From Bagdad we decided to head toward Prescott via Kirkland and Skull Valley. This is all beautiful country – high desert with lots of huge boulders and an abundance of vegetation. Somewhere between Hillside and Kirland, someone painted a big boulder a ways from the highway with white and red paint, emphasizing the fact that it bears an uncanny resemblance to a duck. The drive along this highway is great — the scenery is gorgeous, and what’s not to love about a town called Skull Valley?
This is the first time either of us had ever approached Prescott from the “back” side, so when we passed a sign that said “Granite Basin Lake”, we were really surprised. I thought I had been to every lake in Arizona. The turn-off to the lake is just west of Prescott on the Iron Springs Road, which is also called the Skull Valley Kirkland road, the Bagdad Road, etc. Basically, if you follow highway 96 past Hillside and into Prescott, that’s the road you’re on. Before we found a place to turn around, we passed a nice green area with a bunch of trees and big herd of metal dinosaurs. This drive was getting better all the time.
Through The Woods
The road in to the lake is very nice, paved, and goes through the woods. The lake itself and the areas close to it are day use only, and there is a $5 fee. There is also a campground along the road in, as well as an area for horse riding. The lake itself is absolutely beautiful, and even more so because it is set against the backdrop of rugged mountains whose sides are covered with granite boulders. The lake is surrounded by pine forest and there are trails that go from the parking lot in both directions around the lake. They don’t quite make it all the way around, but they are very nice little hikes nonetheless.
Fish, Birds, Deer
The parking lot has a very nice restroom, and from there you take steps down to the lake itself. It isn’t stocked, but they say you can catch bluegills, largemouth bass, and catfish. We headed left for the first walk, and were almost immediately in the forest and out of sight of anyone. It was awesome. We saw lots of colorful birds, and even a big mule deer who just stood still and looked at us with no apparent fear at all. The only people we saw on the trail were a man and woman who were fishing. They hadn’t caught anything, but they looked happy anyway. Shortly after the spot where they were fishing the trail ended, so we headed back.
Lush, Shady Oasis
This time we took the trail the other way around the lake, which would be to your right as you came down the steps by the restroom. This trail went through tall grasses and past a bunch of concrete tables that seemed completely out of place. We then crossed a big sandy area and found ourselves at the boat launch site, which also has a restroom. Passing the restroom, we went through one of those little zig-zag things in the fence, and came to the dam. To our disappointment, you’re not allowed to walk on the dam, but you are allowed to go down below the dam, and it is awesome down there. There isn’t what I’d call a creek down there, but there is enough water to turn this place into a lush, shady oasis full of green plants and trees. It’s really cool because the wall of the dam stretches up quite a ways past your head, and when we were there it was casting a shadow that made the whole area look like a secret garden. I wish I had come here when I was a kid!
On the way back to the other parking lot, we walked along the shore of the lake there by the boat launch. There is a lovely little beach there. The whole place is loaded with tables, some in the shade, some not, which makes it a great place for a picnic or for birding.
Lots Of Trails
There are a lot of trails here, but unfortunately it was getting too late for us to start a hike, plus I wasn’t wearing my hiking shoes. This was a road trip, after all. But we definitely plan to come back here and hike and I’ll let you know all about the trails after that. Meantime, if you’d like to check them out yourself, go tohttp://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/prescott/recarea/?recid=75174 to learn all about this little gem of a spot.
Definitely Worth The Drive
We left reluctantly and headed home via Yarnell. The highway down that hill is an adventure in itself. It is beautiful country, and there are a couple of places where you can pull off and enjoy some spectacular views. No matter where you live, this drive is worth taking. If you have to spend the night at a hotel nearby, that just makes it even better. Be sure to plan enough time to visit some of the small towns, do some shopping maybe, and for sure, include a side trip to Granite BasinLake. You’ll love it.