December weekend in Prescott will boost holiday spirits

A perch on Whisky Row makes a great review spot for the parade

If you’re already sick of holiday consumerism, you just might need a little getaway. A weekend in Prescott — “Arizona’s Christmas City” — will transform the grouchiest Scrooge into the happiest of Santa’s elves. Take it from one who has made this Christmas trip for ten of the last 12 years: if a holiday weekend in Prescott doesn’t put you in a festive mood, nothing will. Although holiday-themed events are happening throughout the month, the weekend of Dec. 2-4 is the best time to recapture the spirit of an old-fashioned, ‘old-west’ Arizona Christmas – and not just for old-timers — for everyone.

Here’s a suggested itinerary for your weekend:

Plan to arrive Friday afternoon. Better yet, arrive on Thursday afternoon, so you have an extra day to explore Prescott and the surrounding area. Think museums, parks, maybe even a hike – weather permitting. On your way into town, make a stop at the Prescott Resort to tour the Gingerbread Village in the resort’s lobby. You’ll be amazed to how much effort and creativity have been put into these creations. Afterwards, take a few minutes to stroll through the conference room wing to view the Western and American Indian paintings and sculptures. With its spacious suites, great dining, excellent views, entertainment and events, Prescott Resort is also one of our lodging recommendations.

We also recommend the Marriott SpringHill Suites or the historic Hassayampa Inn; both are conveniently located downtown. You will be able to park your vehicle for the remainder of your stay — it’s an easy stroll to your choice of downtown eateries, quaint shops and other holiday events.

The Marriott offers guests continental breakfast, but heartier morning appetites will appreciate the Hassayampa Inn dining room or the Lone Spur Café. If you just want pastries and coffee or hot chocolate, there are several nearby coffee shops. Keep these in mind if parade day turns out to be cold and rainy, or cold and snowy!

The annual Christmas parade around Courthouse Square at 1 p.m. is the main event! It’s important to stake out a piece of prime curb or sidewalk for parade viewing. Bring chairs, blankets, warm coats, a thermos or two of your favorite hot beverage and some snacks. Don’t forget the camera! This parade exudes more holiday glee than a 4-year-old bursting out of bed early on Christmas morning. It’s easy to get swept up in the magic. You’ll love the wide variety of entries: bands, floats, rough riders, dancers and lots of dogs! Many folks are dressed in Old Western, Victorian or Territorial-era costumes.

Adults, children, even Teddy bears participate in the parade

After the parade, you can head to Prescott Brewing Company to watch the final weekend of college football or shop for unique gifts in the Bashford Court Atrium Mall or browse through the antique shops on Cortez Street. Another idea: get the friends and family together for an “Old Tyme Photo” at the Prescott Museum and Trading Company. Finish the day at the courthouse steps for the Courthouse Lighting Ceremony and Caroling at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at one of the many fine Prescott eateries. Remember to save some time for the short walk over to Sharlot Hall and its Frontier Christmas Celebration from 6 to 9 p.m

Expect to see Victorian-era costumes around Courthouse Square

Christmas canines are crowd favorites at the parade

Rough riders entertain the downtown Prescott crowd

Additional holiday activities happening in Prescott for the first weekend in December and throughout the month can be found on the Christmas City website. One idea for Sunday afternoon – on your way home – is a visit to the Elks Opera House. Not only is the theater a historical attraction in itself; it also hosts a performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Sunday’s matinee is at 2 p.m. — a perfect finale to your holiday weekend getaway. Hopefully, this theater’s stage will be the only place this season you’ll hear the words: “Bah Humbug.”

These websites will provide more detailed information:

Visit Prescott, AZ – Arizona’s Christmas City

Prescott Chamber of Commerce

Prescott Downtown Partnership

City of Prescott

Dead Horse Ranch packing list: what to bring to a state park that has ‘it all’

The Verde River provides a lush setting for Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park could be called the “ultimate” state park. It’s everything anyone could ever want in a state park. I mean, when you consider its location, events, history, attractions, beauty, activities — did I say location? — it has got to be up there near the top of the list.

I opted to make up a little packing list in case you want make a visit to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located just outside of Cottonwood, Ariz.

 

1. Tent, RV or Sleeping bag and toothbrush

That’s right, you have your choice of accommodations. Some like tent camping; others prefer RV’s and the park has plenty of room for both. Or if you think Motel 6 is your idea of “roughing it,” perhaps you could try out one of the camp cabins. In that case, all you need is your sleeping bag and toothbrush (okay, maybe a few extras). Make your camping reservations online.

Two of the camping cabins at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

 

 

2. Soap-on-a-rope

… for your hot shower of course! Dead Horse Ranch campgrounds are equipped with clean restrooms and hot water showers, so naturally you’ll want to bring your towel, shampoo, conditioner and your soap-on-a-rope (shower gel works too.) And judging from the review sites, the facilities are  very well maintained.

 

3. Picnic basket or equivalent

I’m not sure if people still use these, but if you don’t have a picnic basket then just bring the ice chest stuffed with all your favorite goodies. The park has plenty of tables and ramadas in the day use areas, available on a first-come first serve basis, unless prior reservations are made.

 

4. Paddles

…for the kayak or canoe you’ll want to bring! Picture yourself venturing out on the lagoon or exploring the Verde River.  Please leave behind the Hobie Cats, Jet Skis and 90hp Johnson outboard. These waterways are oar-power only.

 

5. Tackle box

You will need a variety of lures, rods and reels in case you want to try all out the fishing possibilities. Arizona Game and Fish recently stocked rainbow trout for the winter months. Lagoons are favorite spots but river provides good places to try your hand at fly-fishing. Don’t forget your fishing license, but if you do, you can always pick up one at the local Walmart, just four miles away in Cottonwood.

 

 

6. Footwear

You’ll need to bring a variety of footwear from your closet: hiking boots for hiking; riding boots for horseback riding and cycling shoes for mountain biking. There are lots of trails: short nature trails, perfect for strolling along the river or longer ones, such as the three trails that make up the 7.8-mile Dead Horse Trail System. And now that the 15-mile stretch of Lime Kiln Trail is complete, you can ride (or bike) all the way to Red Rock State Park. Almost every trail at Dead Horse Ranch State Park is shared use, so remember to follow trail etiquette.

Horseback riding is just one of many activities at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

 

7. Camera, binoculars and nature guidebooks

According to the Park website, common mammals are grey fox, jackrabbit, deer, bobcat, mountain lion, javelina, skunk, and as we were told by the campground host, even the occasional river otters make their home along the Verde. The Park also hosts the “Birdy Verde,” a short name for the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival each April and the Verde River Days, held each September. Both events are not only great family fun, but they promote awareness about outdoor recreation and wildlife. The main reason for the plentiful wildlife is the vast number of cottonwood trees — not to be taken for granted!

Cottonwood trees are 'huge' -- in every aspect of the word

 

8. Credit card or cash

Okay, if you’re still not convinced Dead Horse Ranch could be the perfect Arizona getaway, just remember to bring money. You can always go shopping — at the gift shop in the visitor’s center where you’ll not only find bait, water and incidentals but also souvenirs and t-shirts. Or while your spouse and kids are fishing, paddling, riding, biking or hiking, you can take a two-minute drive into Old Town Cottonwood for a latte or a little lunch, followed by Arizona wine-tasting and window shopping along Main Street  — dotted with quaint gift shops, antique stores and art galleries. And later, If you’re in the mood for some ‘old West’ entertainment, take the family to the Blazin’ M Ranch for dinner and a show. It’s literally just across the street from the park. You’d better add cowboy boots to the list of footwear!

 

 

Salome chapel offers travelers spiritual solace

“Enter, Rest and Pray” are simple instructions to travelers, as indicated on the front of the Little Roadside Chapel near Salome, Arizona.

 

Roadside chapel near Salome, Arizona

It was once commonplace for churches to keep their doors open for travelers. Now few churches remain open for visitors. And also becoming extinct are the tiny, rural, roadside chapels, which frequently could be found along American back roads or “blue” highways. These provided rest to the weary traveler, inspiration to the lost, and a simple shelter from the storm.

 

Sign near the chapel door offers simple instructions

 

Until a few months ago, Arizona had at least two of these tiny chapels. This past September a severe microburst destroyed a tiny roadside chapel near Yuma.  But the Little Roadside Chapel still stands along Salome Road, just southeast of Salome. Built in 2004 by Paul and Lora Marks, as a place for travelers to rest and reflect, the Little Roadside Chapel was modeled after the one near Yuma.

“It was always a dream of my husband’s,” said Lora Marks. “He wanted to have a place for travelers… to stop, pray, meditate.”

The chapel is large enough for one pew and a few desks

 

 

The Little Roadside Chapel holds about a dozen people, not large enough for Sunday services, but it’s ample room for a family making their way west or a couple coming back to Arizona for the winter. Only one or two visitors stop during the summer months and several more each day throughout the year. Fortunately, neither storms nor vandals have damaged the Little Roadside Chapel and Mrs. Marks said there’s only been one incident of theft.

 

“The truckers love it,” she said, “you’d be amazed how many stop to rest and pray.” She added that it’s a favorite stop for those truck drivers making the drive to Parker, Arizona.

 

Wall sign inside states the chapel's mission

 

Salome chapel has six stained glass windows

More locations of roadside chapels can be found on roadsideamerica.com

Tuzigoot tour: In the steps of the Sinagua people

"Step Back in Time - Visit Tuzigoot"

Sometimes when I visit a historical monument, I’m reminded of the adage: “to understand people, walk a mile in their shoes” (or moccasins, sandals). It’s a good way to get the most out of my visit – to imagine how life must have been during that era. I thought about that on my recent return to Tuzigoot National Monument. I gained a new appreciation for these hunter-gathering people who lived in the Verde Valley between 700 and 1400 AD. I considered myself walking that ‘mile’ – or even just a few steps.

 

 

Tuzigoot visitor center entrance has its own historical significance

1. Step Inside

 

Visit the Tuzigoot Museum and Visitor’s Center. I recommend seeing this before the ruins. Interpretive and interactive exhibits explain the story of the Sinagua people. Learn about the structures and the differences between these pueblos and other nearby ruin sites. Even the museum itself has an interesting story. If you’ve been to Tuzigoot before but haven’t been recently, know that the exhibits are continually being updated. Kids of any age will enjoy the Junior Ranger program.

 

View of the visitor center and limestone ridges in the distance

 

2. Step Out

 

It’s time to take a little walk up that path to the pueblo. The developed path from the parking lot to the pueblo seems easy enough. After all, it’s paved and even. Imagine if you lived 1000 years ago, and were walking up from the fields in the valley by the river, carrying a heavy load of corn or deer meat.

 

Originally the rooms of Tuzigoot were two levels

 

3. Step Around

 

Walk the circumference of the pueblo, which was originally two stories high throughout and comprised 110 rooms. Get the feel for the walls of clay and rock. Think about how long it must have taken to bring all these building materials to the top of this hill. Imagine spending nights in those small rooms!

 

Historians estimate Tuzigoot comprised 77 ground floor rooms

Walk through second story rooms on the way to the roof

 

 

4. Step Up

 

Climb the steps up to the rooftop, the highest point on the remaining second level of the pueblo. Here you will find what may be your most significant memory of your visit to Tuzigoot – the view! You can learn about this vantage point from the visitor center brochure, “A View from the Roof.” Gaze down at the Tavasci Marsh and Verde River where you will see how the vegetation transforms from wetlands to desert.

Excellent panoramic views gained from Tuzigoot's highest point

 

 

5. Step Down

 

Finally, walk the Tavasci Marsh loop, a half-mile round trip. It’s possible to see some of the 167 species of birds here or even the occasional desert river otter among the cattails. Before Europeans arrived in the 15th century, the marsh, river and Peck’s Lake provided lush, almost tropical surroundings. The name, “Sinagua” is Spanish for “without water” and was coined in the 1920’s by Museum of Northern Arizona founder and archeologist Harold Colton. It almost seems like a misnomer since water was abundant. Perhaps the name was given as one theory to the group’s disappearance – maybe an extended period of drought? Other theories include: depletion of food sources, disease, conflicts with other cultures or spiritual reasons.

 

View of the "Citadel" from Tuzigoot Trail

 

 

6. Step Away

 

Whether you’re an Arizona newcomer, long-time resident or visitor, you’ll appreciate the step back in time with a visit to Tuzigoot National Monument.  You’ll leave the park with more knowledge about Arizona’s native cultures, natural history and most likely, a renewed appreciation for your modern existence.

Learn about the Sinagua at the visitor center