Visiting Fort Verde, Arizona
I visited Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde yesterday. It's about 90 miles north of Phoenix. And by the way, they're not kidding when they say Verde (which is Spanish for green) in that area. It is beautifully green! It's a beautiful place to visit.
For most people, I would imagine that the Fort Verde State Historical Park is a little bit of a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, they've done a great job with preservation, and the displays are wonderful, giving you a real sense of time-travel. Walking around the buildings give you a real sense of what life must have been like 140 years ago.
But it's not a fort like the West of the Imagination. It doesn't look like the movies. It's really just an open area, with a few buildings facing towards an enormous empty parade ground. It's one of those places that makes you wonder "where is it?" when you get to it. There's a low picket fence around the area, with a sign telling you that you need to go back and pay the five dollars to enter.
I just love places like this. I'm not expecting a backlot at Universal Studios, or Disneyland. And at these places it seems like the people who are there are kind of apologizing that it isn't more exciting. But I don't want to hear apologies. I don't need gift shops, or brochures, or T-shirts, or colorful stories of "the Old West". I can watch Westerns on Netflix anytime I want to. I'm impressed by the real thing.
If you know your Arizona history, you know that this was a terrible place to be. It must have felt like being stationed on the moon. Nowadays, of course, there are trees, and green lawns, but there wouldn't have been any in the 1870s. There would have been a lot of dust, the sound of the wind, and the fear of death if you strayed anywhere away from the fort.
Forte Verde is a very real place. So real that, as I sat there, looking out at the mountains, I actually tried not to think about it. I think I told you that reading McClintock's 1916 Arizona, the Youngest State, had been a bit too real, and too violent, for me. I had started this journey determined to learn about the reality, not the myth, of Arizona. And the reality is so harsh that maybe it's best that most people don't know about it, or think about it.
Image above: the Officer's Quarters at Ford Verde. The view is looking west across the Parade Grounds.
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Posted by Brad Hall