I once lived in Jerome for a number of years and enjoyed the tightly-knit community, which was made up of an interesting crowd of long-time locals, hippies, artists and big city refugees.  Now a resident of Clarkdale I love exploring the Verde Valley because I never run out of new diverse things to do.

One fond memory of mine is, brassy big band tunes wafting over me from a landmark gazebo which is packed full of percussion, strings and horns. Sinking deep into the dark edges of the park's soft summer lawn, looking at endless stars and the multitude of lawn chairs and blankets below. Cool breezes rolling down from Mingus Mountain adding a faint chill to the night air. For a moment it feels like we are part of a movie, but in reality, it's the Town of Clarkdale's free Summer Concert Series, just one part of this the summer’s season of magic in the Verde Valley. With live music scheduled on select Saturday evenings from May through September, it is not at all unusual to witness spontaneous acts Verde Valley  (3)1.jpgof waltzing, two-stepping and fox-trotting couples in the historic town park.

The Verde Valley was named one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 US Travel destinations for 2013.  The Verde Valley is comprised of several historic high desert communities - each unique with their character and charm.  These cities became what they are today due to mining, ranching, agriculture and military resources.  Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Sedona, Camp Verde and Cornville each have their own distinct personalities, yet remain a community at large. The waterways connect these towns and flow through them, tangling together as Oak Creek and Wet Beaver Creek make their way toward the Verde River. The region has a mild climate which is evident as seen in ancient dwellings throughout the area, such as Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot.

A variety of attractions including outdoor adventures, art galleries, wineries and dining at the local restaurants provide a wealth of intrigue for visitors. Sedona is the best known city within the Verde Valley, straddling the border of Yavapai and Coconino counties. Highlights include its expanse of national forest surrounding the town, many hiking and biking trails, world-class resorts, spas and restaurants. This red sandstone community is renowned for its spiritual energy, vortex energy and new age sensibility. Sedona is not just a postcard or a movie set, it is also a vibrant community that many people call home.

Verde Valley  (2)1.jpgThe Verde Valley is quite enjoyable during the summer, with day-use access areas along the waterways, from just north of Clarkdale through Cottonwood and continuing past Camp Verde. Cottonwood’s Dead Horse Ranch State Park provides great hiking trails, camping, fishing and river access. Verde River Adventure Center in Clarkdale provides rentable kayaks, tubes and other floatation devices, that make for easy day trips.

Another great way to enjoy the river canyon scenery and wildlife is to take a train ride aboard Clarkdale’s Verde Canyon Railroad. Running year-round this heritage railroad dates back to 1912 and provides a comfortable way to view the riparian and desert ecosystems. Starlight rides are also available and are a seasonal specialty. They head out in the late afternoon and return during the course of the sunset and conclude in the moon’s light. If you get the chance, this is a truly unforgettable experience!

While in Clarkdale, be sure to visit the newest additions to historic Main Street: The Copper Art Museum and Four-Eight Wineworks, providing a unique glimpse into the towns mining past and wine making future. The Verde Valley’s booming viticulture scene began in the 1990s in Cornville, a sleepy rural town near Oak Creek. Along the winding Page Springs Road, you will find the starting point for a beautiful expanding wine region. Vineyards cascade down the sandy hillsides and wine tasting rooms cluster like the grapes they produce.  Each winery or tasting room has friendly staff and one-of-a-kind wines.

Camp Verde is a river town with an adorable Verde Valley  (4)1.jpghistoric Main Street which is home to cowboys, horse ranches, pecan farms and Fort Verde State Park. If games of chance and cosmic bowling suit your style, go check out Cliff Castle Casino for some entertaining pastimes,  which is run by the Yavapai Apache Nation. If you are more daring, try zip lining over lions and tigers at Out of Africa Wildlife Park!

Old Town Cottonwood was once known as the bootlegging epicenter of the Southwest, but by the 1990s this historic Main Street had become slightly run down. Today, this vintage stretch of State Route 89A is not just a place to tap your brakes; it is definitely worth pulling over for some exploration. Packed with pedestrians, wine tasting rooms, antique shops, galleries, great restaurants and enjoyable lodging.  This rejuvenated old town makes for a great starting point in this region.

Sitting on Cleopatra Hill a mile high, Jerome is a breath of cool air and culture. This former ghost town is an exceptional destination to enjoy a sunset over beautiful red rock formations. This city is ideal to explore during the day or night time.  Jerome is home to great restaurants, shops, museums, architectural sites and historic haunted hotels − if you dare!  The town’s popular ARTwalk takes place the first Saturday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The galleries and studios stay open later than usual, serving up refreshments and conversation with real live local artists.

With its mild high desert temperatures, glorious landscapes and vibrant communities, there are endless opportunities in the Verde Valley. As a resident, I see a lifetime worth of beauty, adventure and cinematic moments everywhere I look.

Ellen Jo Roberts is an artist and photo enthusiast who lives in Clarkdale, Arizona. She spends her work days as a group coordinator for Verde Canyon Railroad. Read more of her work on: http://www.Ellenjo.com. Ellen Jo is a part of the Arizona Office of Tourism’s Guest Blogger Program.