by Ray Newton
Are you looking for a cool road trip you can take? Maybe somewhere to inform and educate — a museum? Or an outing to entertain convivially — a wine tour? Or maybe you’re looking for invigorating recreation — golf?
You can do all these without taking a loan on your house or visiting your banker. From anywhere in Pinal County you can drop into the Verde Valley and Red Rock Country roughly three hours away and make memories with a trip you’ll talk about for a long time.
My wife Patty and I have done it a couple of times. We highly recommend it. Worth noting —your golf score might be better if you play that round before you take the wine tour.
Let’s start with a museum that is the only one of its kind in the country.
Arizona Copper Art Museum
Located near the center of Clarkdale at 849 Main St., this unique museum has a huge collection of more than 6,000 copper art and other copper products that tell the story of copper from around 3500 B.C. to present day.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Christmas and New Year’s Day, admission is $9.75 for adults, $7.75 for seniors, veterans and students; $3.50 for ages 10 to 17; and $1.25 for ages 5 to 9.
Clarkdale was once the heart of the copper industry in Arizona, aka the “Copper State.” Designated as an official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project in 2012, the museum has vibrant galleries that allow you to touch the artifacts, some of which are thousands of years old, including:
- Historical Information Collection — reveals the history of copper and its versatile use in a variety of products over centuries.
- Military Art Collection — shows how military personnel used copper in creative and artistic ways.
- Art and Architecture Collection — exhibits how this multipurpose metal has been used since early Egyptian days through the present.
- Kitchenware Collection — shows how copper has been used since primitive eras as a main element for pots, pans, utensils, and other common cooking activities.
- Drinkware Collection — includes hundreds of vessels created for storing and serving liquids, and for plumbing and other functional household uses.
- Distillery and Winery Collection — exhibits how copper was applied in the making of wine, beer, cognac, and other spirits.Owner-founder Drake Meineke welcomes visitors from throughout the world. The building was an abandoned high school until he remodeled it to accommodate what he calls “the shiniest museum in the West.”
Meineke is also proud that in 2014 — after its first year — the museum won the Arizona Governor’s Tourism Award. It is ranked among the top 3% of 5,000-plus attractions in Arizona by TripAdvisor users and is the No. 1 site to see in Clarkdale.
You’ll have no trouble finding the museum because in front, on the southwest corner, are eye-catching signs and artifacts pointing the way. Plan to spend at least an hour.
Further details at copperartmuseum.com or
Verde Valley Wine Trail
During your day trip, you may be surprised to learn the scenic region of the Verde Valley has one of the nation’s fastest-growing viticulture industries. In the few miles separating Jerome from Clarkdale and Cottonwood, you’ll find clusters of more than 20 wineries. Going beyond those toward Cornville and beyond into either Sedona or Village of Oak Creek, you’ll discover other clusters for a total of 25.
You will not be disappointed if you try any of them.
A good first stop is the Southwest Wine Center, 601 Black Hills Drive, Clarkdale, on 13 acres of a gentle northern slope of Mingus Mountain. You’ll have a chance to meet Michael Pierce, viticulture and enology director of the Yavapai College-owned-and-operated vineyard. He and his staff have developed a premier hands-on educational program that takes students from the grape vineyard to the science of winemaking, bottling, and marketing. Personal tours are available.
If you call ahead for a reservation, you can enjoy a pleasant wine tasting in the recently refurbished tasting room. Even walk-ins are accommodated on the patio for a glass of wine and sales of the wine center’s products. You’ll be surprised at the number of varieties and styles.
In 2020, the center bottled more than 2,400 gallons of wine. The profit is pumped back into the college’s program, making it one of the signature academic programs in the Verde Valley. More than 100 students are enrolled.
Dozens more wine tours await, all within minutes. There are so many wineries to choose from you’d be wise to look up the Verde Valley Wine Trail (vvwinetrail.com; downloadable map) or Wine Tours of Sedona (winetoursofsedona.com) to learn of the choices. You can schedule private, customized tours. Chambers of commerce in any of the communities along the way have excellent information about options you may wish to consider.
Canyon Mesa Golf Course
It’s not hyperbolic to say golf courses in Red Rock Country are among the most spectacular in Arizona.
For casual golfers, Canyon Mesa Country Club lets you tee off for a nine-hole round on an executive course where views will take your breath away. For the more serious, it’s considered a “target” course, meaning you’ll be challenged on most of your shots.
Tucked away at 500 Jacks Canyon in the Village of Oak Creek, the course was designed in 1985 by Jack Snyder. The par 28-course has 1,450 yards wandering through stunning terrain with large shade trees.
Golf Advisor ranks Canyon Mesa as the “19th best short course in the United States.” You can finish a round in about 90 minutes — unless you get totally distracted by the stunning scenery surrounding you.
You’ll enjoy meeting Willie Darke, the amiable golf pro who has been welcoming players to the course for almost eight years. He’ll help you check-in and make sure you get your clubs loaded onto golf carts. He’ll be sure you get the best rates possible, too. It’s the perfect course for a family outing, some who might be “learners” intimidated by a regular course. Currently, rates start as low as $23.
Canyon Mesa also has tennis and pickleball courts at reasonable rates. Best yet, you can grab a meal or a beverage at Nine and Dine Sound Bites Grill.
Book your tee time by calling 928-289-0026 or by going online at canyonmesacountryclub.com.