To catch a glimpse of what the Verde Valley  looked like before the settlers and cattle herds arrived, head to Dead Horse Ranch State Park (675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., 928/634-5283, www.azstateparks.com , 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), a nearly pristine stretch of Verde River that offers camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and equestrian areas. Don’t let the name fool you. This is some of the most verdant land in the area.
Officially classified as a cottonwood and willow riparian gallery forest—one of only 20 such ecosystems left in the world—the 423-acre Dead Horse Ranch State Park protects one of the last stretches of free-running river in the Sonoran Desert and more than 100 species of migrating birds, including the black hawks and golden eagles that come every year to feast on the trout released into the river.
From Sedona , take Highway 89A southwest to Cottonwood . Once you enter the town, the highway loops north and turns into Main Street. At the Y intersection, stay on Main Street, which is also called Highway 260. Turn right on 10th Street and head north to Tuzigoot Road. Make a right at Dead Horse Ranch Road, where you’ll see the entrance to the park.