There are moments, as you ride in the quiet shadows of the massive rock formations of Prescott, Arizona’s Peavine Rail Trail, when it feels like you’ve got the whole world to yourself. It’s just you and all that granite, formed into boulders that were here long before the railroads were built, and the army post before that, and the arrival of the Yavapai Native Americans before that. In a rugged mountainous terrain like this, an area geologists say is 1.4 billion years old, you can lose yourself in time. Then a cool breeze gently kisses your face and you’re back to pedaling like mad, with all that glorious dirt and gravel devolving into a canvas of blurred earth tone colors beneath your wheels
For the record, riding gravel is practically a foreign endeavor for me. Of the thousands of miles I’ve cycled the past few years, less than ten percent of my time has been on unpaved surfaces. But, that’s what made this recent ride so incredibly exciting. There were no stop lights or intersections interrupting the ride and no frightening encounters with trucks buzzing by. It was simply a well-maintained continuous trail of dirt and crushed gravel, views of otherworldly rock formations, a beautiful lake and vast open plains as a treat at the end.
The Peavine Rail Trail begins just south of Watson Lake on the outskirts of Prescott in central Arizona. It follows the former railroad of the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix System that was built in 1897 and transported copper ore, livestock and manufactured goods to and from the main lines in the larger metropolitan cities. The system was abandoned before World War II, the tracks removed in 1974 and the trail became a recreational area several years later. A note of interest: The trail got its unique name from the twisting curves resembling a pea vine, but the winding route is hardly noticeable when riding.
The system, at 5,300 feet above sea level, is made up of two gravel trails, the Peavine and the Iron King. Combined, it’s possible to log approximately 20 miles for your efforts when doing an out-and-back ride. Parking is at the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve.
Sedona, with its intensely beautiful red rock formations and active cycling community, and Flagstaff are 70 and 100 miles, respectively, to the northeast of Prescott.
Prescott, a city of 41,000 people located 100 miles north of Phoenix, AZ, is drenched in western lore. Virgil Earp, brother of Wyatt, and Doc Holliday lived in Prescott before they moved to southern Arizona and participated in the now infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone on October 26, 1881.
The town’s main thoroughfare is Whiskey Row, a name that has its roots in the numerous bars that made the street famous during the early stages of the town’s growth. The Palace, billed by USA Today as one of the top ten historic bars in America, opened in 1877 and continues to operate today.
Fort Whipple, approximately one mile from the current location of Prescott, was established in 1864 and was the tactical base for U.S. troops during the Indian wars of 1864 – 1882. Fort Whipple was the first capital of the Arizona territory before relinquishing the role to Prescott in 1864 and eventually to Phoenix in 1889.
One of the perks of riding the Peavine Trail is soaking in the beauty of Watson Lake as you cruise by. It’s a 70-acre reservoir with an average depth of 50 feet and located four miles from town. The lake and the boulders that make it unique are visible shortly after beginning your ride. You’ll definitely want to stop to soak in its beauty and take photos. Kayaking, fishing, picnic areas, BBQ grills, outdoor camping and showers are all available in the area.
A Final Thought
My wife and I stayed in a treehouse in the Dells section of the Prescott region while we visited the area. It was an outstanding visit to this uniquely beautiful part of America’s southwest.