A little farther afield, but still an easy day trip from Verde Valley is Prescott—the former territorial capital of Arizona. Nestled in a stunning mountain bowl and surrounded by one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the West, this beautiful town is steeped in history with an authentic taste of western heritage.
Modern Prescott has the advantage of not really being very modern. Banners proclaim Prescott as “Everyone’s Home Town.” You won’t find high rises, but the downtown businesses clustered around the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse and its plaza are thriving.
The courthouse, constructed of white granite and ringed by towering pines, is the centerpiece of Courthouse Plaza, a popular public gathering place that features two bronze statues by noted Western sculptor Solon Borglum, brother of the creator of Mount Rushmore’s four notable presidents. One is Memorial to the Rough Riders, which has been called one of the finest equestrian bronze sculptures in the world. Locals refer to it as the “Buckey O’Neill statue” in honor of a former mayor who died at the Battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. Cowboy at Rest is the other Borglum statue on the plaza.
On one side of the Court House Plaza is Whiskey Row. It’s more sedate now than it was prior to 1900 when the whiskey flowed and the faro tables were jammed 24 hours a day in its forty or so saloons.
Prescott boasts 525 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several important structures forming part of the Sharlot Hall Museum complex two blocks from the Courthouse Plaza were relocated there to save them from destruction. Residential streets lined with Victorian homes near the business district take visitors back to yesteryear. Many are still home to families, while others have been converted into bed and breakfast inns.
Sharlot Hall Museum
Sharlot Hall Museum is named after its founder, Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870-1943), who became well known as a poet, activist, politician, and one of the West’s most remarkable women. Sharlot Hall was an unusual woman for her time: a largely self-educated but a highly literate child of the frontier.
In 1909 Sharlot was appointed Territorial Historian and became the first woman to hold territorial office. At about this time she was also very active in the national political arena, first as a lobbyist and later as a presidential elector.
She began to collect both Native American and pioneer material. In 1927, she began restoring the first Territorial Governor’s residence and offices and moved her extensive collection of artifacts and documents opening it as a museum in 1928.
Today, the Museum features seven historic buildings, compelling exhibits, and beautiful gardens, which serve as the setting for numerous public festivals.
You can wander through the old log Governor’s Mansion lived in by the first governor, John Goodwin and contrast it with the residence of a later governor, John C. Fremont, the noted explorer. Fremont, you’ll be told, wasn’t too well liked in Prescott and felt the same about the town. Apparently, he wasn’t around all that much. The story is the Republicans foisted him off on Arizona to keep him from running for President against their handpicked candidate. The grounds of the museum are attractively landscaped and offer a quiet respite from the bustle of Courthouse Plaza and Whiskey Row.
Not far from downtown, a fine American Indian collection is housed in the distinctive Smoki Museum. Designed to resemble an Indian pueblo, Smoki was built in 1935 of native stone and wood. The museum traces native cultures from prehistory to the present and houses collections of ancient and contemporary pottery, jewelry, stone artifacts, and documents.
Some landscapes are magical. They seem more than pretty, more than picturesque. They take hold on your imagination and you can’t forget them, the same way you can’t forget a memorable tune.
Granite Dells, five miles north of Prescott, is one such place.
Massive boulders of ancient rock have weathered into delicately balanced forms and fanciful shapes, reflected in the surface of Watson Lake. Ruins and artifacts indicate that Native Americans used to live here. The scenic Dells offer a great place for boating, picnicking, or a stroll. Rock climbers tackle the challenging granite formations.
My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.
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