When summer heats up Wickenburg, one of the best places to escape to is Prescott. This small city, just 60 miles from Wickenburg, offers all kinds of diversions, from summer art shows to shopping. At over 5000 feet, it stays cool when lower elevations seem to reach boiling point.
We visited Prescott early this season, on Memorial Day weekend. Here’s what we found.
Getting to Prescott is easy. Take 93 (Tegner) north out of Wickenburg. About 5 miles out of town, bear right onto 89 (the “Congress Cutoff”). Follow 89 up Yarnell Hill, through Peeples Valley and Wilhoit, and up the winding mountain roads into Prescott. You’ll end up on Montezuma Street, right at the Courthouse Square. The ride is wonderfully scenic, filled with mountain and valley views, cattle and horses, and high desert vegetation.
As usual with holiday weekends, an art show was in full swing at the Courthouse Square on our Memorial Day Weekend visit. Once the territorial seat of government, the old courthouse stands proud, surrounded by tall trees and grass — a perfect place for artists and other vendors to set up shop. A stroll in the cool shade is enough to make anyone forget about the oppressive summer heat down in the valley.
The art show attracts all kinds of artists, from painters to sculptors. Most of the art has a western theme, featuring cowboys, indians, livestock, wildlife, and desert plants. Several food vendors were also on hand, selling garlic, salsa, and seasonings. And, as you might expect, there was the usual collection of tee-shirt vendors and crafters.
There was also some entertainment. A group of men, in Civil War uniforms, put on a show complete with music for the strollers. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to find out who these men were or how often they appear at the square, but entertainment is always a possibility when an art show is going on.
Around the Square
The streets around the square are full of shops and historic places of interest. Whiskey Row, which once boasted more saloons than any other business, still has a few eating and drinking establishments mingled with the western shops.
(If you’re looking for a place to eat, I strongly recommend Murphy’s and the Gurley Street Grill. Both of these great restaurants are within two blocks of the square. If you like good food in a pleasant atmosphere, you’ll like either of them. And if you like seafood, Murphy’s can’t be beat for fresh seafood dishes, including its excellent lunch entree, Lobster Tacos.)
A glance down Gurley Street will give you a great view of Thumb Butte, Prescott’s local landmark mountain. Rising high above the town, it reminds me a bit of our own Vulture Peak here in Wickenburg, although I do think Vulture Peak is more dramatic.
More to Explore
We visit Prescott regularly, preferring its “big box” shopping over the shopping available in Surprise and Glendale. Outside of town, on the way to Prescott Valley, you’ll find the Frontier Village strip mall with a Target, Home Depot, and dozens of other shops. A little farther down the road, there’s the Pioneer Mall, a Costco, and a number of furniture stores. Although you can get the same shopping 20 miles closer to Wickenburg if you drive down Grand Avenue and Bell Road, the cool temperatures in Prescott make the extra distance worth the drive.
For a little variety, consider taking Iron Springs Road back to Wickenburg. Follow 89 past the Courthouse Square to where it makes a right turn at a shopping center. Instead of turning right, go straight. Follow this road out of town. It turns into a pleasant two-lane road with sweeping curves and dramatic views of the mountains. You’ll pass through Skull Valley before making a left at the Stop sign in Kirkland. Follow that road four or five miles to 89, where you’ll make a right. Then take 89 through Peeple’s Valley, Yarnell, and Congress and make a left onto 93 back to Wickenburg.
Distance: About 120 miles round trip.
Time: About 4-8 hours, depending on how long you stay
Features: Historic buildings , art shows (on many weekends), shopping, cool summer air
Driving Conditions: The entire trip is on paved roads, many of them scenic.
Equipment: Bring your camera, good walking shoes, and spending money.