When I read about Prescott, Arizona being the state’s ‘Christmas city’, I knew I had to include it on my itinerary when I got to the Grand Canyon state. The reality was every bit as wonderful as I’d read!
Caution: long post ahead with lots of photos. Skip through at will!
In planning my trip to the US in December 2018, I had arranged to stay with my friend in Phoenix, Arizona for twelve nights then fly to New York for Christmas. I also knew I was going to rent a car so I could get around and it turned out to be a very good idea. Phoenix has its own charm but I was craving a cold climate and plenty of Christmas spirit. I scoured the Internet looking for inspiration and found it at the Campfires and Concierges blog. I read what blogger Leigh had to say about it and was sold!
‘Prescuit’ or ‘PrescOtt’?
On the 14th December, I set out in my rented Nissan Murano and headed for Prescott. First things first; it’s most commonly pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable and rhymes with ‘biscuit’. Still, some diehards insist on calling it ‘Pres-cOtt’ and ultimately, I can’t claim to know which is right. It was about a 90-minute drive from Phoenix up a really good highway, the I-17. One thing I noticed a lot of in Arizona was chemtrails. They’re everywhere! Wikipedia defines chemtrails as “streaks of condensed water vapor created in the air by an airplane or rocket at high altitudes” and poo-poos the sinister conspiracy theories. Anyway, I think they’re intriguing and can be a bit of a distraction out on the open road, so moving right along.
On the drive up to Prescott which is in the Bradshaw Mountains, you get plenty of notice that the elevation is changing. My ears constantly reacted to the change so I knew I was moving higher and higher. Prescott is perched at 1,636 metres, or 5,367 feet. The air is so clean up there that Prescott is one of the US cities with the lowest levels of air pollution.
Along the way, I had to stop for petrol and found a gas station at a little outpost called Dewey-Humboldt. Adjacent is an intriguing little ‘ghost town’ of shopfronts with a rather over-priced gift shop and the Sherriff’s office. It actually seemed like the kind of ghost town that featured in the Brady Bunch episode where the gang goes to the Grand Canyon, or like something out of Django Unchained. Nearby is a modern Post Office. Funnily enough, even the gas station was a bit ghost-like. No fuel! I took a few photos of the shopfronts, used the facilities and got on my way again.
There’s something so freeing about being out on the open road
I’ve heard people talk about it before and never really ‘got’ it but I think the difference lies in being somewhere completely unfamiliar. Everything you see is brand new and fresh. I was already driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and in a different country. The cars were different, the vegetation was unusual – and changed frequently along the journey – and the roadside stops were fun to check out, even if I didn’t stop. I thought there’d be more greasy spoon diners but these days, it seems big chain outlets have taken over so there are a lot of McDonald’s and other food joints.
Arriving in Prescott and looking around from the car, the town looked pretty and very wintry (no surprise!). When the courthouse came into view, I instantly thought of the pictures on Leigh’s blog and felt like I was stepping into a storybook. It was daytime and the courthouse wasn’t as glamorous but it’s still an imposing, pretty building with Roman columns and a grand facade. The sun was beaming and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; just look at the photo! There are lots of other quaint buildings around town and of course, there’s Whiskey Row, a block on Montezuma, one of the main streets and opposite the courthouse. It’s a string of saloons, restaurants and bars as well as tourist gift shops and a candy store.
The Christmas experience
On my second night there, I went to ‘Enchanted Christmas’, like a shop space but filled with Christmas overload! Lots of animated, glittery displays, lights, Christmas carols, model train sets, the works. It was quite cute! I had to walk down a fairly dark stretch of road to get there but people I asked assured me it was a safe area.
The courthouse looks spectacular at night with its sparkly lights and for an Aussie who is used to hot, sweaty Christmas nights, milling around in a coat, scarf and gloves was a thrill! I drank in the atmosphere and sat, beaming, checking in with myself that this was really happening. I felt so happy, just so happy to be there and experiencing a totally different Christmas.
What did I eat and drink in Prescott?
For those of you who like to be a foodie voyeur, you can march on over to this post to read more.
Souvenirs and tourism
After a while, what you find in tourist shops starts to all look the same. In Prescott, given the area’s connection with the Yavapai Indian tribe, there are lots of Indian handmade goods like blankets and jewellery. I also found a lot of precious and semi-precious gemstones and metals. There’s also an abundance of beautiful handcrafted glass items such as mobiles, vases and bowls, plus the ubiquitous wind chimes, which I love but you can only have so many! Oh, and copper is common as it’s mined around the area. I bought some lovely copper and brass earrings.
I found the staff in the stores to be a bit aloof. Because of the cold, you even had to open the doors to the stores to enter and still, no one would acknowledge my presence. No warm greetings, no “can I help you”. I found it so odd, since Prescott is such a renowned tourist centre. I did find one store however where the lady working there was very warm and friendly and we had a lovely chat and I bought a gorgeous heart-shaped keyring.
Who did I meet in Prescott?
I like a chat. No, I need to chat. I love to sit and engage in conversation, especially when travelling solo. There was a table of lively 60+ Canadians in the restaurant at lunch, ‘snowbirds’ escaping the chill at home. There was the gorgeous real estate couple, Stacey and Dale, originally from Phoenix and now ensconced in their new life in Prescott. And I met a wonderful elderly lady, May in a Walgreen’s! She asked if I could read the price on a lipstick and when she heard my accent, she wanted to know more about me. We ended up having coffee over the road at Natural Grocers and she even insisted I follow her in my car to her church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. May called to check on me every couple of days while I was in the US until I left to come home and we’ve agreed to stay in touch. Lovely lady! I also dropped into McDonald’s one day to use the Wi-Fi and ended up sitting and chatting for an hour or so with three ‘old-timers’, some lovely elderly gentlemen who gather there most days to shoot the breeze. We had some laughs, I learned more about Prescott, (including that 70s/80s singing duo Captain & Tennille called Prescott home), told them about Australia and had a fun time getting to hear their stories.
In summary … i.e. should you visit Prescott, Arizona?
I loved Prescott! I’ve since learned that it’s something of a destination town for drug addicts needing rehab, with multiple recovery centres providing safe harbour. It was even named by the recovery website TheFix as one of the top 10 destinations in the country to get sober yet meth and heroin are increasingly becoming problems there. However, I didn’t see anything of the sort and though you may look up the town online and find these mentions, it shouldn’t be a deterrent to visiting. I felt safe and happy wandering around on my own, even venturing down dark streets where my spidey senses kept me on high alert but I was assured were quite safe. As with anywhere in the world, you have to be responsible for your own safety and no matter where you go, dark elements can be. In short, it’s a big, hard YES from me! Go to Prescott, not just at Christmas but any time. There are tons of accommodation options, plenty of natural beauty, lots of quirky shops and restaurants and it’s never as hot as Phoenix and more southern towns.
Fast facts about Prescott, Arizona
- The first/original capital of Arizona (now Phoenix).
- Was home for a while to Virgil Earp, brother of Wyatt Earp, ‘American Old West lawman and gambler’.
- Though Prescott is a desert town, it gets very cold due to the elevation and even snows there! Throughout December, January and February it can get around 6 inches of snow per month.
- Home for many years to Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille singing duo, and it’s where the ‘Captain’, Daryl Dragon passed away in a hospice in January 2019.
- Designated “Arizona’s Christmas City” in 1989 by Arizona Governor Rose Mofford.