With Tucson temperatures threatening the 100s, we were looking for a place to escape some of the heat. Craig had a lodge event in Prescott so we decided to take the motorhome up early and spend a few days hiking and exploring the area. Prescott sits at 5300 ft in elevation and is located near a geological feature called the Granite Dells. We were hoping the elevation might bring some cooler temperatures. There are nice hikes in the area and old historic mining towns to explore. So, we were off for a short trip to north-central Arizona.
We found a campground in Prescott just north of town and next to Watson Lake, a reservoir surrounded by the above mentioned unique rock formations.
Prescott is a well-maintained historic community built around an old-fashioned town square. It was the territorial capital of Arizona and home to Virgil Earp and Doc Holiday before their famous shoot out at the OK Corral in Tombstone. In the center of the square is the territorial capital building which is now the county courthouse. Along one of the streets is “Whiskey Row”, a row of old brick and stone buildings which were saloons and hotels and brothels back in frontier days. Now they are bars, restaurants and small local shops surrounding the square. Originally most of the buildings were made of wood but frequently burned down in fires that would consume most of the town. Eventually they started building them out of brick and stone. Story goes during one such fire the local favorite watering hole, The Palace, was ablaze and the loyal patrons all grabbed the bar and carried it out into the street to save it. That very same bar is still there and you can belly up and have a drink surrounded by years of historical displays and memorabilia.
Our plan to escape the heat of Tucson did not quite work out as planned. Yes, it was cooler, but it was still in the low 90s. One of the days we were there it was even cooler in Tucson than in Prescott! We did manage a couple early morning hikes. On the trail by 6:30, trying to beat the worst heat of the day. One morning we went on a 6-mile hike up to and around Thumb Butte. A tall formation that, to me, looked a lot like a smaller version of Devils Tower that is located in Wyoming. A small joy was seeing and hearing a group of woodpeckers, maybe a family, all perched on the top of a dead tree. Given we had gotten up at 5:00 and it was only a little after 9:00, we stopped on the way home at a small local coffee shop and had iced lattes on the patio. Yes, this was my first iced latte. Not bad!
Jerome, AZ is an old copper mining town built on the side of a hill, like many old mining towns in Arizona. Years ago, more years than I care to admit, we had visited Jerome but as we were so close, we wanted to go see it again. Our day trip from Prescott took us through Prescott National Forest and up and over Mingus Mountain. Quite a change of ecosystems on the way up the mountain. Tons of trees, cooler temperatures, and some absolutely spectacular views.
During its heyday, Jerome boasted a population of over 15,000. It burned to the ground numerous times but was always rebuilt stronger and better. They claim to be “America’s most vertical city”. Once the mines played out, the old towns pretty much dried up and turned to ghost towns. But some towns, like Jerome, managed to transform themselves into unique tourist destinations with tons of local restaurants, shops and artist studios. Jerome now sports a population of about 450 full-time residents and the population usually doubles in size with the influx of daily tourists. We spent a day walking around, checking out all the old buildings, climbing stairs, walking up and down hills, stopping in to support the local economy, and just generally hanging out. There was even a store selling hand-made kaleidoscopes. We were glad we decided to revisit Jerome.
As the week progressed, the temperatures continued to rise. This “encouraged” us to start our hikes even earlier and we added looking for shade and elevation as a priority to keep it as cool as possible. We found a nice 9-mile hike around Goldwater Lakes. We got a very early start and drove the 10 miles to the trailhead, found some shade to park the Jeep and started out about 6:00 AM. There were lots of pine trees and alligator junipers. They are called alligator junipers because the bark looks like alligator scales. The lakes turned out to be two small reservoirs and our trail went near them, not around them. On the back side of the loop, we found a small memorial to 19 Hotshot firefighters who were killed in 2013.
We finished this hike with brunch at the Raven Café, a cute place just off the square in Prescott. Maybe our favorite meal and location of the trip.
We were glad to be back in the motorhome, hit the trails, and visit unique Arizona sites. We can’t wait for our next local excursion.