Arizona: Tuzigoot Monument & Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Arizona’s lush Verde River Valley is home to Tuzigoot National Monument and Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Tuzigoot National Monument is situated on the Verde River just across the water from Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a 423-acre riparian area that offers outdoor recreation like picnicing, hiking, fishing, and camping. Because of their proximity, it is possible to visit both of these sites comfortably in one day.

The monument protects an ancient village built by the Sinagua people who lived there between 1000 and 1400 A.D.  The Sinaguan culture was based on agriculture and they had trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The pueblo at Tuzigoot consisted of 110 rooms, including second and third story structures. You can explore the remains of the village, learn more about the Sinagua people by viewing exhibits and artifacts in the Visitor Center, and take a walk on a nature trail.

The best time of year to visit is spring and fall. Winter highs average 55 degrees but can be much cooler. Avoid summer due to extreme temperatures and intense monsoon thunderstorms in July and August. The sun will be very intense here any time of year regardless of the temperature and there is no shade at Tuzigoot. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The humidity is very low so drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time; use Mountain Standard year-round.

Getting Here
Tuzigoot National Monument and Dead Horse State Park are located near Cottonwood, AZ about 90 miles north of Phoenix. From Interstate 17, take exit 287 and travel west on Highway 260 to Cottonwood. Turn left on Highway 89A (S. Main St.) toward Clarkdale. Signs at the first traffic light after you turn on 89A will direct you to turn left to stay on 89A, but go straight through this intersection. This will put you on “Historic 89A” (Main St.) and wind you through the shops and restaurants of historic Old Town Cottonwood.

To access Dead Horse Ranch State Park; just turn north on 10th Street. To reach Tuzigoot, continue to follow Historic 89A further west. When you leave Cottonwood, Main St. becomes S. Broadway. Watch for signs directing you to turn right on Tuzigoot Rd. for the Monument. Note: Park Rangers advise against using GPS as it may try to route you on roads that no longer exist.

Tuzigoot National Monument
Tuzigoot National Monument is open everyday except Christmas, 8:00-5:00. Allow at least an hour to visit. When you arrive, there is designated handicapped parking in front of the Visitor Center. It was built in 1937, so accessibility features have been added over the years; follow signs directing wheelchairs to the entrance. There is a ramp at the entrance to access the information desk, educational exhibits, and gift shop inside. This is where you pay the small entrance fee (per person, good 7 days, accept Access Passes).

Public restrooms are adjacent to the Visitor Center and have accessibility features; however the entrance door is heavy and narrow. My 26” wide wheelchair fit, so I am estimating no more than a 30-32” doorway. Also, the accessible stall is shallow, so some may not be able to close the door. An accessible drinking fountain is located outside the restrooms.

The paved trail through the pueblo is only 1/3 mile, however it is on top of a hill so short sections of it are steep and there are also areas with no railing. I strongly suggest assistance; it is very difficult (and dangerous) for a manual chair to attempt alone. The highest point of the pueblo, the tower, is not accessible due to stairs but you will still have a spectacular view of the surrounding area from the trail. After you have explored the pueblo, go to the opposite side of the Visitor Center and take the Tavasci Marsh Trail. This level, paved trail follows a ridge about 1/2 miles through desert landscape to a wooden deck overlooking the marsh.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Dead Horse Ranch State Park is open everyday except Christmas, 8:00-10:00 (gates close at dark). As you enter the park, pay the entrance fee (per vehicle) at the Ranger Station, where there is also information, first aid and a gift shop. Take the first right onto Owl Road to visit the River Day Use Area. There is designated handicapped parking here for the Canopy Trail, a 1/4 mile accessible dirt and gravel trail through a cottonwood tree canopy popular for bird-watching. You can also catch glimpses of the Verde River in this area but heavy vegetation restricts access and view. Restroom nearby.

Backtrack to the main park road and turn right; follow it to the Los Alamos Picnic Area under large, shady trees next to the three lagoons. There is designated handicapped parking in this area as well as an accessible restroom. Some picnic areas are accessible. Hard-surface dirt trails (approx. 1 mile) encircle the lagoons and are smooth and level enough for manual wheelchair use. Platforms on the lagoon banks allow for fishing from a wheelchair (valid AZ license required). Canoeing and kayaking is permitted in the river and two of the lagoons.

Where to Sleep
We stayed at the Quality Inn on Highway 89A in Cottonwood. This is an older property so it is not deluxe, but it has been remodeled and its accessibility features met my needs. Parking is right outside the room, and there was a small ramp up the threshold. The room was spacious and the bed was wheelchair-height. The bathroom vanity was too low for me to roll under, but they provided a shower bench for the tub that allowed me to bathe independently. The lobby and breakfast buffet area were accessible. The swimming pool did not have a liftand there is no elevator to second floor rooms.

Besides Quality Inn, there are several other hotel options in Cottonwood. If you prefer camping, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers at least five ADA camping sites in its four campground loops. Reservations are accepted online, or call (520) 586-2283.

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