Friday last, we left the Tonto National Forest of cacti – Saguaro, barrel, hedgehog and cholla varieties, mesquite, wildflowers and all those creatures that inhabit their cover – coyotes, owls, White-crowned Sparrows, Curve-billed Thrashers, Cactus Wrens, Gila Monsters, finches, lizards and a variety of rattlesnakes – and turned north on I-17 to join the urban escapees headed for the mountains. Traffic lines thinned as we blew through New River and Black Canyon City into Yavapai County, then started to build again like railroad trains as we jockeyed behind and past the 18-wheelers on the attack of the steep climb past Horse Thief Basin. Past the entrance to the Agua Fria National Monument, then onward toward Bumble Bee and Crown King!
Leveling off after the long climb from Phoenix (elev. 1,086’) toward Prescott (elev. 5,368’), we split from I-17 to SR-69 and rolled on through Spring Valley and toward Mayer, Dewey and Humboldt, crossing Big Bug Creek several times in a few miles as it snakes back and forth under the highway through the rocky draws. Love the colorful names of this region.
Sweat turned to pleasure in this northward migration of 95 miles with the always-dramatic lowering of outdoor temperature. Approaching the Agua Fria National Monument entrance, I turned off the RV’s A/C system and opened windows to a pleasant 67 degrees at noon, a full 18 degrees cooler than when we left Cave Creek less than an hour before. That’s a consistent benchmark difference between the two locations. While the Phoenix metro area sprawls out across a low desert valley, Prescott is nestled 4,200’ feet higher in the Bradshaw Mountains that provide four distinct seasons. That’s part of the reason we’re here.
Surprised by long-time friends from Fort Smith, Keith and Jill Gibson, who had finished business activities in Phoenix and then made the drive northward close on our heels, we spent a delightful afternoon hour sipping cappuccinos and mochas at “Cuppers,” where with lively conversation we regaled a large patio of empty chairs in the balmy breeze – always great to rendezvous with good friends and pick up right where we left off days, months or even years before! – then drove downtown for a quick strolling tour of Prescott’s public square, starting with the four historic Nob Hill Victorian homes that overlook the square and, in the distance, Thumb Butte (shown above). The Goldwater, Lawler, Peter and Marks families were the homeowners of these houses (built 1893-99). All have been restored to varying extents, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and anchor a several-square-block expanded Victorian district of Prescott.
Our final stop on the walk was the lovely, historic Hassayampa Inn (ca. 1927), where we reminisced a bit more around an old telephone “central” switchboard in the lobby before the Gibsons’ departure. Such fun!
I love this mountain town with its beautifully restored old buildings that recall its earlier, sweatier and dustier western days as the Capital of Arizona Territory (1864-67), days of ranching, mining, merchandising and banking. Back when men were men, as they say.
One such Prescott man was William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill, a “sheriff, newspaper editor, miner, politician, Georgist, gambler and lawyer” whose memory –owing to my love of western history – usually captures my attention for at least several minutes every time I come here. He was a pivotal character in Prescott’s development. According to historical accounts, “Buckey” got his nickname from a tendency to “buck the tiger” (play contrary to the odds) at faro or other card games. But he was so much more than this brief space accommodates.
In his late 30s, O’Neill led almost 300 Arizona cowboys, miners, citizens and politicians on a trail ride to San Antonio, Texas, where they met Teddy Roosevelt and became Troop A, 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (the Rough Riders) of Spanish-American War fame. At age 38, Captain O’Neill was killed in action on 1 July, 1898, in the Battle of San Juan Hill, Cuba and was cited for gallantry on his tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1907, he and his hardy men of Troop A, 1st Cavalry were honored in the dedication of a beautiful and famous equestrian sculpture by Solon Borglum that stands on the lawn of the Yavapai County Courthouse Square in downtown Prescott (shown below in night view).
On earlier visits here (starting five years ago), I’ve posted numerous photographs of the arts, old west culture and the Granite Dells that give the town its singular grace and attraction. Below is an abbreviated gallery including one bit of modern “cowboy” art. (Click on the individual photos for full-size viewing.) Enjoy!
Carpe diem. Vita brevis!
© March 2016, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.