Stories from the Saddle: Cottonwood, Arizona

I caught myself getting lost in the scenery around when I hit a rock and flew off my bike sideways. The guys I was riding with quickly returned to check on me, but I dusted myself off and kept grinning down the trail.
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I got bucked off my bike, but not my horse in Cottonwood, Arizona. On a solo trip through the American Southwest, I had the pleasure of passing a few days in Cottonwood. It wasn’t just the bike trails or the wine trails that made me fall in love with the place though, it was the people. I had some genuinely wonderful experiences with the locals there, and these few moments made a lasting impression from my trip.

This article was created in partnership with the City of Cottonwood Tourism & Economic Development, Arizona.
Photos by Emily Sierra Photography.


‘It’s me and you, Clifford.’

Horsing around in Cottonwood

Before I rode my mountain bike deeper though Dead Horse Ranch State Park, I warmed up with a horseback ride through the lower parts of the state park. My beautiful steed, Clifford “the big red horse”, carried me easily through washes, crossing the Verde River, and up through desert terrain. Was I nervous about crossing a flowing river that came up to Clifford’s thigh? Sure! That’s when I told him, “it’s me and you, let’s do this!”

I felt camaraderie with the family that was also on the tour—we were in this adventure together. We laughed and bobbed down the trail, following our trusty guide, Christian. Since he grew up in the area, Christian knew so much about the local terrain, people and history and related that all to us.

This is the first stream crossing—only ankle deep. The second one was very exciting!

‘Yep, I’m all good!’

Mountain bike excitement in Cottonwood

So, as I mentioned, I got bucked off my bike. Chasing two locals down the trail in Dead Horse Ranch State Park, I was really finding my flow. My mountain bike casually rolled down steep rocks and dropped off rock ledges, I was feeling pretty hyped. Then, I caught myself getting lost in the scenery when I hit a rock, and flew off my bike sideways. The guys I was riding with quickly returned to check on me, but I dusted myself off and kept grinning down the trail. Riding through this slice of Arizona desert was simply a blast!

Beyond the fun riding, though, the gents I met were so friendly, and genuinely stoked to show me their local trails. After they escorted me back to my truck in the dark, they recommended more rides in the area, and with a few fist bumps, they were on their way.

Matt shows me some aggressive lines on “Thumper”.

“I don’t know much about wine.”

Getting acquainted with grapes in Cottonwood

As a craft beer connoisseur, I have an appreciation for the craft beverage industry, but I have never learned much about wine and how to properly taste it. Saying that aloud in certain regions around the world might get me pushed out the door, but not in Cottonwood. In multiple tasting rooms, I openly explained my experience in the world of wine, and all of the wine-tenders happily directed my senses. None were pretentious, and each place was warm and welcoming. Of course, the proximity of the tasting rooms to one another made it easy to sample various wineries all within walking distance… I really loved that!


“Okay, okay, I’m ready!”

An ATV adventure in Cottonwood

I sat in the passenger seat while Vortex ATV owner, Nate, ushered me around the red rock surrounding Cottonwood. We shouted over the engine our life stories and shared travel tales from abroad. Just when I’d get too comfortable, Nate would say, “hold on!” and we’d cruise up some rough rock leading to epic views of the Verde Valley below. At one point, he revved up at a puddle and we plowed through. Let’s just say, a little mud on my lens was well worth the fun of feeling like a kid again.

Cruising through said mud puddle.

I so appreciated the warm and welcoming spirit in Cottonwood, Arizona. The kindness and hospitality of the locals radiated throughout the Verde Valley, and made me feel comfortable as a solo female traveler.

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