Prescott on my Mind
My road trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Wickenburg, Arizona – a bit over 100 miles northwest of Phoenix – would be a journey just a tad over seven hours. I planned on breaking up my solo drive with an overnight stay in Prescott, Arizona – the first capital of the Arizona Territory in 1864. It had been over 30 years since I last drove through this picturesque town. What I remembered most were the large, rounded boulders strewn everywhere. Utterly massive granite boulders with afternoon light bouncing around surreal outcroppings, all with a golden glow. It was about the boulders and the quality of light.
The legacy Western town is located at an elevation about 5,400 feet in a sheltered enclave of pinyon and juniper, ranging from shrubland-covered hills to woodlands at higher elevations. Heavily peppered throughout the county are strangely shaped Pre-Cambrian granite bedrock formations known as the “Dells” – the boulders that I remembered from so many years back.
Once gold was discovered in central Arizona, the area was quickly settled by Yankees anxious to preserve the mineral wealth for the Union. Prime motivator was that southern Arizona was known to be pro-Confederate. And though a devastating fire ravaged the downtown area in 1900, legend has it that patrons of the Palace Saloon took their liquor and watched Whiskey Row burn from across the street at the Courthouse.
Today, Prescott touts its rebuilt Whiskey Row along with a two-story County Courthouse known as a social hub for community activities. The world’s oldest rodeo, since 1888, also calls Prescott home. For those with an outdoor focus, you can hike nearby Thumb Butte, fish in Lynx Lake, and paddle at the Granite Dells.
Hotel St. Michael
I arrived in the afternoon and checked into Hotel St. Michael – a charming historic hotel from 1901 circa, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (In its day, the hotel was known for its “gracious accommodation.”) The three-story hotel is built of brick and stone in the Second Renaissance Revival Style, with gawking stone gargoyles decorating the exterior. I found I was in good company as some of the past illustrious guests included President Theodore Roosevelt, writer Zane Grey, Western actor Tom Mix, and Senator Barry Goldwater.
The lobby smacked of old-time Western décor with Victorian accents, antique furniture, and an old elevator cage looking more like an antique coop than a modern vertical lift. I had only seen this type vintage elevator at the U.S. Capitol operated by full-time employees.
Not really knowing how to operate the antiquity, I blankly stared at the elevator door for a few brief moments. “Just push your floor button twice and then pull the gate open,” the receptionist said. “Watch your step and once inside, you can close the elevator gate.” I was amused to see that it worked like a charm.
Period pieces and some antiques decorated my room, imparting a déjà vu that I was staying in my Grandmother’s house instead of a faded glory hotel. Yet, the room came with updated conveniences that included a phone, complimentary Wi-Fi, and HBO – which my grandmother’s house never had.
After a friendly check-in, I off-loaded my luggage curbside before parking in the three-story garage structure less than a block away. The price for my overnight stay (under $100) was quite reasonable considering the hotel presented me with a coupon for a full breakfast and complimentary appetizer in Bistro St. Michael.
As the hotel is ideally located in the center of historic downtown, adjacent to Courthouse Plaza at the corner of Whiskey Row, it doesn’t get any more convenient. But the proximity to Whiskey Row also suggests that nights may be noisy and had me wondering if my night would be more celebratory than restful.
But it was time to go discover the town. Leaving my car parked in the garage, I headed out to explore on foot.
Once upon a time there were twenty saloons and pleasure palaces that thrived on Montezuma Street (aka Whiskey Row), facing Courthouse Plaza on the west side. These days, fewer bars are open, but the western nostalgia of Old Prescott is still alive and well. Walk the infamous Whiskey Row, window shop the boutiques, and stop in for a drink, coffee, or a bite.
The night kicks in with a variety of live music and karaoke from haunts like The Palace Restaurant & Saloon (Arizona’s oldest saloon), Jersey Lilly Saloon (former brothel upstairs from the Palace), Matt’s Saloon (country western), and Hooligan’s Pub (hard rock).
Across the street in the heart of Prescott lies the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse. The symmetrical courthouse is faced with locally quarried granite and surrounded by a plaza with grass and pavers, a historic timeline on the sidewalk, statues, bandstand, and a monument dedicated to all veterans from Yavapai County. A lush canopy from 170 trees provides welcoming shade on hot summer days.
I walked around the square as I did the obligatory window shopping. Trouble is I came across a leather shop with hats. I just couldn’t pass it up. The good news is that the owner Paul Goodson, is very affable. I walked away with a floppy leather hat that I proceeded to wear my whole time in Wickenburg. Be sure to stop in and give him a shout.
I knew the town had a sense of humor when I saw the sign hanging at the Youth Detention Center. It boldly states:
Yavapai County Criminal Justice and Detention Center
“Service since 1864”
Bistro St. Michael & Prescott Station
Ready for a glass of wine, I headed back to Bistro St. Michael to check out the bar and order a complimentary appetizer. I chose the ample cheese and fruit tray with flat bread for around $10…but remember, it was free. The vibe at the bar was young and local, making for some great conversations. A couple hours later, I realized I had a dinner appointment to keep.
A couple blocks up the hill, Prescott Station Grill & Bar is where you go for American cuisine and great steaks. The locals know that it is one of the best places in town. I checked it out with a friend and totally agree. Steaks are exquisite and the sides cooked with flavor and substance. My filet mignon with grilled zucchini and garlic mashed potatoes definitely lived up to the billing. Unfortunately, servings were ample so I had no room for dessert.
After a restful night, I woke the next morning to enjoy a full complimentary breakfast offered at Bistro St. Michael. Located next door to the hotel, it’s easily accessed from inside the building. The breakfast was cooked-to-order, so I asked for soft poached. Many places can’t accommodate such a request. I broke a big smile when the waitress said, “No problem.”
With only a couple hours left before I hit the road again, it seemed a great time to shop the St. Michael Shops. I picked up two unique stoneware coffee mugs at Krieger-Marcusen Gallery, and later, wished I had bought two more. As I strolled by Grama’s Bakery on the way to my car, I was enveloped with wafting aromas emanating from the bakery. No surprise that I retraced my steps to Grama’s and ordered several pastries to go for the road – a chocolate chip cannoli and a strawberry brioche.
Then it was time to go, even though, Prescott was still on my mind.
IF YOU GO: