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Blazin’ M Ranch, Cottonwood, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Blazin’ M Ranch is less than 1 mile from the campground.  It was suggested we do this as one of our outings, so we picked our farewell dinner to visit the ranch.  16 of the group attended so it really was a great time.

The Mayberry family has owned the ranch for about 50 years but the Chuckwagon Dinner Show has only been around for about 20 years.  In 1994, before the dinner ranch opened,  there was a fire at the ranch, and that’s how they got the name Blazin’ M Ranch.

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Once you arrive at the ranch, there is plenty to do before dinner.  We were greeted by a wagon train being pulled by a tractor.  You get on board and they take you on a tour of the ranch.  Once you get back they drop you off in front of the Copper Spur Saloon.  The saloon, offers a variety of drinks where they  all  have “specialty names”.  They do offer a description and a comparison of the drinks, such as a Sassy Pink Lady is the same as a Strawberry Daiquiri.  It was fun just reading the names, and the drinks were pretty good.  With drink in hand you are able to enjoy the Western town featuring a museum, Old-Tyme photo studio, shooting gallery, ropin’ lessons, tractor pull,  and many Western shops that line the boardwalk.  There are plenty of tables and chairs outside so you are comfortable while waiting for the dinner bell.

At 6:30 p.m. the chow bell rings and you are invited to sit inside the climate-controlled barn for a western-style chuckwagon dinner.   The tables are in long rows and you are escorted by table numbers.  For as many people as there were, the lines moved very quickly.  We were able to have free beverages of coffee, tea, water, or lemonade while waiting.     As you get to the front of the line you grab a tin plate and head through the chuckwagon where we  were  served tender BBQ chicken and pork ribs, baked potato, cowboy beans,  biscuits and the best prickly pear cole slaw I had ever tasted.  What was most unusual about the dinner was that the servers were constantly walking around the barn serving out seconds.  I mean seconds of everything including the best ribs I had ever tasted.  If you want more of anything, you just raise your hand and they bring it right to you.  A person cannot leave here hungry.  After dinner, they was even dessert.  Apple Carmel Crisp topped with vanilla ice cream.  And for only $35.00, the meal was divine, and we haven’t even seen the entertainment yet.

 

Everything moved so quickly that you didn’t realize they were clearing the tables to get ready for the entertainment.  After dinner there is a musical show featuring The Blazin M Cowboys.  For one hour these talented musicians share their musical skills mixed with cowboy poetry and a dash of humor.  It was really quite entertaining.  It seems like everyone had a part, and some changed outfits and were different characters.  They end the show with singing the song, Riders on the Storm, and there is a real horse and cowboy that flash by the glass windows with lighting to make it appear likes it’s a ghost with lightning.  At first we thought it was all done with lighting, but it was a real horse and cowboy riding by.  A great way to end the show.

After the show, the shops remain open so you can go back and do last minute shopping or just wonder as the crowd thins out.  There were actually 4 bus loads of people attending from Phoenix, and the parking lot was full.  To think they do this every night, shows why everything ran so smoothly.

The entertainment does change so you can always go back.  This is definitely not a one time only visit.  It is also a great place to bring Arizona tourist.  I can hardly wait to have company from another state to bring them here for dinner and a show.  The Blazin’ M Ranch gets an A rating.  I had a great time and would do it again.


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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Payson, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Today’s outing was out to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, 10 miles north of Payson.  Payson is actually further away than we are to home…about 75 miles from our camp ground.  Payson is actually about 100 miles north of Phoenix.  That being said, it is one of the most beautiful drives in northern Arizona so definitely worth the trip.  Not everyone came on this outing so we carpooled, and that  made for a fun drive.  We again brought a sack lunch and were going to eat at the bridge.

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Tonto Natural Bridge is a natural arch.  It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world.  The area surrounding the bridge has been made into the state park.  Tonto Natural Bridge itself stands over a 400-feet long and the tunnel  measures 150 feet  at its widest point and reaches a height of 183 feet .

This natural bridge was first documented by David Gowan,  a Scotsman, in 1877 while hiding from some hostile Apache tribe members.  Gowan was impressed by the location and persuaded his family to emigrate and live there. Gowan also tried to claim the land for himself under squatter’s rights.  The Gowan family members lived near the bridge until 1948.  Their lodge building where the Gowan family lived survives to this day and is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Once you get to the parking lot there is a paved path to a viewpoint where you can see the face of the bridge and can see the cascading waterfall from the top.  To get to the bridge there are two options, the Gowan Trail and the Pine Creek Trail.   The Pine Creek Trail is a longer path alongside the west side of the creek.  This leads you to a viewpoint beneath the bridge, which is a good place to appreciate the stalactite like formations that hang from beneath the bridge and adorn the west-facing canyon wall.  The Gowan Trail is a route down the cliffs just below the bridge.  This is quite steep and rather slippery in places but well worth the trip as it leads directly beneath the bridge, and in times of low water it is possible to walk through and link and end up at the end of the Pine Creek Trail.

I had been here many years before and the trail down was very steep and narrow.  There were metal poles with a small chain to keep you from going over the edge.  Today, that trail has been closed and you can’t go past the waterfall viewpoint.  The Gowan Trail has now taken it’s place, and this is the trail we chose to take.   Although it is still very steep, it is wider and there are man made steps periodically to make the decent easier.  However coming up was very strenuous and at times going straight up.  Some of the man made steps are about 8 inches high, so not a comfortable step up, but a strenuous one.  There are benches along the trail to stop and rest, which I did many many times.  I’m so glad we brought water as it was a hot day and a not so easy hike.  But we did it and it was worth every step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the bottom of the trail is a wooden deck with benches where you can truly enjoy the bridge and the waterfall.  On a hot day like today, the mist from the waterfall was very much appreciated.  In the photo on the right, if you look above to the right you can see the waterfall viewpoint where we viewed at the beginning.

Once we arrived back to the top, there is a nice grassy area with picnic tables so we were able to have our lunch.  If you’re unable to make the hike down and back, this grassy area is a nice place to wait and still enjoy the view of the mountains and trees.

On a down side, most state parks in Arizona charge you an entrance fee of $7.00 a carload but for some reason, this park charges you $7.00 a person which is pretty high for the 30 minute hike.  However, because of it’s beauty and that it is the largest  travertine bridge in the world, to me it’s worth $7.00 to see…but don’t bring your dog…this park is NOT dog friendly.


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Fort Verde State Historic Park, Camp Verde, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Our first outing was to the Fort Verde State Historic Park.  It was just down the road from our camp ground so we packed a sack lunch and away we went.  I had arranged to have a tour for our group telling us the history of this military base.  The idea of the tour was to experience life through the eyes of a frontier soldier.   The fort was a base for General Crook’s U.S. Army scouts and soldiers in the 1870s and 1880s.  From 1865 – 1891, Camp Lincoln, Camp Verde and Fort Verde were home to officers, doctors, families, enlisted men, and scouts.  This park is the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona.  Several of the original buildings still stand and living history tours like what we have scheduled  gives visitors a glimpse into Arizona’s history.  Today we experienced three historic house museums, all furnished in the 1880s period, that are listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places.  The former Administration building houses the Visitor Center with interpretive exhibits, period artifacts from military life, and history on the Indian Scouts and Indian Wars era.  There is even a room with authentic clothing that we could even play dress up.  Several members of our RV group did just that.

This is a park that attempts to preserve parts of the Apache Wars era and it’s fort  as it appeared in the 1880s.  The park was established in 1970 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places  a year later.  Settlers in the mid-19th century near the Verde River grew corn and other crops with the prospect of getting good prices from nearby Prescott, which was at that time, the territorial capital.  Nearby miners were also interested in buying the crops that were available.  The rapid increase in population for the mining economy disrupted the hunting and gathering environments of the local Indian tribes.  In turn, they raided the farmers’ crops for food.

The farmers requested military protection from the United States Army and, in 1865, although Arizona was still only a territory, the infantry arrived.  They set up several posts over the next few years.  After approximately 1,500 local natives were placed on a reservation by 1872, the army’s role changed from protecting the settlers to ensuring that the Indians stayed on the reservation.  The last major military engagement with uprising natives took place in 1882 at the  Battle of Big Dry Wash.

The fort was never enclosed by walls or stockades, and it never saw fighting on site.  At its height, it consisted of twenty-two buildings, only four of which survived until 1956, when local citizens created a small museum in the administration building.  They later donated the buildings and ten acres  as a State Park.

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Some of the buildings were built with pice, which is large adobe slabs cast within wooden frames, rather than assembled from the more familiar individual adobe bricks.  The buildings remain and you are able to go inside and see just how the military lived.  Some quarters for the officers are very formal and elegant looking, while the quarters to the enlisted men were very simple.  At one time there were buildings for the married men and their families but those burnt and were never rebuilt.

The tour was very authentic as the guides dressed up in the attire of the times.  The first building, which was the administration building, houses several rooms of a museum showing uniforms and fire arms.  Volunteers share their knowledge of the weapons and describe in detail all the uniforms that are on display.  There are chronological charts to show the history of the fort and it shows how the Indians helped the military and were part of the US Army.

The fort is right in town, and the residents show how proud they are to be a part of this piece of history.  There are huge Ramada’s where we stopped to have our sack lunch.  This really was a great stop and the group seemed to enjoy finding out yet another piece of Arizona history.  I highly recommend stopping by this state park if you are ever going north or south on the I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff.