When Spanish explorers first rode into this part of central Arizona in the 16th century, they were immediately struck by the tall, green (verde) grasses and mighty cottonwoods that flanked the banks of its small river. The conquistadors named the area Verde Valley, a testament to its contrast against the brown Sonoran desert.
The Sinagua had known of this temperate oasis for hundreds of years, making their homes in cliffside dwellings and hilltop pueblos until they disappeared in the 1400s. By the late 19th century, Anglo settlers arrived and clashed with the Apache Indians who roamed the land, prompting the construction of Fort Verde .
In their zeal to appease the settlers, though, Fort Verde’s civilian and military commanders changed the landscape forever. Local pioneers took full advantage of the Native Americans’ relocation to reservations and moved wave after wave of cattle and farms onto the land. So many head of cattle were brought in that the waist-high grasses that prompted Army-contracted hay cutters and gave the Verde Valley its name were soon gone. The topsoil washed away, leaving much of the land so denuded that the hard cacti and low grasses seen today were all that survived.
Fortunately, though, you can still see the vestiges of Verde Valley’s green landscape and reminders of its dramatic history. Visit the national monuments at Montezuma Castle  and Tuzigoot  to see the protected pueblo villages of the Sinagua. Learn what life was really like in the Old West by exploring the haunted mining town of Jerome  or the frontier military installation at Fort Verde. And be sure to see how the valley earned its green moniker at Dead Horse Ranch State Park , a lush riparian reserve between Sedona  and Jerome.