Prescott National Forest, Prescott
By Kathy Montgomery
We get lucky. The dining room at Lynx Lake Café is small, and we wait to get a table on this beautiful day. Our apologetic server settles us at a back table just as the best table in the place opens up. “Can we sit there?” we ask.
And just like that, we have a picture-perfect view of the 55-acre lake and its paddle-boaters and kayakers. Just out the window, hummingbirds fuel up for their journey south. Below us, a steady stream of walkers amble along the lakeside trail.
It’s easy to imagine we’re far from town. In truth, we traveled only 6 miles from Prescott’s Courthouse Square. And the food — a mix of the American fare you’d expect and house-made German specialties you wouldn’t, such as potato pancakes, schnitzel and spaetzle — is surprisingly good.
Our timing is also perfect for a drive along the Prescott Lakes Loop. Lynx Lake is the first of the trio of lakes on this half-day drive, and it’s also the one with the most amenities. Lynx Lake Recreation Area includes two campgrounds, hiking trails, non-motorized boating and fishing, and even a gold panning area.
Lynx Creek Ruin, a hilltop pueblo occupied between A.D. 1150 and 1300, lies about a mile north, accessible from the trailhead a short distance from the turnoff to the marina, store and café. Today, the pueblo isn’t much more than a pile of rocks, but there’s an observation deck with a view of the Mingus Mountains, the northern Bradshaws and Granite Mountain.
After lunch, we continue down Walker Road. The pavement ends just past Pink Car Hill Road. The colorful story behind the road’s name begins in 1939, when a local doctor rolled his car and left it. The U.S. Forest Service painted it the color of Pepto-Bismol, making it a reference point. The subsequently cut road was named for the car. In 2011, Prescott High School students stole the car, repainting it with school colors. Outraged residents were grateful when it was recovered and its color restored.
As we wind through a mixed-conifer forest, Hassayampa Lake — lined with aspens and surrounded by spruce, maples and Gambel oaks — comes into view. The 4.5-acre lake is beautiful, but it’s privately owned and fenced, so we enjoy it in passing.
Not long after turning right onto Senator Highway, we startle an Abert’s squirrel, identifiable by its tasseled ears, and spot the steel skeleton that marks the ruins of the Senator Mine on the left. The oldest part of this former toll road was originally built to access the mine, which operated from 1865 to the 1930s.
Fifteen-acre Goldwater Lake lies on the paved stretch of road about 7 miles from the Walker turnoff. Named for Barry Goldwater’s uncle, former Prescott Mayor Morris Goldwater, the popular city park includes upper and lower sections, with picnic areas, ramadas, a playground, a sand volleyball court and horseshoe pits. Anglers cast for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, sunfish and catfish. Swimming is off-limits, but visitors rent kayaks seasonally.
A little past Goldwater Lake, Senator Highway becomes Mount Vernon Avenue. We pass through a historic neighborhood, filled with Queen Anne and Craftsman homes, then reach Gurley Street, which takes us downtown.
Photo: Wildflowers grow near the calm water of Goldwater Lake. | Paul Gill
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 26-mile loop
Directions: From downtown Prescott, go east on Gurley Street, which merges with State Route 69, for 4 miles to Walker Road. Turn right (south) onto Walker Road and continue 11.4 miles to Senator Highway. Turn right onto Senator Highway, which becomes Mount Vernon Avenue, and continue 10.4 miles to Gurley Street. Turn left onto Gurley Street and continue 0.3 miles back to downtown.
Special consideration: Nominal day-use fees apply at Lynx and Goldwater lakes.
Vehicle requirements: A high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don’t travel alone, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Lynx Lake Recreation Area, 928-443-8000 or www.fs.usda.gov/prescott; Goldwater Lake, 928-777-1122 or www.cityofprescott.net