Sedona, Cottonwood, Jérôme, Verde Valley

Throughout the summer, Arizona bounced between extremes, going from record heat to a deluge of monsoon storms.

Fortunately, fall is not a season prone to something so intense, so things should calm down. Autumn comforts even if it calls us to play outside. Basking under a big blue sky while enjoying a soft sun, it’s the perfect time to explore.

For an incredible fall weekend, head to Arizona’s geographic center, the Verde Valley. The wide valley stretches from Mingus Mountain to the Mogollon Rim, a lush transition zone separating the desert from the high country and cut by the meandering River Verde.

Quaint little towns full of personality are dotted throughout the valley, within a few miles of each other, creating many easily accessible options. Here are a few.

Out of Africa animal park

Nestled in the high desert of Camp Verde, Out of Africa Wildlife Park provides sanctuary for hundreds of exotic animals and is home to dozens of top predators. The reserve covers 100 acres of rolling land on the slopes of the Black Hills. Large natural habitats eliminate stress-induced behaviors.

The Tiger Splash show is a highlight of the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona.

Tiger Splash is Out of Africa’s flagship show. There is no training and no tips. The daily program is spontaneous, just animals frolicking with their keepers. Ferocious tigers engage in the kind of playful activities that any domestic cat owner will recognize. It’s just the grand scale that makes it so impressive. Visitors can also take a narrated African bush safari and watch the giant snake show. Check the website for discounts and coupons.

Outside the park is the Predator Zipline, which features a two- to three-hour five-line zipline tour and a suspension bridge over the animals. Tours cost $ 99.95; you can save $ 10 by booking online. 928-567-9947, https://predatorzipline.com.

Details: 3505 W. National road 260, Camp Verde. $ 38.95, $ 23.95 for ages 3 to 12. 888-878-6628, https://outofafricapark.com.

Wine tasting at Cottonwood

Not that long ago, Cottonwood was a sleepy little market town with much of its small town center vacant. Everything changed when vineyards and cellars sprouted on neighboring hillsides with rich volcanic soil.

The wine tasting rooms open one after the other and soon restaurants, boutiques, galleries and boutique hotels follow one another. Shops filled the Prohibition-era buildings with covered sidewalks along the three blocks of the Old Town.

Such a quaint and compact setting makes Cottonwood Old Town a popular destination for wine and food lovers, as so much can be tasted without having to get in a car.

For more information on all of the local tasting rooms, wineries and wineries in the area, visit Verde Valley Wine Trail at https://vvwinetrail.com.

Best Arizona Wines:Here are the winners of the Azcentral Arizona wine competition 2020

Walk the streets of Jérôme

Everyone knows Jerome, the kilometer-high town clinging to the steep slope of Cleopatra’s Hill. It was once known as the Billion Dollar Mining Camp for the incredible wealth drawn from the ground.

The former mining town of Jerome is popular with tourists and populated by those whose talents (art, food, wine) are best suited for aerial activities.

After the mines closed it became a rickety ghost town, essentially rescued by enterprising hippies who transformed it into a thriving artist community with galleries, cool boutiques, and memorable restaurants and bars lining its narrow streets and hilly. Hippies, is there something they can’t do?

From Jerome’s High Perch, the view stretches across the Verde Valley to the sandstone cliffs of Sedona. Music spills over from saloons and restaurants as visitors roam the shops, moving from one city level to the next, stopping to read historic plaques and admire Victorian architecture. Jérôme feels cut off from the rest of the world. It is one of those cities where you always have the impression of being on vacation.

Details: https://sedonaverdevalley.org/where-to-go/jerome.

Hunt the ghosts in Jerome

There’s no better way to get into the spirit of Halloween than with a ghost tour of a ghost town. You can opt for traditional historical tours, but when will you get a chance to play Scooby Doo and try to hunt down spirits?

A handful of local tour operators offer outings of varying lengths. They’ll even provide you with the equipment you need to measure paranormal activity.

Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip:5 old booming towns worth a visit

Ride the Verde Canyon Railway

Get off the old-fashioned road when you board the Verde Canyon Railroad and dive into the scenic backcountry. The train departs from Clarkdale station and travels through a high-walled canyon carved out by the River Verde.

Poplars cover the water and turn golden in late fall days. Such a rich riparian habitat attracts a variety of wildlife, including eagles, hawks, herons, mule deer, javelin, coyote, and beaver.

The vintage FP7 diesel locomotives provide the power. All passenger cars have panoramic windows and provide access to open-air observation cars, where you will likely spend most of your time enjoying the beautiful fall days. And as an added bonus (or maybe not, depending on your perspective), I’m the recorded narrator for the Verde Canyon Railroad. So you will hear me chatting about the geology and history of the area, and even telling a few stories.

The popular Ales on Rails runs daily from September 14 to October 31. It includes beer tastings, lunch, and a souvenir pint glass for $ 125. If you don’t attend the Ales on Rails event, the standard train fare applies – $ 99 per person for ages 2 and up.

Details: 300 N. Broadway, Clarkdale. 800-582-7245, https://verdecanyonrr.com.

All aboard! Verde Canyon Railroad: On Track Through Arizona’s Red Rocks

Hiking in West Sedona

If you want to enjoy the red rock scenery while avoiding the crowds and traffic issues, stick to a few trails at the end of West Sedona.

The Western Gateway Trails at the end of Cultural Park Place weave a series of interconnected trails through juniper-covered slopes above Dry Creek. Signs with maps at each crossroads facilitate navigation.

The gentle roundabout trail, a 3 mile loop, offers a quick introduction to the area as it branches off from the paved Centennial Trail and passes through shady forests and past a few small boulder fields. Curving back, it traces the edge of the mesa overlooking Dry Creek with views north to Cockscomb, Doe Mountain and Bear Mountain.

Hidden gems:The 5 best hikes in Sedona you haven’t heard of

You can create a slightly longer loop (3.3 miles) by combining the Stirrup and Saddle Up trails. After crossing an arroyo, the road climbs to the top of a plateau where the view extends to Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock at the other end of town.

If you want a little more workout, the Schuerman Mountain Trail is accessible across from Sedona High School. It climbs moderately to the top of an ancient volcano, now eroded into a slender mesa.

There is a great view of Cathedral Rock from the first vantage point. It’s a 2 mile round trip if you turn around. If you’re in the mood for wandering, the trail continues through the wide back of the mountain, golden meadows dotted with junipers and pines.

Details: 928-203-2900, www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.

Following:These Sedona hikes take you through the best red rock scenery

Find the journalist on https://www.rogernaylor.com. Or follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RogerNaylorinAZ or Twitter @AZRogerNaylor.

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