Prescott is where Arizonians (Arizonans?) head in the summer to escape the sweltering triple-digit heat of the south. We met a gentleman who is a snowbird within his own state. He spends his winters in Phoenix and his summers in Prescott. “I can deal with the high ’80s and even the low ’90s, but once it hits the ‘100s, it stays there for weeks. Prescott has the perfect climate.”
Prescott, which is pronounced “Preskitt”, has racked up a number of admirable accolades, among them: Cleanest Air in the Nation; Number One Place to Live in the Southwest; Top 22 Best Places to Retire; Best Destination for Nature Lovers; Five Must-See Small Towns in Arizona and One of the Coolest Downtowns in North America.
We drove to Prescott from Quartzsite; a three-hour drive that lifted us out of the Sonoran desert into the high-desert landscape. We passed a number of lush and prosperous ranches along the way:
Prescott is a city of just 45,000 people that was founded in 1864, and has the distinction of being known as The World’s Oldest Rodeo. It also has more than 800 buildings listed on the National Historic Register and the vast majority of them have been fully restored and carefully maintained.
Prescott is a very walkable city. We spent several hours following our self-guided walking map through the historic downtown.
Prescott and surrounding area is cowboy country; the horse is king. Statues of horse and rider can be found in a number of spots around the downtown. This one, Cowboy at Rest by artist Solon Borglum was right in front of the Courthouse Plaza.
In front of City Hall
Just up the street, the Hassayampa Hotel, built in 1927, was designed to serve those early adopters who chose four wheels over four hooves: travellers arriving by automobile. It is also reputed to be haunted on the 4th floor; the site of a tragic death.
In its day, it was voted “the most beautiful hotel in the Southwest.” We peeked inside and had to agree – the hand-painted ceilings, the antique light fixtures, the discretion. We sank into plush sofas in the lobby and agreed it wouldn’t take much to pry ourselves out of the trailer for a night or two and enjoy a bit of luxury.
A major and devastating fire took place in Prescott in July 1900; wiping out many of its downtown wooden structures. The old Palace Hotel and Bar was one of the buildings burned, but incredibly the ornate back-bar was saved. It is a fixture in the current Palace Restaurant and Bar, which is the oldest bar in Arizona.
The Elks Opera House was built in 1905, and is currently still in use as a theatre/movie house, although we did think a fresh set of eyes might be needed for more up-to-date programming. Pretty Woman was one of the movies showing that week.
We took a stroll up the street to “Nob Hill”, a line-up of stately homes built in the late 1800’s. Although Senator Barry Goldwater was from Prescott, we don’t know if he was related to Henry Goldwater, the wealthy merchant who had this home built in 1894 for $4000.
The next-door neighbour:
Prescott has gorgeous residential neighbourhoods, filled with one heritage home more beautiful than the last.
This old Motor Lodge has been in business since 1910, when it was first a series of small cabins. In 2008, new owners Joe Livingston and Brian Spear took over and turned the cottages into affordable retro-cool lodgings, right on the edge of the historic district.
We had lunch one day at the Dinner Bell Cafe, an old diner from 1939, whose menu has not likely changed that much over the decades – pork chops and mashed potatoes are still on the menu. Huge portions, homey service, atmospheric interior – these diners endure and are distinctly American.
We spoke to a local who has mixed feelings about her town. She is in her 20’s, Prescott born and bred and has watched her hometown change over the past few years. The combination of climate, natural setting, great amenities, health services, etc. and an inventory of charming affordable homes are drawing the crowds in from “California and back east”. With that growth comes increased real estate prices and new ideas of how Prescott might be improved. Naturally neither are welcome to a population who have been doing just fine.
From our perspective as tourists, our first impressions were one of a very conservative city. We noticed one or two Catholic, Anglican or United churches, but dozens and dozens of evangelical churches.
We also noticed many gun shops. The argument that Guns Are Why America is Still Free was one I had not heard before. We had no idea America’s freedom was at risk in 2019 and that civilians might be called upon to bear arms. Certainly they’re safe from us Canadians and all the Mexicans want to do is take the jobs Americans don’t want.
It is safe to say we have not had a calm reasoned discussion about guns with a pro-gun advocate; our positions are too far apart.
Arizona is a Concealed Carry state, which means you do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon, if you are over the age of 21. We noticed this concealed carry purse in a shop window and went in to have a look. Please excuse the poor quality of this photo, but it will give you an idea. This bag costs $150 and this store sells “not many, about one a week.” The zippers on either side hide a holster; presumably after a woman has been grabbed from behind and overpowered, she will still be able to unzip and extract her weapon.
On a lighter note, the young man in this store (which predominantly sold hats) was lots of fun and did us a huge favour. Stephen has been wearing a bucket hat for the past several months, and I, rather unkindly, have been comparing him to Walter Matthau. As Stephen began to try on different Tilley iterations, our young man told him that his bucket hat was a hip-hop favourite. Jay-Z has done a lot for the bucket hat. Now, Jay-Z could make a sun visor look cool, but we began to look at Stephen’s hat with fresh appreciation. You be the judge.
Lucky Prescott-ians – they are spoiled for choice with outdoor activities. There are miles and miles of hiking and biking trails and many lakes in the surrounding areas.
We spent a number of hours wandering around “the Dells” – huge rock formations surrounding Watson Lake. Since the trails are mainly a series of rock formations, they are marked with large painted white dots – a quite ingenious idea to prevent people from getting lost.
The entrance to the lake – the trailhead is just to the left.
There has been so much rain in this area in recent weeks that several lakes and creeks are overflowing. You’ll notice the base of this tree is a bit underwater. We had a little extra clambering to do to begin our hike, as the path was submerged, but we were soon on our way.
Swimming is not permitted in the lake, as it is an important area for birds, but we did see a couple of kayaks.
We could have stayed another day in Prescott – there was lots more to see and do. As had been the case with some of our other stops, rain prevented us from really exploring the outdoor trails.
The weather looks like it is beginning to turn. The trees have that beautiful green haze and the nights are getting a little less frigid. We are experiencing spring in Arizona!
See you again in a few days.