting a guardrail, too.”
They say Jerome’s haunted. Well, DUH. You can fall off the side of the mountain if you sneeze too aggressively.
OK, so I might be exaggerating a little bit, and occasionally there are places you can pull off, but the road is really really narrow and there really are no shoulders or guardrails. Just you and the side of a mountain and undying (hopefully) trust that anybody else you may encounter is similarly aware that you’re all driving in multiple-ton vehicles on a ribbon of potential death and dismemberment.
“But the view!” you say. “The view is amazing!” I’m sure it is, but it was rainy in sunny Arizona and our visibility was about five feet in front of us in some places. Harrowing. If you think I’m exaggerating YOU try driving IN the clouds ON a mountain.
This, of course, is one more reason we have to come back for another visit. There’s a lot we genuinely did not see beyond a car-length.
While Jim concentrated on 15 and 20 mph hairpin turns, I enjoyed what I could view right outside my window. The red rocks and intermittent clumps of prickly pear cactus became Gambel oak and Ponderosa Pine and clumps of prickly pear cactus, and when the road straightened out and we’d descended into Peeples Valley we were still in the clouds, at an elevation of nearly 4,500 feet and visibility of about ten.
Then we descended from the valley to a scenic overlook that provided a view of another valley.
Jim found this particularly entertaining. “This is the road from the valley. We’re descending from the valley.”
Apparently, in Arizona, there are valleys, and then there are valleys.
From the scenic overlook, we drove by a white elephant painted on a rock in the elbow of a curve and tried to escape the clouds. They followed us, Pig-Pen like, even as the road straightened out, the valley widened, and saguaro cacti waved in a washed-out caricature of a stereotypical Arizona landscape.
We picked up I-10 for a short stretch before heading south at US 95. We turned the corner and gawked. On the desert floor, mile upon mile of RVs were just parked, it seemed, wherever they stopped.
I figured there must be a homing beacon installed in every fifth wheel, Class A, Class B, Class C, travel trailer, truck camper, and pop-up that leads directly to this intersection, because they stretched as far as the eyes could see.
Nope, there was no homing beacon. Just the Quartzsite gem show. Our timing coincided with the tail end of a two-month-long event with thousands of vendors participating in ten or more markets, and while most of them focus on rocks, minerals, gems, fossils and jewelry, apparently it’s a veritable outdoor shopping mall.
Parking is free, prices are cheap, and it’s a good thing we didn’t know what was going on or we would have been late to Castle Dome Mines Museum and Ghost Town.