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In the rugged, high altitude Verde Valley of central Arizona, between Flagstaff and Phoenix, Cottonwood (population 13,000) got its name from the tall cottonwood trees that grew not far from the cool Verde River, one of the desert's last free-flowing rivers. The year was 1879 when European settlers started to arrive, establishing farms and homesteads.
By the early 20th-century, Cottonwood was thriving, but not as a farming community. Instead, it was a hot spot for gambling, bootlegging and general carrying-on, and it was known as the "biggest little town in Arizona."
The rowdiness has since died down, and today Cottonwood appeals to people in search of a desert location with pretty scenery and lots of outdoor recreation. The traditional western ethos of individualism and practicality still reigns, but tourism and commercialism have their place here, too.
Cottonwoood has grown 3% during the last decade. The cost of living is 1% below the national average. Forty-five percent of the population is age 45 or better. Politics lean to the right, and 16% of locals have at least a four year college degree. The crime rate meets the national average.
The median home price is $398,000, reflecting a 26% increase since a year ago. Housing includes ranch ramblers, manufactured homes, Mediterranean styles, Southwestern territorial styles, adobe styles and others. See This Attractive Cottonwood Single Family Home for Sale for $350,000.
Tucked under a cathedral sky, Cottonwood is ringed by buttes and mountains. Hiking, fishing and camping are favorite pastimes, with 423-acre Dead Horse Ranch State Park, the 480-acre Verde River Greenway State Natural Area and gorgeous Sycamore Canyon just outside of town. Two golf courses, both public, provide 27 holes of play, and four parks, including pretty Riverfront Park, have areas for picnics and strolling.
Some popular tourist destinations are nearby, including the Blazin' M Ranch (a manufactured Wild West town), the Verde Canyon Railroad (a trip through the frontier as it once was) and the Montezuma Indian Ruins (1,000 year old limestone cliff dwellings). For civilized tastes, eleven vineyards/wineries are within an hour's drive.
Old Town is the well-maintained historic center and home to various retailers, trinket shops, art galleries and coffee houses, most locally owned. Annual events include the Chocolate Walk, a Christmas event in which the world's most important food is celebrate.
The Old Town Center for the Arts is small but beautifully restored and presents music and theater acts throughout the year. Shopping is limited (no malls), but there are big box stores (Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot, etc.). The Cottonwood Public Library has in interlibrary loan program, books on tape, large print books, wifi Internet and public access computers.
In-town public transit is provided by VerdeLynx, which also runs to Sedona, 20 miles away. The closest airports are in Flagstaff (65 miles) and Prescott (53 miles).
Verde Valley Medical is a short-term acute care hospital with 110 beds. It is award-winning for patient safety and meets or exceeds national averages in all areas. It accepts Medicare patients and is accredited by a relatively new organization, DNV Healthcare. For military retirees, Cottonwood has a CBOC. The closest VA hospital is in Prescott.
The Verde Valley Senior Center, a part of the Yavapai County Area Agency on Aging, provides congregate meals, wellness checks, tax preparation assistance, counseling and more. The Cottonwood Parks and Recreation Department has a new building and offers exercise classes geared to the senior set as well as adult-designated swim times.
Cottonwood sits at 3,322 feet above sea level, but summer temperatures are still in the 90s and 100s (evenings are considerably cooler). Winter temperatures are in the 30s and 40s. On average, the area receives 14 inches of rain per year. There is very little snow except in the surrounding mountains. Humidity is very low.
Recommended as a Retirement Spot? Yes | Arizona Tax-Friendly for Retirement? Yes
With sunny days, dry air, good medical facilities, pretty scenery, a cute downtown and good senior programs, Cottonwood is a place to consider for retirement.
Scholars debate over the name's origin. Arizona could either be Basque for "place of oaks" or Tohono O'odham for "place of the young spring." Whatever its true meaning is, Arizona and its cities have been growing rapidly since the 1950s.
And why not? It's not just the days and days of sunshine. The state contains some of the country's greatest natural treasures. There are 210 named ranges including the Sky Island Mountains and the Superstition Mountains. Don't forget the 277-mile long Grand Canyon. Arizona residents are never far from a hiking, biking, camping, paragliding, white river rafting, fishing, horse back riding, snow skiing adventure.
The cities, too, are packed with things to do. Phoenix has one of the area's best Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Tucson's Folk Festival attracts thousands to its showcase of bluegrass and country artists. It's film festival, over 25 years old, has screened more than 2,600 films from 90 plus countries. Scottsdale has a handful of food festivals and launches balloons from the Salt River Fields. Prescott hosts "the world's oldest" rodeo. Held every July 4th weekend, the event has everything from bull riding to wild horse racing.
ASU, a public research university, has five Phoenix campuses and four regional learning centers. The university's Sun Devils field 24 varsity teams. ASU's collaboration with the Mayo Clinic is bringing cutting edge-medicine and medical care to the Southwest. Its Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts offers a full season of exhibitions, theater, film, and dance.
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