Hiking in Prescott

Prescott, AZ

In our last couple of blogs we were hiking around and kayaking on Watson Lake in the rocks of Granite Dells.  Across Rte. 89, which runs right through Granite Dells, there is another similar man-made body of water called Willow Lake.  You can’t hike all the way around the lake right now due to the high water level that covers the  trail on the east end.  So we drove around the lake to the northwest side to pick up a series of trails through the rocks.

High water into the trees looking to the southwest

Like nearby Watson Lake, the south side trail of Willow Lake is flat, while a series of trails on the north side go through the rocks of Granite Dells.  We hiked on the trail that stayed near the shoreline so we could enjoy the great views of the lake.

After a couple of miles we dropped into a gorge just below Willow Dam, which creates the lake behind it.

After passing by the dam we began climbing up the rocks on the other side of the gorge.

As we climbed higher into the rocks, we could see that there are two parts to the Willow Dam.


The next day we drove just a couple of miles up Rte. 89 to visit the Granite Gardens Trail.  This is a short hike, less than two miles, that weaves through some interesting areas of Granite Dells.  The first interesting feature was a long set of stairs taking us up a rocky canyon.

A veteran hiker rests along the trail


Claret Cup Hedgehog Cacti must love the altitude here, as they grow in abundance.

Another interesting section of this hike goes through a narrow slot which required removal of our packs.

The trail then dips under some boulders in an area known as the Grotto.


The Granite Garden Trail is a great one if you want to do some interesting rock climbing without hiking for a long distance.  In under two miles you get some great up and down hiking through very different rock formations…an adult playground.

On our last day in Prescott we headed to the historic downtown to check out the area around the courthouse.   Prescott is the county seat of Yavapai County so it has a courthouse of significant size.  As with many small towns,  the court house is the center of the town with many shops and restaurants surrounding it.

Our visit was on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the streets around the courthouse were filled with Harleys.

We really enjoyed our stay in the Prescott area.  The town is now on our lists of possible locations to settle down when the time comes and it warrants a return visit in the near future.  But now it’s time to head on down the road to our next adventure.  Next up is a stay in Cottonwood for some hiking in the Sedona area nearby.

More on that later . . .

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Watson Lake – Prescott, AZ

Prescott, AZ

This past Sunday morning we pulled out of our site in Apache Junction and drove about a hundred and forty miles north to the beautiful town of Prescott.  The temperatures in the Phoenix area were getting a bit high so we look forward to cooler temperatures, since Prescott is over five thousand feet of elevation (compared to the seventeen hundred at Apache Junction).  We are now enjoying a nice site in the Point of Rocks RV Campground just north of town.

Site 57 in Point of Rocks RV Park

The park is located in the middle of an area known as Granite Dells.  The Dells consist of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite that have eroded into an unusual lumpy, rippled appearance.

The view out the front windshield

Right behind us is one of two reservoirs in Granite Dells.  Watson Lake was formed in the early 1900s when the Chino Valley Irrigation District built a dam on Granite Creek.  The City of Prescott bought the reservoir and surrounding land in 1997 to preserve it as recreational land.  The city maintains a large number of hiking/biking trails all around the area and by connecting four of the trails we were able to hike completely around Watson Lake for six miles including side trails .

Our first view of Watson Lake from the trail

While there is a severe drought in the west this reservoir is filled to capacity, as shown in the photo below taken at the south end of the lake (the dam is at the north end).

At the south end of the lake you are out of the rocks of the Dells, so the hiking is very easy.  As you round the lake and head back to the north you re-enter the rocks of the Dells.  This is where the hike becomes very interesting.

The trails are also used by mountain bikers so the path within the rocks is marked with painted white dots, making it easy to follow across the open rock areas.  The views through this area are very impressive.

Lunch with a view

Enjoying the sunshine

At the north end of the lake as the trail turns back to the south, it goes down into a couple of canyons with creeks at the bottom.  Boulder Creek was pretty full and presented a bit of a challenge as we crossed it since the water was moving quite swiftly.

Heading down into one of the canyons

As we hiked our way south, we came to the base of the Watson Lake Dam.  Built in the early 1900s, this dam blocks Granite Creek creating the lake.

We continued south on the trail as it made its way steeply up to the top of the dam.

The top of the Watson Lake Dam

The day after hiking around the lake we decided to get on to the water for a different view of the rocks of the Dells.  So we inflated our Sea Eagle kayak at a nearby boat launch and headed out on a beautiful sunny morning (OK, it was late in the morning).

Another view of the Watson Lake Dam

Watson Lake has entertained us nicely for the past two days.  But there is another lake in Granite Dells that is nearby.  So our next mission is to explore that area.

More on that later . . .

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First Water (Black Mesa to Dutchman Loop) Hike – Superstition Mts.

Apache Junction, AZ

For our final hike in this area we chose another trail recommended to us by Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road).  The Black Mesa to Dutchman Loop begins at the First Water Trailhead and is a little over nine miles in length.  The loop consisted of Second Water Trail (#236), Black Mesa trail (#241), and Dutchman’s trail (#104).  With a moderate amount of elevation gain and loss the trail takes you through some picturesque desert landscape with great views of the Superstitious Mountains and Weaver’s Needle.

Spring flowers added great color all along the way.

The elevation change may not be overwhelming, but the difficulty of this hike is increased by the rocky condition of the trail.

While we didn’t see much wildlife on this hike, we did see a lizard here and there.

Thanks to Lisa’s description in her blog post on this hike, we were able to spot one Crested Saguaro near the trail.

The trail turned to the south and we could see the distinctive Weaver’s Needle as it came into view.

As we hiked the Dutchman Trail, about two miles from a return to the trailhead, we rounded a bend and heard a distinctive hiss and rattle just to our left.  John jumped forward as Pam jumped back to avoid a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake just off the trail and coiled to strike.


Apparently he was just about to cross the trail when we appeared.  All three of us backed off to catch our breath and assess the situation.  The snake made the first move as he slowly came out of his coil and made his way across the trail between us.

Check out that rattle!

After that heart-stopping incident, we continued along the trail, enjoying the colorful flowers and strange Saguaro forms.

About a mile from the end of the trail, we had to cross a flowing stream, an unusual event in the desert.

After finishing the hike we stopped in town at a coffee shop for some refreshment.  Driving back to the motorhome we could see an impressive storm brewing over the mountains.  We thought about the group of college-age backpackers we passed on the trail as they headed in to the mountains for an overnight stay.  Hope they have their rain gear ready!

We’ve enjoyed our two week stay here in Apache Junction, but it is now time to head to the north.  Next up for us is a stay in Prescott where the mile high elevation will bring us cooler temperatures.

More on that later . . .

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Hieroglyphic Trail – Apache Junction

Apache Junction, AZ

Recently our son, Kevin, flew in from his home in Atlanta to share some time with us in Apache Junction.  We wanted to give him a taste of the desert in Arizona so we decided to hike the near by Hieroglyphic Trail.  He was only here for one night so this relatively short trail (three miles total) would be a good length for the time we had and the very warm 90 degree temps.  It also has a great variety of desert plant life, with some of the plant life in bloom.

Heading up the trail

Flowers on the Brittlebush brightened the desert

The trail ends in a rocky area with a number of petroglyphs on the rocks.  Some of the petroglyphs may be historical but a few looked a little fresh to us.

Along the trail just below the petroglyphs is a large rock covered with morteros, holes in the stone caused by the grinding of grain by ancient cultures.

Alas, there do not seem to be any Crested Saguaros on this trail.  But just a few miles to the east on Rte. 60 there is an interesting one right at the entrance to an RV park.

While it was brief (about 24 hours), we really enjoyed our visit with Kevin.  He is an airline pilot so spending time flying to Phoenix as a passenger on a day off probably isn’t very exciting to him.   But the opportunity to visit with parents like us was apparently just too much for him to pass up!


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Apache Trail Drive

Apache Junction, AZ

Earlier this week we took the popular Apache Trail Circle Route through the Superstition Mountains.  This 120 mile scenic route winds through deserts, mountains, by cliff dwellings, along lake shores, through old mining towns and beautifully eroded canyons.  The first half of the circle route is the scenic part, going up Apache Trail (once called the Mesa-Roosevelt Road) from Apache Junction to the Roosevelt Dam.  The road was originally built along an old Apache Indian trail.  It was used to haul supplies up to build a series of dams built to control flooding on the Salt River.  The first half of this part of the loop is on a paved two lane road that winds through the mountains.  The first site of interest to us is Canyon Lake, a reservoir formed in 1925, after the completion of Mormon Flat Dam.

The road approaching Canyon Lake

One of two one-lane bridges near Canyon Lake

Looking back after passing Canyon Lake

Just two miles from Canyon Lake is the famous stage stop of Tortilla Flat.  This stage stop was constructed in 1904 as a staging area for the construction of the Mesa-Roosevelt Road from this point to the bottom of Fish Creek Hill, a few miles to the north.  Now it is a tourist stop with a unique saloon (saddles for bar stools) and a gift shop.

A few miles beyond Tortilla Flats the pavement ends and things begin to get interesting.  There is a great scenic view stop (with restrooms) just before you begin to descend down Fish Creek Hill that has a paved walk-way out to some nice viewpoints.

The view of the road going down Fish Creek Hill

Hedgehog Cactus in bloom

The road down Fish Creek Hill is not for the faint of heart as it is narrow, steep, and a bit rough.

We pulled over to let this truck past

The barriers didn’t look too strong to us

Glad the traffic was light as we went down the hill

Another narrow bridge

After a few more miles we came to Apache Lake.  We took the paved road down about a mile to the Apache Lake Marina were we took a few minutes to look at a series of photographs on display depicting the construction of the Roosevelt Dam.

The road down to Apache Lake


After Apache Lake the road continues to bump and wind for another fourteen miles to Roosevelt Dam.  For a few miles we followed a fifth wheel RV toy hauler as it slowly made its way up the road.  The road is very rough through this section, so we wondered if the cabinets would still be up on the walls of this rig after the bumpy ride!

We also passed several people riding the road on bicycles!  It must be quite an exciting ride going up and down the steep hills through the dust on a washboard road of loose gravel.

Finally, we rounded a bend and the Roosevelt Dam came into view right in front of us.

At one time this was the largest masonry constructed dam in the world.  Construction began in 1906 and the dam was dedicated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1911. The dam was refitted and reconstructed between 1993-1995 and was raised seventy-seven feet.  This new face-lift for Roosevelt Dam has completely changed its appearance.  Today the dam looks like a modern structure rather than the traditional masonry facade of the original structure.

As you pass the dam, the Theodore Roosevelt Lake comes in to view framed by the beautiful Theodore Roosevelt Lake Bridge.  The bridge is over a thousand feet long carrying SR 188 past the dam.  It is the longest single span, two lane, steel arch bridge in North America.

The Apache Trail Road ends near the dam when it meets SR 188.  At this junction we turned south on Rte. 188.  Just down the road a short distance is the turn-off to Tonto National Monument.  The national monument has an excellent interpretive center on the ancient Salado Indians and their culture and two well-preserved cliff dwellings occupied by the Salado culture during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries.

A view of one of the cliff dwellings

Of course, what trip through this part of Arizona would be complete without a look at one of those Crested Saguaro Cacti!  We had been told that there was one near the visitor center and, sure enough, there it was.

After a brief visit to the cliff dwellings we continued south on Rte. 188 for about 25 miles to the mining town of Globe, where we turned west on to Rte. 60.  West of Globe the road went through Miami, another mining town.  It then wound down a few thousand feet as we descended back into the valley heading toward the Phoenix area.

We highly recommend this drive as a great way to see some beautiful scenery and great views.  While a bit rough, the dirt section of the Apache Trail is doable in any type of vehicle.  If you do the loop in a clockwise direction, as we did, you will be on the inside lane when you go down the steep section of Fish Creek Hill, which makes it a bit easier.  But just take your time and enjoy the ride!

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Boulder Canyon Trail – Superstition Mountains

Apache Junction, AZ

One day recently we drove up the Apache Trail about fifteen miles to Canyon Lake, the location of the trailhead for the Boulder Canyon Trail.  Friends, Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road), had written about this hike and it looked inviting.  We parked in the area designated for hikers in the Canyon Lake Marina lot and headed for the trailhead across the road.

Start of the Boulder Canyon Trail

The trail quickly gains elevation, providing great views of Canyon Lake behind us.

At the top of the first hill the views are impressive.  The stone obelisk in the photo below is called Weaver’s Needle.

The Brittlebush along the trail were in full yellow bloom.  And the views all around us continued to grab our attention.

This trail continues for more than seven miles.  But we decided, as many others have, to turn around at two and a half miles.  As we returned to the trailhead, we were again treated to a great view of Canyon Lake.

The Canyon Trail is a great hike for any level of hiker.  The trail is a bit rough, typical of this area, but the many high spots present a number of opportunities to turn around if you have reached your limit.

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Picacho Peak Then on to Apache Junction

Apache Junction, AZ

After spending a few days hiking in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona, we headed north on I-10 past Tucson to Picacho Peak State Park.

Site C-24 in Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak on the left

We came here intending to hike up a trail to the top of the peak.  But the nimble hiker awoke the first morning with a very sore leg caused by a pinched nerve in her lower back.  After two trips to urgent care in nearby Casa Grande for medication, we determined that a few days of rest were in order.  So a climb up the peak will just have to wait for a later visit.

But we did complete a hike walk through the desert enjoying the desert plants blooming all around us.

After a restful few days we moved north to Apache Junction, east of Phoenix.  There is some great hiking in the area and the nimble hiker is on the mend, so we are looking forward to getting out for some exploring.

One would think that with the many RV parks in the Mesa/Apache Junction area we would have no difficulty reserving a spot for a couple of weeks.  But we struggled finding a vacancy until we located Superstition Lookout RV Resort in Apache Junction.  This is your classic snowbird park with more permanent units than RV sites.  But we have a nice site with plenty of room on one side and a vacant permanent unit on the other.

Site 2 in Superstition RV Resort

Two couples who have blogs we follow are also in the area so we took the opportunity to meet at a nearby watering hole, The Handlebar Pub and Grill.  We have known the Weavers (Wheres Weaver) for a few years now and were really looking forward to seeing them again.  This is the first time we have had the opportunity to meet Ingrid and Al (Live Laugh RV).   As it always happens when we meet people who live full time in an RV, we spent a few hours sharing experiences while enjoying good craft beer and a tasty meal.

Front row: Ingrid, Al, and Pam   Back row: Marsha, Paul, and John

The next day Pam’s pinched nerve seemed to be a little better so we decided to test it with a moderate hike at McDowell Regional Park, about 30 miles to our northwest.  On the advice from blogger Suzanne (Take to the Highway), we explored the Scenic Trail, a loop trail that totaled under five miles with a small elevation gain.  The primary reason for choosing this hike was to check out a Crested Saguaro located near the trail.

Usually the crested section is at the very top of the Saguaro.  This guy is interesting as the crest is on an arm about half way up the main section.

We completed the hike with no further injury.  In fact, Pam reported no pain in the leg so maybe she is on the mend.  John reported some pain she had created for him, but he would not reveal its location!

After leaving McDowell Regional Park, we took a side trip through the community of Fountain Hills to check out another interesting Crested Saguaro described to us by Rick of Rick and Joanne’s RV Travels.

With only two weeks in the area we have a number of items on our agenda, so we need to get busy.  First up is (surprise) a hike in the nearby Superstition Mountains.

More on that later . . .

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