Roger Naylor- local author and storyteller
A Love Letter to Cottonwood
By Roger Naylor
By Roger Naylor
I’m not sure what drew me to the Verde Valley. The first time I drove through Cottonwood was 1975 while a college student at Northern Arizona University. There was only one stoplight unless my memory deceives me.
In the ensuing years I passed through the burg a few more times. I camped at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, stopped for an occasional meal, that sort of thing. I felt no special attachment to the town yet when my wife and I were preparing to make a permanent move to Arizona a quarter of a century ago, Cottonwood dominated our discussions. It had everything we were looking for—a small town with charm, beautiful setting, good climate, and good location.
Turns out it was the best possible decision we could have made. It meant giving up a few conveniences of city living but I like the slower pace of Cottonwood, the sparse traffic, the quiet and the friendly atmosphere. I like being so close to the land, with open country and trails just minutes away, and wildlife showing up on my doorstep. Most of all, I love having my own personal mountain right outside my window. Mingus Mountain defines our western skyline and serves as launching pad for an array of astounding sunsets.
We’ve seen plenty of changes over the years but most of them positive. Cottonwood has grown but has lost none of its charm. Old Town, which was very run down when we first arrived, is now thriving. There are so many great restaurants that it’s hard to choose where to eat. And wonder of wonders, Cottonwood even has a bit of nightlife. The sidewalks aren’t rolled up at 5:00 p.m. anymore, and that’s impressive for a small town.
Yet small town it remains. It’s the kind of place where you can’t go to the grocery store without running into friends and acquaintances. It’s the kind of place where you know your neighbor, and often your neighbor’s dog. And even though Old Town may have gotten a little hipper as a wine destination, it’s still relaxed enough where you occasionally see horses tied up right on Main Street. If that’s not the essence of an Arizona town, I don’t know what is.
“Location, location, location” is the real estate mantra, and I can’t imagine that a better neighborhood exists in the entire state. Cottonwood nestles in that transition zone between desert and high country, reaping the benefits of all four seasons. We can see some of Arizona’s most popular tourist destinations from our porches. Jerome clings to the mountainside—how I love those twinkling lights at night—Sedona sits across the valley and we’re bookended by Clarkdale and Camp Verde. We’re an hour from Flagstaff, Prescott and the northern edge of ever-creeping Phoenix. And oh yeah, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World lies just up the road. I very much like knowing I can get up in the morning and be hiking into the Grand Canyon before lunchtime.
It was love at first sight for me when I arrived in Arizona way back in 1975. I spent those early years rambling around this remarkable state, first for fun and later as part of my job. For the past 15 years, I’ve been a full-time Arizona author and travel writer. That means there is hardly a corner of this state I haven’t explored and written about. But I’m always happy to return to Cottonwood. In all my travels, I have yet to find another community that I want to call home.