I was hoping for a second visit to the mesa when I launched out on the venture in May of this year, but there was absolutely no way I was going to make it from this approach. My first visit was in November of 2014 and you can see the images by clicking here. The locations presented in images 4-8 of that earlier post are all under water in this photograph.
We had an unusual amount of rain through the past Winter and Spring, which allowed Lake Pleasant to become fuller than it normally has been…or maybe it could have been as full in the past, but the water management people allowed more of it to flow past the dam…or there’s some better explanation of which I’m not aware.
At any rate, I didn’t make it to the mesa, but I did spend a nice hour or so out in the desert wilderness watching egrets, herons, cormorants, Canada geese, and other water fowl, hunting, fishing, and sailing about in the water on an overcast Arizona morning.
Going north for the week…can’t help but admire this part of Arizona in passing. Check out this YouTube spot on the Echo Cliffs….
“The resistance to Copernicus, a kind of geocentrism, remains with us: We still talk about the Sun rising and the Sun setting. It is 2,200 years since Aristarchus, and our language still pretends that the earth does not turn.“ – Carl Sagan
Watson Lake is situated in an area known as the Granite Dells…weather-worn remnants from another geologic era. There is another lake a bit to the north and west named Willow Creek Reservoir. I haven’t been there yet, so that’s another Prescott adventure for the future.
The brochure for Watson Lake states that it is four miles northeast from downtown Prescott, Arizona…it is also 98 miles from my driveway in the far northwest valley of metropolitan Phoenix, more precisely, it’s that far to the parking lot for the Peavine Trail…a former rail-bed turned hiking trail that runs along the southern edge of the lake and beyond.
I follow an Arizona hiking page on another social media site and have seen numerous photos or posts about the lake and its very immediate environment. I have not, however, seen any images from the trails that circle the lake, nothing from the greater setting in the Granite Dells…and, actually, nothing beyond intimate photos of water reflected boulders and beautiful sunsets.
The above image is the only one that made it into black and white. The location was in the shadows of the cottonwood and other trees in the southeast corner of the lake, and while it provided great access for longer views while approaching the lake, it was difficult to capture significant color in the immediate area.
My original plan was to hike the majority, if not all, of the Peavine Trail. I understood that it was somewhere between 11 and 12 miles in length, and that was what I wanted…a nice long hike…situated near the lake…close enough to it that I could make some images of my own.
Shortly after passing the above location, I ventured off down one of the shore trails and wandered around looking for photo worthy settings that weren’t too effected by the morning’s sun and shadows. I didn’t have much luck….
So it was back on the Peavine Trail heading northeast again, parallel to the lake…and going away from it.
The lake and surrounding property now belongs to the City of Prescott…literature claims they took possession of it in 1997 in order to protect it and to use it for recreational purposes, etc. In their efforts to make it more user-friendly, they placed weather-protected maps on sign posts along the way informing the hikers where they were in relation to the lake, which trails they could take, distances covered, etc.
When I noticed that I was going to be heading too far away from the lake on one of the trail-side maps, I decided to take the “Over the Hill Trail” back to the greater network of the “loop” trail that essentially circled the lake. Given that much of the trail was over exposed rock and was not discernible as an actual trail, the Parks Department painted white dots on the granite to mark the way. You can see one of the dots to the right and down from the tree in the center of the above image.
The “Over the Hill” trail led down to Granite Creek, which we can see in the lush green toward the bottom of the rocks….
When the Over the Hill trail intersected with the Granite Creek trail, it was initially unclear which way to go…right or left. Heading toward the right led to waist-high grasses and very soggy walking, as the trail through that tall grass was actually under water.
Turning back to the left brings us back to a clear trail, still through tall grass, but alongside the creek, and then (not marked), heading over the metal walking bridge that you can see directly above the tree that is in and over the water.
Another thing that the juncture of the two trails mentioned above brought to me, was the sound of a waterfall…that very particular crashing and rushing of water kind of sound that means water is flowing hard and fast somewhere nearby. As you can see above, it wasn’t exactly a “waterfall,” but is was definitely falling water…hard and fast and loud in the half-circle of the concrete and canyon walls.
This is still a desert, supposedly…high desert…5,000 plus feet in elevation…stream-side…marvelous…wonderful…green….
Exposed granite slabs, rolls, pressings…and I imagine it would be hotter than the blazes with reflected heat on a true mid-summer day…
The first glimpse of the lake after rounding the granite hills…now perched on what is the northwest corner/curve of the reservoir….
The front side of the dam, above….
Heading back down south and west….
A cormorant congress above….
Looking back north and east….
A closer look at the heron in the backwater toward the far south and west…nearing the Discovery Trail….
…and now into the deep cottonwood shadows that we skirted at the beginning of the hike…beautiful shade and cool breezes.
I woke at 4:00 am, drove for two hours, and still arrived an hour or so after sunrise…considered doing the entire shoot in black and white…settled for color, though, as I could change the treatment later…changed the frame to more of a wide angle, similar to that of a large-screened television in format…found that I was disturbed by the breadth and mass of the sky in the viewfinder, actually felt off kilter, but I knew the setting would help for the more panoramic shots that would come later and didn’t want to keep fiddling with the camera…so I changed my point of view and came home with this….
More to follow….
North and east of Lake Pleasant and just inside of the Agua Fria National Monument, trespassing again, in a near marsh-like drainage from the surround of desert hills, I found this unexpected microcosm thriving after the year’s abundance of winter and spring rains….
I wouldn’t bet any vital body parts on it, but I could swear that I heard the guy on the far left whisper that phrase to the person on his immediate left when I asked them out loud if they were all related. Nobody responded…they just looked at me…like I was the ass….
The morning started with the alarm and coffee and then a neighborhood street that led to Bell Road, to the Sonoran Desert Parkway, to Lake Pleasant Parkway, to the Carefree Highway and west past Lake Pleasant, then to Castle Hot Springs Road, and finally, five miles north to a trail-head in a parking lot that has been re-fenced with silver wire that is new against the morning, untarnished and unvarnished with desert sun and windblown sand, unrusted in the elements, bright and confining, restricting of early hikers looking for familiar portals that ride now in memory alone.
Common and uncommon things mix in a November sunrise.
Somewhere between light enough and yet not enough…we see destinations unfolding with the trail…like the white caps on the tips of the many saguaros’ arms with their densely packed and unfolding new spines…things to come.
One of many crossings of Cottonwood Creek…a familiar place with wild burros, great horned owls, and collared peccaries….
and lying on the desert floor, looking east…and finding that “distant fairyland of wonder and bright alarm.”
A creosote frame leaving an aromatic resin on fingertips….
…and the tiny treasures of desert wildflowers….
Still heading west…with the destination in the upper right corner…after many winding turns, hills, valleys, dips, and desert meadows….
A distant spot of white in a green and brown world….
Gaining elevation and looking east…we can see a bit of Lake Pleasant tucked into the haze covered hills…
…and south…faint waves of them…green, purple, blue…white…and gone….
Higher now, more of the lake…and the landmark of Castle Hot Springs Road. You might remember that the haze is from California’s wild fires back in October/November.
The stark contrast of yellow against the greens and browns of the desert is a welcome change…it is even a surprise sometimes.
Walkin’ Jim Trail follows Cottonwood Creek up into the mountains, all the way from Castle Hot Springs Road…when the occasional mis-adventurer loses the trail on the way down the mountain, all he has to do is locate the proper drainage down from that mountain and follow it back into the stream-bed…and back to the parking lot where he started….
There were tadpoles larger than jellybeans in the pools along the way…more desert mysteries…marvels…Sonoran Desert surprises….