Looking for the perfect Arizona getaway? Head north to Clarkdale

CLARKDALE, AZ (Arizona Highways TV) -- The town of Clarkdale is quaint and charming. Its downtown is only one block, but it’s full of art, history, restaurants, al fresco dining, and nightlife. And then, there is the natural beauty that surrounds and winds through the town -- Mingus Mountain, national forests, and the Verde River.

The Verde Canyon Railroad takes off from the Clarkdale Train Station. It is known as Arizona’s longest-running nature show. You can see some of our state’s most lush wilderness, red rocks, canyons, and elusive wildlife.

There is even a national monument – Tuzigoot -- within the town limits.

Then, there is the picture-perfect Southwest Wine Center, where Yavapai Community College hosts its viticulture program and a tasting room where you can enjoy the award-winning fruits of their labor.

Town of Clarkdale, Arizona

“The whole Verde Valley is just taking off with the wine industry,” said Rebecca Backus, the owner of Clarkdale’s Park Hotel. More on that in a minute. Back to the wine. “Just in Clarkdale alone, we have four wineries that you could go to. They all have amazing patios with views you can sit out on.”

If you’re headed up from Phoenix or southern Arizona, jump on Interstate 17 north to State Route 260 at Camp Verde, then continue on 89a past a few roundabouts.

“Clarkdale is definitely on the map,” Backus said. “The way I look at Clarkdale is we’re perfectly centered -- 10 minutes from Jerome, Cottonwood is 3 miles away, Sedona is 20 minutes.

Adventure on the Verde River

Clarkdale Kayak Company is different from most rental companies. They first teach you how to kayak, then give certified guided trips down the river.

“We’re gonna experience a lot of what we call chutes, just sort of fast-moving water similar to maybe a waterslide even and certainly as safe,” explained Scott Buckley, the owner of Clarkdale Kayak Company. “And then we will experience some class-two rapids, which add a little bit more technicality, but they’re still safe. So, beginner level all the way up to expert paddlers love this stretch of this river because it’s safe enough for beginner paddlers but it’s beautiful enough and accessible enough for even the most extreme kayakers.”

Buckley has led some of Arizona’s most scenic and exciting adventures.

“I started out in college guiding Grand Canyon river trips, also up in Glen Canyon, from Glen Canyon Dam down to Lee’s Ferry, guided jeep tours up in Sedona, backpacking in the Grand Canyon, so, really sort of a passion of mine.”

Tour groups meet at the Main Street Café in downtown Clarkdale. Buckley and his guides will drive you down to the river.

“The trip starts here at Lower Tapco, which is actually a historic site. It’s the original Arizona Power Company,” Buckley explained. “We’re in the riparian zone. This houses 75% of our biology in the state of Arizona but makes up less than 2% of our landmass. So, it’s a really unique forest, actually one of the rarest forms of forest in the world.”

The tour takes about 2.5 hours. “Ample time for floating around in tranquil pools and running rapids, and we typically stop and take a swim break, and a lot of Super Soaker breaks.”

As you pass the cottonwood and willow forests, the river winds you towards what’s left of an ancient civilization – the Sinaguan ruins.

“We focus a lot on the history of Clarkdale, the mining history, the history of the ancient Signaguan culture, and a tour of the riparian zone here along the Verde River,” Buckley said.

Speaking of mining, ore from Jerome was brought by rail to Clarkdale for smelting, leaving behind a slag pile.

“They say it still has about a half-ounce of gold per ton; there’s 20 million tons of slag,” Buckley said. “That equates to about $17 billion in gold left in this slag pile.”

This mountain is just too costly to mine, both financially and environmentally. Today it’s simply a reminder of Clarkdale’s once-booming industry.

The Verde River is full of surprises, especially for our out-of-state visitors.

“They’re in awe of the beauty of the river; seeing a river running through the desert is not what a lot of people are used to,” Buckley said. “It just absolutely blows people away.”

Violette’s Bakery Cafe offers taste of Parisian life

Housed in a little red caboose parked on Main Street in downtown Clarkdale, there’s a true slice of Parisian life. Violette’s is an authentic French and Belgian café.

Owner Amber Godina loves French and Belgian cooking.

“I have French relatives, French DNA,” she said. “I thought it would be cool to learn the authentic ways to do things.”

She started cooking in her home and selling her pastries at the gift shop that used to be in the red caboose that is now her kitchen.

“I had a little case and I’d show up every morning and sell just in the mornings,” she said. “I got a following and the following kept getting bigger and bigger, and I started putting chairs and tables out.”

When the owner of the gift shop retired, Godina seized her opportunity.

“I asked the owner of the caboose if I could put a kitchen in there,” she said. “And a lot of people were like, ‘You can’t put a kitchen in there; that’s not going to work,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, I can!’”

Croissants, which take two days to make, are rolled out every morning. Brioche is kneaded by hand for 30 minutes.

“We really stick to old traditional ways of doing things,” she said.

The Belgian waffles at Violette’s started as something she whipped up for her kids. They were so good that they found their way onto the Violette’s menu.

And then there’s the Croque monsieur. She had one and a brasserie in Paris and was hooked from the first bite. The owner of the brasserie introduced her to the chef.

“I honestly didn’t think that they would ever allow me into their kitchen, but he brought me back in there, and the chef was so sweet and kind,” she said. “And I got to learn the authentic way to do the Croque madame and Croque monsieur. The madame is the one with the egg on the top.” (See the video above.)

As soon as she got back, amber rewrote her menu, adding her new French discoveries.

“The food is absolutely delicious and unique for the area and authentic if you want to think about French food and European food,” said a regular of Violette’s, who happens to be French. She said Clarkdale reminds her of Provence in southeastern France. “You go to a cafe, you sit outside on the terrace. You enjoy your food, and you enjoy the slow pace of life.”

The Park Hotel

Wrapped in windows and awash in natural light, the rooms of the Park Hotel in downtown Clarkdale couldn’t be more inviting. It’s a boutique hotel full of history. The eight rooms have great views of Mingus Mountain and the town park, and all of the modern amenities you could want.

“I’m pretty proud of our rooms,” Backus said with a smile.

Clarkdale was originally a planned community built by William A. Clark for his United Verde Copper Company.

“He actually had the housing built and these building structures that we have here now for all the staff employees that worked at the smelter,” Backus explained.

The building that houses the Park Hotel was built n 1915. It was originally an undertaker’s parlor.

“We actually thought about naming our hotel the Undertaker Inn instead of the Park Hotel,” Backus said. “But we didn’t want to follow that ghost avenue. We just figured, everything’s been really nice to us, and we haven’t noticed anything scary, so I’ve been respectful to ‘em, so we went with Park Hotel, and they’ve been happy so far. Nobody’s bothered me,” she laughed.

The building has since been a hardware store, a laundromat, and even a showroom for Linder Motors. Backus and her husband bought it about five years ago. They moved in and started renovating. It took them two years.

“Since we lived in the building, we worked day and night, you know?” she said. “We went to bed late and we did most of it ourselves.” That includes exposing the beautiful brick hidden behind plaster. Backus started with one wall. She loved it so much that they decided to do the whole building.

“So, we did the whole building and upstairs and every hotel room -- the exterior wall, we exposed with the brick.”

Backus and her husband wanted to keep the building’s authenticity. They saved wood from the mezzanine and office space and used it in the Smelter Town Brewery, which was the second part of their project. It’s located in the hotel.

“Just anything that we could reuse, we definitely did!” Backus said.

Just as Clarkdale’s history is a part of the Park Hotel, it’s also a big influence on the Smelter Town Brewery.

“We have great pictures,” Backus said. We actually have metal pieces, just cool things about the history of the smelter. And the best thing was the railroad track that we brought in for the footrest of the bar.”

Up-and-coming craft beer scene in Clarkdale

From the styles and tastes to the names, the beers at Smelter Town Brewery also reflect the Clarkdale community. Head brewer Tim Godin says he likes brewing styles you might not find elsewhere in the Verde Valley -- like smoothie sours and beer seltzers.

“Sour beer is beer that is made deliberately soured or made tart using acidity,” he explained. “A smoothie sour is a subcategory of a sour beer where you add a boatload of fruit puree and other adjuncts like spices and vanilla, for instance. A hard seltzer is an alcoholic carbonated water, and it’s really light and refreshing, low in calories, gluten free, and great in the summer months here in Arizona.”

The Verde Valley may be known for its wine, but Smelter Town Brewery is confident they can stack up.

“I think that we’ve started off on the good foot; we’ve created a reputation for ourselves,” Godin said. “We believe that craft beer in Clarkdale is going to take off.”

The wine

Chateau Tumbleweed Winery and Tasting Room is unique in that it doesn’t have its own vineyard. Instead, it works with a dozen vineyards in three counties.

Kris Pottier and her husband, Joe Bechard, own Chateau Tumbleweed with another couple. They opened in 2015. They moved here from Oregon and never intended on getting into the wine business. Bechard has a degree in journalism and moved to the Verde Valley to write for a local newspaper.

“I had never heard of Arizona wine,” Bechard said. “I didn’t know anything about it was really curious.”

He started working at Page Springs Cellars up the road.

“Once I started to get to see Arizona wine, I really fell in love with it,” he said. “I really believe in the here. They’re good kinds of wines that I like to drink.”

“We all walked into the industry at a time when there weren’t very many people involved, so we were given badges to do things that otherwise people would clamor for or go to school for,” Pottier explained. “So, we learned on the job.”

They did that for 15 years before striking out on their own with their partners.

“We get to finally say what we wanted to say about Arizona wine and do it in a way that we wanted to do it,” Bechard said.

Chateau Tumbleweed has gone from making 2,000 cases of wine per year to 5,000 cases.

Like most tasting rooms, they serve wine flights or by the glass. You can sit on the patio or enjoy the inviting living room setting.

“I’ve been into a lot of tasting rooms in my life that made me feel uncomfortable and want to hug the wall. That was the only thing really that we intended, that we try to make a warm, engaging space where people came in and wanted to relax and drink some wine,” Pottier said.

Pottier draws the unique labels for Chateau Tumbleweed’s wine. What’s in the bottles, though, is as distinctive as what’s on them. She said her husband’s creativity in developing depths of flavors make Chateau Tumbleweed’s wines stand out.

“If you’re a person who likes to think and you want to get lost in wine, his wines are really good to get lost in.”

Perfect Arizona getaway

Clarkdale is the perfect three-day getaway, but you’ll probably have to make multiple three-day trips just to get it all in.

“We have so many different things to offer,” Godina said. “We’ve got a museum that has Dead Sea Scrolls in it. We’ve got Tuzigoot and, of course, the train.”

“The All-American town right here in Arizona,” Buckley said.

“Come to Clarkdale and just a breath a little bit and slow down,” Backus said, offering an invitation to all.

“It’s just a great place to come if you want to get away and relax and not be in the hustle and bustle; it’s perfect,” Godina said.