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Thumper Loop Day Hike
Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
April 18, 2015
by Dave French
  GPS Map 
Trailblazers at the bank of a lagoon. [photo by John]
Kneeling:  Wayne, Diana, Jazman, Christina, Quy, Lin, John
Standing: Ron, Biljana, Emma, Dave F., Dottie, Jeanne, Dave M., Monika, Gabrielle, Linda, Jim, Andy, Chuck

Twenty Arizona Trailblazers and guests met at Bell Road/I-17 at 7:00 AM on a beautiful spring morning. We loaded into 5 vehicles and headed up I-17 to SR 260 where we turned west, bypassing the usual mishmash of stopping in Camp Verde. We arrived in Dead Horse Ranch State Park before 9:00 AM. Restrooms are readily available in the park.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located on the north side of the Verde River and east of old downtown Cottonwood. Water from the river has been diverted into a series of lagoons in the park that provide good fishing and habitat for birds. The origin of the name for the park is provided in the Boots and Burgers book by Roger Naylor:

In the late 1940s the Ireys family looked at ranches in Cottonwood, including one with the bleached bones of a deceased equine. When the father asked which ranch they liked, the kids said “the one with the dead horse.” In 1973 when they sold the property to Arizona State Parks, the Ireys made retaining the name a condition of the sale.

The State Park is lush with lots of big deciduous trees and an odd grove of large pine trees. There is lots of green grass and, of course, the lagoons. Quick eye by Wayne caught a heron in flight. We gathered along the banks of one of the lagoons for the traditional group picture.

Lagoon in Dead Horse Ranch State Park. [photo by Wayne]
Wayne scared up the heron. [photo by Wayne]
Did these horses give the park its name? [photo by Wayne]
Hikers start climb up Lime Kiln trail.
Lime Kiln may be in the side of this wash.
We had parked in one of the paved lots near restrooms along the road. From this point we either walked back west to The Lime Kiln Trailhead or east a shorter distance to a trail that provided access to The Lime Kiln Trail. We opted for the shorter walk given that we had at least 8 miles of hiking to do.

The trail junctions are well marked and the trails are frequently used by hikers, bikers, and equestrians so they are easy to follow. The Lime Kiln Trail starts a gentle climb to the east. We crossed a large wash, and I spotted an outcropping in the side of the wash that probably was the old lime kilns. We did not see a sign or other evidence of the kilns.

View to the west from Lime Kiln trail.
Lots of flowers!
Trail junctions are well marked.
Yield to the equestrians. [photo by John]

As we climbed up away from the Verde River, the vegetation quickly changed to high desert, with lots of scrub pines/junipers/cedars and other bushes and lots of wildflowers. There were no great fields of flowers, but lots of individual plants, bushes and cacti in bloom. We reached a turnoff spur to the rattlesnake overlook and most of us decided to take the 0.4 mile round trip. The view was not that great. We had better views earlier in the hike and certainly during the latter part of the hike on the Lower Raptor Trail.

The hiking was fairly easy with gentle grades and only a few big steps. The group moved quickly to the junction with the Thumper Trail. We followed this trail northward and continued a gentle climb until we reached the end of the Thumper Trail and the start of the Lower Raptor Trail and the Rust Bucket Trail that continues northward. It was about 11:30 AM so we stopped for lunch and a deserved rest.

Lunch break. [photo by Wayne]
Lunch break. [photo by Wayne]
3 bumps on a log. [photo by John]
Creosote forest on the Lower Raptor trail.

After lunch we proceed west and south on the Lower Raptor Trail immediately entering a forest of creosote bushes. As we proceed down a two track trail, views to the west opened up. We could see Jerome on the hillside, Clarkdale at the base of the hill and the entrance to the Verde River Canyon, home of the famous scenic railroad. As we continued to descend, we got great views of Tuzigoot National Monument, site of Native American ruins on a small hill overlooking the Verde River.

Tuzigoot National Monument. [photo by Wayne]
Tuzigoot with Clarkdale in the distance.
Hikers descend back to the State Park.

As we neared the main part of the park, there were some unmarked trails going in different directions. One was marked as Roadrunner but we could not find any reference to Roadrunner on our trail maps. Later we discovered that it would have led to a developed portion of the park and have required more walking on the paved roads. Luckily, we chose the better route that kept us on trails a longer distance before we entered the paved roadway. A half mile walk along the road brought us back to our vehicles.

Flower photos by Quy:

white red
red purple
yellow pink

Two car loads decided to head back to Phoenix. The other three went into Old Cottonwood in search of a place for drinks and eats. The burger place that Roger Naylor recommended is Verde Lea Market. I had consulted with Mark (who lived in Cottonwood, and now in Sedona) and he said the burgers were good but the place often only has one person to handle the grill part of the market. A large group would not only overwhelm the cook but there is very limited seating. As a result we looked for other places and ended up at the Red Rooster. They had a separate room in the back that easily accommodated the 12 hikers. Once we realized that we had to go back to the main area and order from the counter, we got good service. Each person ordered and paid for their lunch and the wait staff brought the food to our table. Food was good and they had bottled beer but no draft taps.

Hikers enjoy food and drink at the Red Rooster. [photo by John]
Hikers enjoy food and drink at the Red Rooster. [photo by John]

The total hiking distance was 8.7 miles and the elevation change was about 600 feet from 3250 at the start and 3850 at the high point near the Thumper/Lower Raptor junction. Total elevation gain with ups and downs was about 800 feet. We completed the hike in about 4 hours including the lunch break. That is a pretty good pace. Even though there was no shade on the trail, the high temperature in Cottonwood on the day was 79 degrees so we were all very comfortable.

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updated June 16, 2020