The route from Cottonwood to Clarkdale features sweeping views of the Verde Valley and Mingus Mountain in the Prescott National Forest.
© Derek Von Briesen
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Cottonwood to ClarkdaleThe potholes can be a little jarring, but don't let that deter you. The wide-angle views of Sedona and the lack of car bumpers and brake lights make this scenic drive well worth a few bumps in the road.
By Kathy Ritchie
Everything old is new again. That phrase just about sums up the route from Cottonwood to Clarkdale, which follows three forest roads in the Verde Valley. The drive is all about seeing the very familiar from a very different vantage point.
This drive begins on Bill Gray Road (Forest Road 761), just off State Route 89A outside Cottonwood. After turning northwest on FR 761, you'll pass the All Souls Cemetery. Veer right, and you'll spot a post with "761" etched on it. The rocky road is rough from the get-go and doesn't improve much until you reach the end, some 19 miles later. Take it easy as you get a feel for nature's potholes. The high-desert landscape is carpeted with spindly shrubs, cactuses and succulents such as yuccas. Meanwhile, the red rocks of Sedona will be on your right. There's something magical about seeing Sedona from this vantage point. The wide-angle perspective feels undisturbed, even serene — maybe it's the lack of car bumpers and brake lights.
For the next several miles, the road, which is quiet despite the tire tracks, dips and rises repeatedly. The scenery shifts around mile 4.5, when junipers appear in the landscape. As the road bends slightly west, the view of the red rocks gets interrupted around mile 6 as power lines take center stage.
Just beyond the power lines, keep an eye out for a split in the road. The sign for Forest Road 258, which is your cue to turn left, is slightly obscured. After turning, you'll ascend a very rocky and narrow road. Around mile 7, the route comes to a T-junction. Veer right and continue on FR 258. As the road and surrounding landscape open up, out of nowhere, chalky limestone dominates the scenery. No wonder Verde Valley winemakers love the area — this is the kind of soil that produces crisp Arizona juice. The road eventually plateaus around mile 9.7, where you'll be treated to a stunning view of Jerome perched atop Cleopatra Hill. From there, the former mining colony has an Old-World, fairytale quality about it that's more difficult to see when you approach it from SR 89A.
As the road winds down and around the hill and into the backcountry, you'll catch even more expansive views of the Verde Valley. By mile 11, limestone gives way to clay, and in another 2 miles, you'll reach another T-junction. Turn left onto Forest Road 131. As you descend into the valley, keep an eye out for oncoming traffic — blind driveways lead from nearby homes. By mile 15, the road dips, and lush vegetation canopies the pavement as you near the Verde River around mile 16. The route follows the narrow river as it slices its way past hillsides that bear scars from the area's early mining days. The road eventually turns to pavement at mile 17, and, after a brief climb, you'll spot Tuzigoot National Monument on the left. The drive comes to an abrupt stop when it intersects with Tuzigoot Road. A left turn will take you to the ancient ruins. Turning right will take you into Clarkdale.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 19.2 miles one way
Directions: From State Route 89A in Cottonwood, turn left onto Bill Gray Road (Forest Road 761) and drive for 6.2 miles to Forest Road 258. Turn left onto FR 258 and continue for 7 miles to Forest Road 131. Turn left onto FR 131 and drive 6 miles to Tuzigoot Road. Turn left to visit Tuzigoot National Monument or right to continue to Clarkdale.
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return
Vehicle Requirements: A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended, though this route is passable by sedans in fair weather. Do not attempt this route under inclement conditions.
Information: Tuzigoot National Monument, 928-634-5564 or www.nps.gov/tuzi
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.