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Wickenburg, Wickenburg, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Believe it or not we only live about 50 miles from Wickenburg, but have never actually toured the town and seen the sites Patricia mentions in her book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”.  Today, as we are heading back to Phoenix, we decided to take the back road and go through Wickenburg so we can complete one more page in Patricia’s book.

100_6314Wickenburg is a true Gold Town.  Gold was discovered here in 1863 by Henry Wickenburg…hence the name of the town.  There are over 80 mines throughout the hillsides of Wickenburg and was one of the richest territories during it’s time.  Most of the mines no longer exist, but one that does is the Vulture Mine.  This mine offers tours but only during the cooler 100_6315months, as Wickenburg can get quite hot.  We toured this mine a few months back when my grandson was visiting.  The mine began in 1863 and became the most productive gold mine in Arizona history. From 1863 to 1942, the mine produced 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver.  Historically, the mine attracted more than 5,000 people to the area, and 100_6313is credited with founding the town of  Wickenburg.  In 1942, the Vulture Mine was shut down by a regulatory agency for processing gold.  This was a violation at the time because all resources were to be focused on the war effort. The mine appealed the shut-down order and reopened, but with less vigor.  A few years later, the mine closed permanently.  Today the mine and ghost town are privately owned, but tours are offered.  Two-hour, dirt path guided walking tours at the historic Vulture mine offers a glimpse of the olden days through a tour of some of the remaining buildings of Vulture City, a booming mining town.  The guide is very informative and there is lots to see.  The mine was actually on Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel on October 29, 2010.

Wickenburg tries to keep the look of the town as it was back in the day.  Along the town’s main historic district, early businesses built many structures that still form Wickenburg’s downtown area. The abundant clean air and wide-open spaces attracted new residents.  Guest ranches offered a unique experience to tourists who fell in love with the West.  Shortly after 1913, the Kay El Bar and Rancho de los Caballeros, opened as two of the top Guest Ranches in the area.  Many others followed making Wickenburg the Dude Ranch Capital of the World.  Wickenburg Dude Ranches is even a trip destination on many TV game shows like Wheel of Fortune.  We were fortunate enough to visit both of these “Dude Ranches” today.

100_8951Our first stop was the Rancho de los Caballeros.  The venerable story of The Ranch dates back to 1947, when Dallas Gant, Sr., had the dream to build a dude ranch resort that would not only make him proud but would also stand the test of time.  That dream came true a year later in 1948, when Rancho de los Caballeros (Ranch of the Gentlemen on 100_8961Horseback) gallantly opened its doors to guests.  As the reputation of The Ranch’s outstanding service and accommodations grew through the years, so did its facilities.  The Ranch currently features 79 guest rooms, a 200-seat dining room, a full-service saloon, a full-service spa, meeting spaces, 20,000 acres of land, tennis courts, trap & skeet range, a horse stable, and an 18-hole golf course consistently ranked in national lists as a top 75 resort course.  This must be true because as we were leaving at about 11:30 a.m. we were greeted by no less than at least 10 Porche convertibles entering the golf course.  It was either a club or some very 100_8950rich guest with a 12:00 tee time. Besides the golf course there are some unique bits of history about the ranch.  In 1947 he pearl-shaped teardrop swimming pool for The Ranch was dug by hand.  It was the first non-rectangular pool in Arizona.  Architects at the time were concerned that the shape was too daring, but the pool has remained to this day, undergoing its first resurfacing in 1990.  Also in 1951, an airstrip was added to accommodate guests’ private planes.  Today, private planes land at nearby Wickenburg Airport, but you can still see part of the runway and an old hanger between the 17th and 18th fairways.  Yes, only in Arizona would you get rid of an airstrip to add a golf course.  In 1987 telephones were added to the guest rooms and finally in 1991 the guest rooms were furnished with a TV set.  Credit Cards were not accepted until 2004.  Today this dude ranch is known as a desert home away from home.  Rancho de los Caballeros offers modern comforts in a historic Arizona dude ranch setting.  With whitewashed walls, wooden beams and colorful Mexican tiles, The Ranch has the elegant ease of a traditional hacienda.  And with the wide open sky over head and the stunning desert vistas all around, The Ranch offers a welcoming oasis where you can trade in your cell phone for some reins, and make life-long memories.

100_8968We had tried to call the Kay El Bar Ranch many times to get directions, but although the phone rings, we are asked to leave a message and no one ever answers.  We did have an address, so we trusted our handy GPS and went on an adventure.  We did find the ranch but it appeared to be deserted.  However, we had done our homework so knew a bit about the ranch.  The 100_8969charming adobe ranch was built in the late 1800s, and, like all the early dude ranches, began as a working cattle outfit. The building’s adobe walls built of sun-dried brick are 12 to 18 inches thick.  Each brick was made by hand by the Maricopa Indians who lived on the nearby reservation.  In 1925 Kay El Bar was renovated, and the ranch began welcoming guests in 1926.  The ranch appears completely up to date in its comforts, including a new pool, and a whirlpool spa,   However, as we walked around all the windows are covered in dark plastic and every door was locked.  The ranch consist of 13 rooms and wonderful, well kept grounds. 100_8972We finally found some ranch hands tending to the horses and asked what was going on.  It turns out the lodging part of the ranch no longer exists although they are open for trail rides and a true western experience.   We were told they are an authentic, historic dude ranch.  They offer an affordable, all-inclusive vacation experience, with a peaceful setting and friendly, experienced staff.  We were told many of their guests return every year to visit just because they can take a trail ride into the beautiful landscape with a wrangler-led horseback guide.  Today they had the horse and buggies out as they were preparing for the Spring parades.  Kay el Bar is a winter ranch, open October through May.  This dude ranch is a hidden gem.  I don’t understand why it isn’t open for a true dude ranch experience.

100_8965Our last stop of the day in Wickenburg was the  Desert Caballeros Western Museum.  Founded in 1960, it is Arizona’s most western museum. The museum was created for the purpose of preserving and exhibiting the art and history of the rural Southwest and the desert frontier.  Here world renowned art collections complement historic displays.  The museum offers self guided audio tours that tell the fascinating stories of the American West.  At the core of the museum are prized works from artists that offer an enriching contemporary perspective.

Back in the day, the only way to get to Los Angeles or Las Vegas was to go through Kingman, but back then it was just to drive through.  Today we actually took the time to drive through the town, see a few of the Dude Ranches and visit a part of the old West.  The more time I spent here, the more I thought about taking a vacation to a Dude Ranch.  They offer girls weekends so how fun could that be.  Maybe even a Mother / Daughter weekend.  The wheels are turning.  I’d rate all of Wickenburg an A.  It was a fine day and it gave me enough curiosity to want to come back.

AM…page 701


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Shrine of St. Joseph / Hot Shot Memorial, Yarnell, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Yarnell is one of those towns taking the back way out of Prescott that you would miss if you blinked.  It is a sleepy town that holds many memories, and nothing you will find in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”.

100_8926Back in the late 60’s when my maternal grandmother would come visit, my father found this place.  My grandmother, being a very religous woman, just loved this place.  It is the Shrine of St. Joseph.  The Shrine is just off the main street in town and at the end of the street…you can’t go any 100_8931further.  When I was last here with my grandmother, there were picnic tables where my dad would have stopped and got Kentucky Fried Chicken and we would have a picnic lunch.  Today, where the picnic tables used to be is a parking lot.  However, the shrine is the same.  On July 15, 1934, a 100_8929small group of people from Phoenix gathered for the purpose of forming an organization to form spiritual works of mercy regardless of race of creed.  The members were from various parishes in the vicinity.  They called themselves the Catholic Action League of Arizona.  100_8936Five years later in 1939, the shrine was built and the first pilgrimage was held.  Plans were then made to portray the life of Christ.  It starts with the Last Supper and goes through the 14 stations of the Cross.  The highest point is the Crucifixion and then the burial in the tomb and then the rising of Christ.  The purpose was to bring the suffering and sacrifices and love of Jesus.  It is a steep climb to the top but there are steps and hand rails.  Hidden in the midst of shade trees and huge granite boulders the walk up and down are very surreal.  The most enjoyable part of this attraction to me was the childhood memories with my Grandmother…so many many years ago.

100_8941One of the newest attractions to Yarnell is the Memorial of the 19 Hot Shots that lost their lives battling a fire in the hills of Yarnell.  The memorial is now just a few boards with tributes and photos of the 19 fire fighters who died on June 30, 2013, but plans for a beautiful memorial are in the works.  Thelma and I were in Iowa when this tragedy happened and I remember the relatives running into our bedroom to wake us up to come 100_8939watch the news.  The Yarnell Hill Fire was a wildfire ignited by lightning on June 28, 2013.  Strong winds in the area, reaching more than 22 mph pushed the fire  from 300 acres to over 2,000 acres.  A long-term drought  affecting the area contributed to the fire’s rapid spread and erratic behavior, as did temperatures of 101 degrees.  On June 30, it overran the area and killed 19  members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  The wildfire was fully contained by July 10, 2013.  Thelma and I knew many of these Hotshots as they would come to our classes at school and talk to the kids about fire and safety.  Only one member of the 20 Hotshot team survived, as he was the lookout for the day.  This event resulted in the highest wild land firefighter death toll in the United States since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire that killed 29 firefighters.   It is the sixth deadliest firefighter disaster overall and the deadliest wildfire ever in Arizona.  Because we live close (Prescott is only 34 miles north) we can come back at another time when the permanent memorial is complete.  One note of thanks.  Four days later, we were at the Gowrie 4th of July parade in Gowrie Iowa and the fire engine in the parade was all decorated in purple ribbons honoring the 19 Hotshots.  Thelma and I later went to the firefighters and thanked them for remember our fellow neighbors from back home.  It was a very humble experience.

Now there are two reasons to stop in Yarnell, AZ when driving between Phoenix and Prescott through the back windy roads of Hwy 89.  This is not your normal attractions, but it is a part of history in some ways and a somber way of peaceful rejuvenation.  I’m not going to rate Yarnell.  I’m going to let you go visit and rate it yourself.


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Prescott, Prescott, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Well I waited until this time to finally blog about the beautiful town of Prescott, Arizona that I am fortunate enough to call home.  As you know we have been trying to complete Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”.  And as I have mentioned before in the book there are 1000 main attractions but inside each main attraction are many other smaller attractions.  This blog about Prescott is our 150 Main Attraction and the 344 smaller attraction.  It is great to say we are almost 20% done with the book.

Prescott has several nicknames.  One is that we are “Arizona’s xmas lightChristmas City” because of the way the Courthouse square is lite up during the month of December and January.  With more than 170 huge trees surrounding the courthouse the lighting itself is pretty spectacular.  This is one of Prescott’s biggest events.  The event is usually the Saturday following Thanksgiving.  It starts with a parade in the morning followed by the Tree Lighting at nightfall.  Local school children sit on the courthouse steps and sing Christmas Carols then with the flick of a switch over one million lights in many different colors come to life.  This tradition has been going on for 62 years.

Due to the western feel of Prescott, another nickname is “The West’s thumb butteMost Eastern Town”.  The town has a rich history and a good sense of fun along with two colleges and an aeronautical university.  There are also beautiful forest, the Granite Dells and a mile high mountain known as Thumb Butte due to it’s formation.  I have to show visitors how the mountain got it’s name and once I explain it, it’s easy to see it looks like a hand with the thumb extended.

100_5723Prescott is also home to the famous “Whiskey Row”.  Over 20 saloons and unique boutiques line Montezuma St also known as Whiskey Row.  The Palace is the oldest Saloon in Arizona and still has impostors dressed as the sheriff from the 1800’s.  They are dressed in mountaineer attire complete with hat, boots and guns.  There is a story about the history of the palace barPalace.  Way back the Palace caught fire.  The old miners were sitting at the bar when they noticed the flames.  Not wanting to stop drinking, they tore the bar from the building, carried it across the street to the courthouse lawn and continued drinking while they watched the Palace burn.  Today that original bar is still sitting inside the Palace.  Whiskey Row is turns into a different setting after 5:00 and even more so on the weekends.  The music, the bikers, the drinking comes to life once the sun goes down.  Bikers line the street as boot dropPrescott is only 100 miles north of Phoenix and only 90 miles south of Flagstaff, so it’s a great place for a bike ride with a night on Whiskey road at the end of the ride.  Whiskey Row is also home to the famous “Boot Drop”.  Similar to the Apple Drop on New Years Eve in New York, Prescott has a Boot Drop on New Years Eve.  This is such a big event, that they do it twice.  Once at 10:00 p.m. for the children or those who can’t stay awake, and then again at midnight.

100_5732Prescott still has many museums that help you relive the history of Prescott.  Sharlot Hall is a log home built in 1864 that showcases Prescott’s history.  This is also the location of the original Governors home, which is also the oldest wooden structure in the state of Arizona.  The Sharot Hall Museum also includes an extensive collection from the Fort Misery days.

100_5756Another museum that focuses on the western part of Prescott, is the Phippen Museum.  This museum was founded by and named for the artist who helped form the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America organization.  This museum has a first rate selection of Western art that changes regularly.  Some of the elaborate pieces are on the outside grounds like the painted ponies and the copper structures.

rodeoAnother big event that calls Prescott Home is Frontier Days which hosts the Worlds Oldest Rodeo.  This event is held over 4th of July week.  In addition to the Rodeo there is a parade, bar-b-ques, dances and craft fairs.  The town receives more visitors over this event than any other time of the year.

100_5727Prescott also has some famous hotels.  The Hotel St. Michael’s is one of the oldest hotels in Prescott and is right in the center of town.  It is on the corner of Whiskey Row and the Courthouse Square.  The hotel does not have air conditioning other than a window unit.  The elevator is closed with a sliding rod iron cage piece and is haunted.   The haunted elevator and a ghostly lady  that haunts the halls are just a couple of the legends surrounding this hotel.    But the rooms are comfortable, the view is breathtaking and the restaurant inside serves some of the best food in town.

100_5700If you want a more luxurious say you must stay at the Hassayampa Inn.  Opened as a luxury hotel in 1927 when Prescott was the bustling territorial capital of Arizona.  The hotel has been lovingly restored with 68 guest rooms and the elegant Peacock Room for exquisite dining.  There is usually someone playing the art nouveau piano in the hotels lobby just like in the good old days.

100_5716Downtown Prescott also has another famous building and that is the Elks Theater, previously the Elks Opera House and before that the Elks Lodge.  The Elks Lodge’s original plans did not call for a theater. Entertainment hungry residents raised the necessary funds and it was incorporated into the plans for the three-story building housing the lodge on the top floor, offices on the second floor and retail space on the ground floor.  The granite cornerstone of the building was laid on April 3, 1904, with an excited crowd in attendance.  The grand opening of the Elks Opera House was Monday, Feb. 20, 1905.

elks theaterPrescott residents were equally proud of their opera house, around which they built their business and social lives. The location is one block east of the  County Courthouse Plaza and was along the streetcar route making the location ideal.  Prescott was a convenient stopover for companies traveling between the larger cities to the east and west.

The venue, which at the time boasted 900 seats and eight dressing rooms, also was used a great deal for balls, civic presentations and high school graduations. The acoustics were considered  superb.

The Arizona Community Foundation  purchased the Elks Opera House in 1982.  That same year the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The City of Prescott acquired the Elks Opera House  in February 2001, paying $250,000 in a bid to preserve the historic landmark and ensure its continued use as a community gathering place.  The interior of the Theater was completely restored to its original grandeur in 2010 and the exterior of the building was completely renovated in 2014.

100_5743Prescott also has a couple of lakes some in town and some on the outskirts of town.  The local lake is Watson Lake.  This lake surrounds the Dells and hosts many recreational activities like canoeing, kayaking and fishing.  The lake however does not allow swimming.  There is a look

The Dells

The Dells

out viewpoint that allows you to see the lake as it weaves in and out of the dells.  Other nearby lakes are Willow Lake, which is drying up, Lynx Lake and Goldwater Lake, all of which just add to the beauty of Prescott.

I love this town…that’s why I live here.  It has got to be a must stop when coming to the state of Arizona.  Prescott has been rated the #3 place in the country to retire for the past 7 years.  Without a doubt, I would give Prescott and all it has to offer an A rating.  I love it here, and you will too.

AM…page 693

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