Trail Length: 4.79 mi
Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus – AGPH)
Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus – UROR)
Common Side-Blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana – UTST)
Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus – SPVA)Phoenix got hot really quick this summer, and on Memorial Day I was feeling desperate to get out of the city for the afternoon. About an hour or so out of Phoenix and at a slightly higher elevation, Prescott seemed like a good option. Besides that, Prescott has a lot to offer, a historic downtown for the casual explorer, a large variety of trails in and around the city, and a ton of lakes (for the desert). I wasn’t quite sure what we were going to have the energy to do when we got up there, so having some options seemed important.
With grumbling stomachs, our first stop was downtown, where we dropped into the Lone Spur Café. The front room of the restaurant was full of southwestern décor befitting of its name, but we ended up in the back room of the restaurant. Windowless, and not nearly as themed as the front room, I found myself feeling oddly disappointed, but I didn’t bother to ask to be seated else-where. My guess is that the restaurant’s specialty is hamburgers or something similarly “western,” but I wasn’t in the mood for something so heavy, and I ended up ordering a sandwich. Nothing to write home about, but the service was really fast, which was convenient as we were able to eat, and then make it out before the day got too late. We had decided mid-meal that we were going to suck it up and go hiking.
A quick glance at the internet indicated that the Watson Lake Loop Trail sounded right up our alley; it was next to the water, and the length of the trail sounded perfect for a good work out. I wasn’t expecting it to be as difficult as it turned out to be, however, as my only reference for lake-side hiking in Prescott was Lynx Lake, which had a very flat, shaded trail. Watson Lake had little in common with my previous experience. There is no forest cover at Watson, just rolling, stony hills dotted with fluffy, green bushes. That didn’t subtract from its beauty, however. Like most man-made desert lakes, Watson had a beautiful juxtaposition between the mirror-like, blue surface of the water, and the tan-reds of the hills, some of which peeked out of the water in little island formations. Besides having a 4.7 mile hiking trail, the lake is also home to a park complete with kayak rentals, Frisbee golf facilities, and bathrooms among other things, and the entrance fee was only $2.
The Watson Loop trail, if you start from the main parking lot, weaves along the edge of the lake for a while. There are a bunch of smaller trails in this area, so it was a little confusing to get started, but after about a half mile the loop trail became more obvious, and we learned to follow the white, painted dots that follow the trail for most of its length. I was pretty enamored by the first section of the loop, as I love water bodies, and walking along the edge of the lake provided some great views of the water and the landscape beyond.
Once we started to approach the dam on the north side of the lake, however, the trail changed. It passes above the dam, and dips down into the little crooks and canyons that twist their way between the hills here.
Without the white dots that we had learned to follow earlier on the trail, it would be nearly impossible to navigate through this area. Most of the time, the trail simply passed over the rocky surface of the hills, which were mostly unmarked by the level of traffic that passed through. At this point, despite knowing where the lake was, it actually didn’t come back into view for nearly an hour, after traversing the wild terrain just above the dam. This part of the trail was pretty difficult, in my opinion, because there was plenty of up-hill climbs, and the lack of shade made things pretty hot. It was well worth the effort, however, especially when we happened on the creek that flows out from the dam.
It was lush and green there. The water was lined with tall grass, and trees towered above, gathering at the base of the dam, where there was an artificial waterfall surrounded by warning signs (although we spotted some swimmers here, I didn’t think it all that prudent to ignore the warnings despite the heat; dams can be extremely dangerous). It was a beautiful place to trek through, and it was nice to get some shady respite from the afternoon sun.
After struggling our way through the hills, the trail arches back to the edge of the lake, and then eventually joins with the straighter track of a bike trail. We were pretty tired by this point, but even this section of the loop was picturesque. The twin tire tracks that ran along the raised ridge of the trail was spotted here and there by large trees, which reminded me of stereotypical farm pictures from movies, but it made the stroll south feel relaxing despite how tired and hot I was.
The last section of the loop passes through the riparian area to the south of the lake. It was dry when we visited, but that didn’t seem to dissuade the red-winged black birds that were flitting through the shadows, arguing about who owned which patch of tall grass. It felt wonderful to wander through the cool air of the little desert forest on the tail end of the hike, because after nearly 5 miles of trekking, I was pretty beat. Nothing some homemade Young’s Farm ice cream couldn’t fix though!