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Sedona Route 66

16th July 2010

Victorian Prescott, Going Back in Time to Fort Verde and Even Further Back to Montezuma Castle

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Prescott Plaza
    After a quick wash and brush of my teeth by the standpipe, I headed down into Prescott. I discovered it to be a delightful city, peppered with Victorian buildings in the centre; clean, neat, and tidy. It had a similarity to Seattle in that it had numerous medical establishments focusing on cancer, heart, eye, research etc aspects.
    The city had its beginnings in the spring of 1863, when a party of explorers and would be gold miners led by the famed Joseph R. Walker arrived near the headwaters of the Hassayampa River. On 10th May 1863, at a location some six miles south-southeast of the city Plaza, 25 members of the Walker Prospecting and Mining Company adopted "Laws and Resolutions" governing members of the first mining district in what would later become Yavapai County. The rules for the "Pioneer Mining District" provided a foundation for the establishment of mining law in the central Arizona highlands, and could be considered Prescott's birth certificate.
    Thus began a gold rush that sparked the settlement and development of central Arizona, and the choice of Prescott as the first Territorial capital. Before then, this area was almost totally unknown to white men, and gold mining prospects had been known only along the Colorado and Gila Rivers.
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St Michael Building on Whiskey Row
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Matts Saloon
    I parked up near the Plaza, and walked along Whiskey Row, which still contained a fair number of bars. There was a lovely arcade just behind the Row containing a variety of quaint old shops, but by 9am they still weren't open. For some reason a lot of businesses didn't open till late; banks often kept their doors closed until 10am. I popped into Caf´┐Ż St. Michael for some breakfast. It was a real old-fashioned bar-cum-bistro, rustic red brickwork walls, polished stained wooden floors, ornate windows, and full of the hustle and bustle of folk grabbing a breakfast and exchanging gossip.
    The lady at the next table, who had been intently reading the business section of the New York Times, got up to leave and asked if I would care to read her paper. "Thank you very much", I replied. "it will be the first newspaper I will have read in over two months". She immediately deduced I was travelling and wished me a pleasant trip. Scanning through the paper, I learned that the BP oil well leak had finally been capped after spilling oil for 86 days. The nation's patience had been well and truly tried. Other news concerned the Argentine go-ahead for allowing same sex marriages, and for some reason a large coverage of the Belgium problem of forcing sectors to communicate primarily in either French or Flemish. A local piece of news, Arizona, which had been the first state to adopt photo enforcement of speeding laws, had become the first state to pull the plug that very morning, bowing to the wishes of a vocal band of conservative advocates who complained that photo enforcement intruded on privacy and was mainly devised to raise money.
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Officer Douglas with Top Button Undone - Court Marshall!
    It was soon time to move on to my next destination, the Fort Verde State Historic Park near Camp Verde. In 1863 the New Mexico territory was divided, creating the Arizona Territory. The new territorial Capital was established at Prescott in 1864. As Anglo settlers entered the rich bottom lands near the Verde River at West Clear Creek, they came into conflict with the Tonto-Apache and Yavapai Indians who were already established in the area. Farms were raided by the Indians for crops and livestock. The settlers fought back bringing about an escalation of hostilities. In May 1865, the settlers demanded military protection.
    The early volunteer military units were composed of almost entirely Mexican volunteers. Often marching barefoot and on half rations, they were known as fierce fighters. In August 1865 they established a tent camp overlooking the farms at West Clear Creek. Regular US Army troops relieved the Arizona Volunteers in September 1866. Camp Lincoln, the next post, was established December 1865, and was located one mile north of the present site, and was used from 1866 to 1871. In 1868 the name was changed to Camp Verde.
    Malaria plagued the camp so much that in 1870, the Army made the decision to move again. Construction started at the present post in 1871, and all buildings were completed by 1873. There were 22 buildings arranged around a parade ground, only four of which had survived to this day, the rest had been sold off and broken up. Camp Verde had been renamed Fort Verde in 1879 to signify permanence, but with the end of raids by 1882, the Post became less important. It was abandoned in 1891.
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Commanding Officer's Quarters
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Bachelor Officers' Quarters
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Surgeon's Quarters
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Administration Block
    Of the four remaining buildings, the administration building had become a museum. This displayed artifacts from the day-to-day lives of those who lived here, together with stories of some of their lives. An extremely interesting account was given on how Indians were taken on as scouts and often formed into effective fighting units. This had proved controversial between military commanders, but it had been proven that Indian scouts were far more effective at combating Indian tribes than regular soldiers. Indeed one leading commander had stated that 40 scouts were as capable as 320 regular soldiers.
    The other three remaining buildings were Commanding Officer's Quarters, the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, and the Surgeon's Quarters. One interesting architectural feature was the construction technique. Traditional adobe construction used bricks made from a mixture of clay, sand and straw. However, the exterior walls of the building were made using "pice" construction. Here massive adobe units were cast in temporary wooden forms. This method was faster, simpler and less prone to water damage than the more traditional bricks.
    I walked across the parade ground to take some photographs, and the heat on the skin was becoming painful. This was the furthest south I would be going in Arizona. I also noted storm clouds gathering around the ring of mountains surrounding Camp Verde.
    On the way out of Camp Verde I pulled in at a supermarket to pick up provisions, and I could see lightening flashes all around the valley. When I was in the building, a lightening strike must have hit a power line since the supermarket lost all power. It was restored in a couple of minutes.
    Montezuma Castle was only a few miles north and that would be my last port of call for the day. As I arrived, the storm was unleashing itself everywhere, and the rain was starting to fall. No sooner had I entered the visitor centre when the heavens opened up. It too took a power outage for a couple of minutes. One of the officials said that at this time of year, July/August, Arizona suffers its monsoon season. Normally single cell storms would give a localised downpour and that would be it. However, the current storm was unusual in that it was multicell, and instead of lasting minutes, this storm lasted an hour. I had a long chat with a lady who had just retired from her job as principal of a primary school, and her dad who had just retired for the third time. They were from Salt Lake City and were visiting some of the sights I had been to. It was a pleasure to advise on some of the locations such as Antelope Canyon and Canyon de Chelly.
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Fort Verde Parade Ground
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Montezuma Castle - Five Story Cliff Dwelling
    When the rains did abate, I wandered down the trail to see the castle. The best description of it would be a multi-story cliff dwelling, 100 feet above the floor, where access would only have been via a series of ladders up the cliff wall, leading to roof access of the buildings, and there were doors between the buildings on the inside.
    Dating from the 1100s, the pueblo remains that made up Montezuma Castle occupied an idyllic location, built into the limestone cliffs high above Beaver Creek. Once home to the Sinagua people, this cliff dwelling originally contained 20 rooms spread over five floors. Early settlers marveled at the structure and assumed that it was Aztec in origin, hence the name Montezuma Castle. Like Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle reached its maximum size in the 1300s, and was occupied for another century before the Sinaguans abandoned the pueblo.
    After taking it all in, I drove back to Flagstaff and found a campsite on the south side of the town for the night. My culinary concoction tonight was chilli followed by banana, a delightful combination. The site was a few thousand feet higher than the places I had visited earlier in the day, and the corresponding drop in temperature was most welcome. Tomorrow I would start heading west; go west old man!
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Sedona Route 66

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Last updated 19.7.2010