In the classic Route 66 guide book penned by Jack Rittenhouse in the 1940s he noted a few detours of merit such as PaloDuro Canyon south of Amarillo and Walnut Canyon east of Flagstaff. This and a vintage post card from 1950 prompted me to write Route 66 Backroads, a guide book to that iconic highway with a twist, as the primary focus was on often overlooked sites and attractions only found with short detours north or south of the double six.
Counted among the special places only found with a detour from Route 66 is Prescott, Arizona, 51 miles south of Ashfork. This little gem is more than a time capsule, it is a treasure chest filled with time capsules from more than a century of colorful history. From Ashfork the drive south on highway 89 is initially a throw back to the glory days of Route 66. Two lanes, traffic, stunning scenery, shaded roadside picnic tables among the tress, and vintage mom and pop diners.
Between Chino Valley and Prescott all illusions of this drive being a throw back to the 1950s vanishes. Urban sprawl and all that that entails appears as a blight on stunning western landscapes even though there are pockets where pure vintage roadside Americana nestles among towering, colorful piles of weathered stone.
Don’t become discouraged, press on for you are mere minutes from the magical kingdom that is the historic district of Prescott. Here is a living time capsule that captures the feel of small town America circa 1955. Here is a thriving business district and neighborhoods filled with wonderful examples of turn of the century architecture. Here the neon still glows bright and families still enjoy a summers evening on the steps of the courthouse as bands play in the gazebo.
During the day the stores and shops, the cafes, and lunch rooms that surround the courthouse square are a beehive of activity. When the sun goes down and the neon glows brightly the restaurants and night clubs, historic Whiskey Row with is saloons from the territorial days and art galleries, pulse with excitement and activity. On weekends the courthouse square becomes a haven for artists and performers as well as for those who seek a refuge from the modern era. There are even several refurbished historic hotels to ensure the illusion that this is an island surrounded by modernity is not broken when the time comes to call it a day. Stroll the streets, feel the excitement, watch the traffic ebb and flow under colorful, vintage neon where traces of the modern, generic world are not to be found. This is historic Prescott, the original territorial capital.
If your travels on Route 66 fill you with longing for another time, an era when the mom and pop cafes, shops, and restaurants were all there were then Prescott should not be missed. If you enjoy museums, galleries, and hoisting a cool one at the bar where Wyatt Earp, Bucky O’Neil, and John Wayne stood then this is a detour for you.