By Nicola Bridges
During a visit to Prescott, Arizona, you can't help but feel steeped in the history of territorial wars and the Wild West. Relaxing in one of the many famous saloons from the gold-rush days on Prescott's famous Whiskey Row around the town's central plaza, it's easy to imagine prospectors, outlaws and gamblers bantering with bawdy women, slinging mugs of beer and shots down the length of the polished bar.
At the Palace on Whiskey Row the staff wears Old West costumes. A "sheriff" with a long gray handlebar moustache and holsters and a waitress laced up into a tight, lacy bustier dress serve up my Cow Puncher Sandwich and Cowboy Cobb. Receiving accolades as one of the nation's top 10 historic saloons, the Palace is the oldest and most well-known historic saloon in the state, where the likes of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and Virgil Earp were patrons in their day.
History is visible everywhere in Prescott, the state's mile-high city located an hour and 40 minutes north of Phoenix that twice served as the capital of the Arizona Territory — in 1867 and again in1877 before the capital finally moved to Phoenix in 1889. The large historic courthouse in the center of its downtown plaza is a prominent reminder of the power Prescott once held.
And you don't have to go far from the plaza to go back to that time. Just two blocks from the courthouse is the Sharlot Hall Museum, with living history programs that immerse you even further into frontier days. It's named after founder Sharlot Mabridth Hall, who in her lifetime from 1870 to1943 was a well-known activist, politician and poet, and Arizona's first territorial historian. In the 1920s she restored the first territorial governor's residence and offices and opened the museum, where Hall's extensive collection of pioneer and Native American artifacts can be seen in seven historic buildings — including a Victorian home, an exhibit center and theater surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Another place to learn about the history, heritage and culture of the area is the Smoki Museum, housed in a replica Indian pueblo building made from native stone and wood. Its mission is to instill understanding and respect for the Southwest's indigenous cultures. I watch an American Indian ceremonial dance being performed and pick out a colorful hand-woven Native American blanket at the museum's Trading Post.
Culture and art feature heavily throughout Prescott. The streets around the plaza are lined with stores full of cowboy hats, cowboy boots and tasseled western jackets, Native American turquoise and silver jewelry and carved wood feather headdresses.
On nearly every block are art galleries featuring eclectic displays, juxtaposing Buffalo Bill bronzes, traditional paintings of the Old West and wild horses with bright neon modern sculptures and decorative art by both well-known national and Arizona artists and not-so-famous-but-highly-creative local artists and photographers.
After I've paid off the sheriff for my grub pile (that's cowboy slang for food), I stroll just a few doors down from the Palace to the Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery, which is owned and operated by the local artists it features. It's full of one-of-a-kind handcrafted pottery, glasswork, weaving, ceramics and baskets. Each time I stop to look over a display, one of the members of a group of friendly locals at the counter wanders over cheerily to tell me about his or her work.
I'm drawn to a wall of very large and bright landscape photos taken at sunset of a lake with flats of exposed bedrock and large, smooth boulders. The unframed photos have a clear enamel-like glass (not glossy) finish that makes the rocks seem fluid, as though melting around the lake. The rocks have a red tinge, and I wonder if they were taken somewhere around Sedona, famous for its majestic red rocks shaped by millions of years into monolithic structures just an hour and a half northeast of Prescott and where I'm headed next.
The artist-photographer isn't at the space that day. But a co-op colleague tells me they were taken at Granite Dells, just 6.5 miles north of town — a geological feature where granite boulders have eroded into what look like ripples of liquid stone around man-made reservoirs Willow and Watson lakes. She tells me about the Peavine National Recreation Trail that winds like a pea vine through the eastern part of Granite Dells, following the old rail bed of the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway.
After spending such a great day exploring downtown Prescott, I decide on my way to Sedona to hit the trails and head into nature. I want to see those rolling rocks of Granite Dells in living color.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: www.visit-prescott.com
Nicola Bridges is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The Granite Dells surround Willow and Watson lakes in Prescott, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Visit Prescott.