I love rocks … just about any kind of rocks. And the bigger the better. When we first moved to the Tri-City area (now the Quad-City area of Prescott, Chino Valley, Prescott Valley and Dewey-Humboldt), people would tell me about the Granite Dells and Watson Lake. So that was one of our first forays.
It’s easy to get to but not well marked. And truthfully, you’ll see it well before the turnoff while driving on State Route 89. Actually, you can see it from many different vantage points along SR89, SR89A and Pioneer Parkway. Pioneer Parkway even has a scenic overlook where you can get a good look at the Dells, the lake, Chino Valley and the northern part of Prescott Valley. If it hasn’t been too windy and there isn’t a lot of dust in the air or if it isn’t too cloudy, you can even see the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff from the scenic turnout. This time of year, the Peaks are covered in snow and really pretty.
The rounded and weather-worn granite outcroppings of the Dells are spectacular to see. And the fact that part of SR89 in Prescott winds right through the middle of parts of the Dells is just delightful. Whenever I have to drive that piece, a part of me just sort of says “Ahhhh.”
They are not specially colored … except perhaps at sunset. The granite is a medium sort of tan for the most part. It’s the shapes of the outcroppings that grab the mind and imagination evoking cowboy western movie locations from the 1940’s. And indeed, there was a movie filmed partly there released in 1945 titled “Leave Her to Heaven” starring Cornel Wilde, Gene Tierney and Jeanne Crain.
Besides the rocks, I really enjoy Watson Lake. When the wind is calm and the water is like glass, the reflections of the boulders and the sky are phenomenal. The lake began as a low spot in Granite Creek where the excess water from spring snow melt would collect. Early in the 1900’s, a dam was built by the Chino Valley Irrigation District which created water reservoirs in and around the Granite Dells. Watson Lake is probably the largest with a surface area of about 400 acres.
Early in the lake’s history it was the site of a lot of great entertainment from swimming and boating to big band music and dancing. All those concomitant structures are gone today but people still canoe and kayak and clamber all over the boulders. And they have started a new “tradition” of floating lanterns
On our first visit, Bernd (my husband) and I spent hours just seeing what was on the other side of the next huge boulder. We promised ourselves that on our next visit we would bring gloves. While the rough texture of the granite is great for keeping your feet under you, it’s really hard on the palms of your hands and the tips of your fingers. I swear I had no more finger prints after that first visit.
There are a number of trails around the lake and into the Dells. These were mainly created from old railways, one of which was the railroad that brought people from the City of Prescott a few miles south of the lake. There are facilities for picnicking and hiking and it’s a great place to spend a few hours or the entire day. There is a fee to park, but it is minimal.
The Granite Dells sort of backs up to Glassford Hill which is the weathered dome of an extinct volcano (the granite of the Dells has been dated at 1.4 billion years old). The volcano pretty much explains where all that granite came from. Arizona’s mountains were all basically built by vulcanism. A little ways west and north of the Dells is Granite Mountain. It’s huge and there are many hiking and horseback riding trails located there. One day I will have to write about that in more detail. Especially my first time riding my horse among the boulders.
If you are ever in the Prescott area of Arizona, be sure to spend a few hours in the Granite Dells and at Watson Lake. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.