This post may contain affiliate links.
James and I are trying something a little out of our comfort zone… the whole “spontaneous” thing.
I’m sure you’ve heard us talk about our Binders of Fun; you know, those extra thick 3-ring binders we fill with each trip’s plans down to the most minute details…
So, when the BNR rally ended on Sunday, we had no clue where we’d be camping that night. According to our more spontaneous RVing friends, this is supposed to feel like, and I quote, “sweet freedom”. To me it just felt inconvenient.
I’m all in with trying new things so bring on the inconvenience…I mean the sweet freedom.
Thanks to my buddy Campendium, we ended up heading to a boondocking spot off “Bloody Basin Rd” north of Scottsdale. Now, Arizona is known for creative names…but this one takes the cake. I have no clue how a chunk of treasured public land got stuck with such a gory name, but we cautiously headed there anyways, half expecting to see bloody wash bowls along the road sides.
Turns out, the area was lovely.
Score one for spontaneity.
That was only a quick overnight, and by Monday morning I was looking forward to hitting a nearby National Monument: Montezuma Castle.
Montezuma Castle is one of a string of pueblos constructed in central Arizona around the 12th century or so, and being James and I are both fascinated by ruins, we were curious to stop and check it out.
I called Montezuma Castle before heading there (I KNOW, ‘not a spontaneous move, Stef’), and got some bad news. The ranger apologetically told me they don’t allow RV parking during busy times, and this week happens to be spring break… and very busy.
So visiting Montezuma was out, and I was sad.
After all, I had spent the evening before doing a bunch of reading on the ancient Sinaguan people and I was totally prepared! I mean wait… not ‘prepared’ as in opposite of spontaneous. More like ‘educated’. Phew this spontaneous stuff is hard.
Good thing I did my research though.
Because what I learned is there’s a lesser visited National Monument called ‘Tuzigoot’ not even an hour away that also features an ancient hilltop pueblo of the Sinaguan Indians.
A quick call and they enthusiastically said, come on down!
So guess what we did:
Unlike the RV parking restrictions that kept us from being able to visit Montezuma Castle, parking was no trouble here at all.
Tuzigoot is a small National Monument about 20 miles south of Sedona, and just a few miles out of the touristy town of Cottonwood.
The Tuzigoot visitor’s center is pretty impressive, and you can easily spend a good hour in there chatting with the friendly staff, reading the informative displays, and seeing the multitudes of artifacts that were found at the site back in the 1930’s when it was excavated.
My first question, upon arriving, is what does that strange name, Tuzigoot, mean?
Turns out it means “crooked water”, and back when Tuzigoot pueblo flourished, the Verde River’s course flowed right along its western border.
The pueblo itself sits on a hilltop, and there’s a short wheelchair-accessible trail that encircles it getting you right up close and personal.
Tuzigoot wasn’t all built at once; more was added as the population increased. There were around 225 people living at Tuzigoot in its heyday, and the pueblo had around 100 rooms.
Since the average height of the people at the time was 5’2”, the ceilings were only about 5 1/2 feet tall and each family had a mere 200 square feet of space. Those rooms must have been pretty dark, too. Thinking about what that must have been like I can’t help but wonder… was claustrophobia a thing back then?
Tuzigoot is only one of at least 40 villages that flourished in the Verde Valley between 1000 and 1400. It’s estimated there were 6,000-8,000 people living within the network of loosely connected villages.
The people in the area were unified in defense and actively traded with each other for around 300 years or more… longer than the US has been a country!
It’s interesting what people find most fascinating in visitors’ centers like this. For James, he was fixated on the lack of doors.
For me it was the pottery:
Apparently, Tuzigoot people made pottery that was pretty plain and utilitarian. But they did seem to appreciate more artistically made pottery from other tribes because imported pottery was found on-site.
Tuzigoot was abandoned by the 15th century.
It’s unclear why it was abandoned; perhaps drought, disease, or war, but it was at the same period of time when all of the major civilizations in the southwest mysteriously collapsed.
And hey… if you’re a bird-watcher, here’s another reason to put Tuzigoot on your radar. Tavasci Marsh sits just downhill from Tuzigoot. The Audobon Society has named Tavasci Marsh and the areas adjacent to it an Important Bird Area.
There’s a path down the hill from Tuzigoot that meanders around the marsh, so bring your binoculars! Now me, I can hardly tell a sparrow from a robin, but it’s a skill I’ve always wanted to hone. I do love spotting birds even though I have no clue what I’m staring at.
So there you have it. Our Trip of Spontaneity so far, so good.
And since it’s time to roll on, I better start the ‘sweet freedom’ process of figuring out where we’re going next and what we’ll be doing.
I’m not having binder of fun withdrawals, I’m not having binder of fun withdrawals, I’m not having binder of fun withdrawals…
We spend most of our time being spontaneous, but when we travel someplace we know has limited camping options we reserve a few campgrounds within our trip. For instance, we are headed to Southern Utah later this week, and we have a short time-frame for our visit. We want to spend our days exploring as many hours as we can; knowing we have a place to land most nights is nice.
Thanks for the great info. We will put on our list of places to see. I also like the vest you have on Mel. I’ll have to try one of those on our traveling cat. She Houdini’s out of all the harnesses I have tried and the vest looks like it will prevent the slithering out of the harness trick.
What kind of harness is that, and does Mel like it?
The harness is made by Kitty Holster; we love it and Mel is very comfortable in it!!!
I noticed you driving the Travato 59 KL National Park edition. Did I miss your post that you bought one? Have you reviewed it? If so, can you post a link. Thank and keep on truckin!
You mean you don’t hang on every word, blog, or video we post?!?! LOL! (Don’t worry, neither do I…) The deets about our tour with the National Park Foundation Travato were announced during Winnebago’s live reveal a few weeks ago… go to about 30 minutes in on this video on our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buUChJLPLSM&t=1831s
Basically we’ll be touring around checking out some of the parks less traveled with the National Park Foundation Travato. SUPER EXCITED!
We visited there in late October, very impressive. We were headed up the sidewalk leading up to the top, when all the sudden next to where we were walking was a 3′ rattlesnake, rattling like crazy. Who would have thought that there would be snakes out in late October? Great place to visit…view from the top is incredible.
Loved Toozigoot; especially when we combined it with Montezuma’s Castle and Montezuma’s Well. The Marsh trail surprised us. A great walk with a lookout platform, but what impressed me the most is how much I learned about identifying the plants along the trail and common to the area. The drawings and identifier plaques were some of the best I’ve seen in our park journies and made it really easy to recognize the plant. We missed you by a day!
Thanks for suggesting Tuzigoot, we’ll put it on our list. We’ve been having fun in CA and were having good luck being spontaneous but that all changed around the end of the month when we realized we’d better make some reservations. A mix of State Parks, Harvest Host and Good Sam. We had some good rides around San Diego and riding Carpenterua to Santa Barbara tomorrow. Weaving our way up to Sea Otter. Cheers.
In the immortal words of Maddie Hayes of Moonlighting: “Spontaneity has its time and place.”
Great story! This year we are pre-planning. National Park Service units typically allow reservations 6 months in advance and they go quick, so good planning is important to get assure camping within the parks. James and Stef I envy that NPF Van! I could sure use that for my next adventure visiting 50 units.
Love the “spontaneity factor”.
We don’t do reservations, but we DO spend a lot of time preplanning (though mostly on a google map with links, and not in an actual printed binder), then, when we are actually on the road, the spontaneity kicks in and everything is up for grabs. We find it advantageous to be aware of more options than we can possibly do in the time allotted, and then just pick and choose what’s convenient as you go.
I like the term – “Educated Spontaneity”
I can feel your pain in going through “Binder of Fun” withdrawal. We’d also have a hard time being spontaneous.
Amazed to see Mel actually sitting atop the cat blanket in one of your photos! Does he ever get the idea to run out of the van when camping with the door open, or is he mostly chill and stays put?
We’ve been sneaky with the cat blanket! Since he loves that perch so much, we’ve just covered the whole thing with his blanket… so it’s either touch the blanket or no perch. Are we brilliant or what?!?
The van is Mel’s safe space so he’s never in a mindset to run out of the van. Even when we try to get him to come outside (with his leash and vest), he’s very slow and hesitant about stepping outside. But if he ever does decide to dart, we’ve got a cat tracker on his collar!
Great pics and narrative. Also, great lesser known National Park selection. Worked in AZ 74-78 with Law Enforcement/Military a lot to see in the south and up north around Flagstaff AZ. Thanks for work, most appreciated. How is the new (leased) rig working out? Best regards..
Hi Doc! Yep, we’ve been exploring all around Flagstaff and wow… so much amazing history there. Wonderful to see so many National Monuments protecting it!
We’re having a blast in the Limited Edition National Park Foundation Travato. Except PHEW that’s a mouthful isn’t it! I’ve been hashtagging it on Instagram with #NPFTravato to shorten it, lol. And of course there’s always just calling it “Parky”!!!
Spontaneity is good. Arizona in March/April is a tough time to test it out though. Snowbirds are still here (from US, Canada and Europe) and local families are out and about for spring break. I’m sorry you missed Montezuma Castle. We were there the other day. They had parking for large vehicles but they filled quickly with tour buses and vans. If you are still in the area, check out Montezuma Well just up I-17. They have a small parking lot but there are a few gravel pull offs you would fit in with van and trailer. Go early before the groups hit.
Enjoy your National Park tour. We may run into you some day. We probably just missed you at Tuzigoot. LOVE your blog!
Yeah it sounds like we just crossed paths! Glad you got into Montezuma Castle on a slower day, we hope to come back ourselves!