Summer Camper Tour 2016/17, Report Number Eleven:
Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona
Friday, June 23rd to Sunday, June 25th, 2017
This was a really busy weekend. For a fella that’s supposed to have long since retired, I sure do have a nasty tendency to pack a whole lotta livin’ into three days… especially when two of those days are abruptly cut short by unfortunately unforeseen circumstances. But given the ambitious itinerary for the weekend that included enjoying a weekend camping getaway with Renee, covering a skateboard contest, exploring a certifiably western-themed tourist town, fooding out at some fine eateries, and attending an unplanned bluegrass festival, it’s no real surprise that there was hardly a moment left unlived all weekend long.
I had planned on leaving mid-day Friday. Of course, that would have required getting an afternoon off from work to accommodate my early departure, and informing Renee of these intentions. Because the mag has been keeping m e unusually busy these days, I plum forgot to do either of these things. That meant that my well-laid and good-intentioned “plans” went straight to shit, right off the bat. What we ended up actually doing, was leaving Phoenix at about 6:30 pm to drive through the excruciatingly hot blast furnace temperatures of The Valley (sans air conditioning) on our way to what we thought would be significantly cooler temperatures up north.
The skate-itinerary for the weekend was pretty mellow: two skateparks and an amateur contest. That was it. An unusually light weekend on the surface of things. But contests, for me, are an exercise in masochistic hell that I never truly look forward to; thus, I was definitely not looking forward to the contest aspect of this trip at all. I’ve always hated the damn things to the Nth degree, so I generally avoid them like the f’n plague. This contest, however, was being put together by the Prescott Skate Stop… from what I’ve heard, an excellent little skate shop that’s doing some pretty novel stuff. So I went along with the contest program anyway, if for no other reason than to grudgingly support the cause and the initiative, but secretly hoping the whole time that this contest might be just a bit more entertaining than the usual amateur bailfest slog.
We pulled into Prescott pretty late on Friday night, long after the sun had receded for the evening. It was still unusually hot… blame climate change for the aberration, I guess… but downtown Prescott was unexpectedly humming with bright-lighted activity. Turns out, we had sauntered straight into town just in time to catch an annual bluegrass festival, and all of the spontaneous nightlife that goes along with the party. We parked the camper-combo just a block away from Whiskey Row and climbed the short hill up to Grandma’s Bakery, where the smell of fresh bread immediately forced us inside, and convinced us to purchase a bagful of handcrafted lemon cookies and cherry turnovers. You and I both know that fat men cannot refuse their sweet-tooth impulses; that’s how we got fat in the first place.
After we scored our just desserts, we climbed a few more doorways to The Bistro, where Renee and I sat and peoplewatched in the neon glow of the bay window while we munched on their most famous and celebrated delicacies: onion rings, Caesar salad, and tomato-artichoke bisque. The street musicians were out in force around the square; the sounds of banjos and mandolins filled the air everywhere you turned your ear. My first impression of Prescott was that it’s a far more happening place than I might have guessed it would be.
Left: The campsite. Right: The early-morning view from the back of the micro-camper.
The campsite was about ten miles from the city center. We got there really late of course, and the pitch black of the high desert night all but guaranteed that we wouldn’t see a damned thing. The only thing that I could perceive in the darkness was the strained whir of the Yaris’ little fourbanger that immediately indicated we were ascending and descending into and out of some impressively steep terrain; what it was, exactly, remained a complete mystery to our eyes. There wasn’t really much to do at that late hour once we arrived at the campsite but to turn in for the evening and start making some hay. The persistently high temperatures, the continuous squeal of hyperactive little camper kids, and the relentless onslaught of gigantically annoying flying bugs, however, made that uncomfortably impossible to pull off.
We woke up way too early to bright rays of daybreak flooding the camper interior. We had left the rear doors wide open in a valiant (but vain) effort to get some cooler air circulating around; all we got in the exchange were horse-sized flies and moths taking up residence in our sleeping quarters while we slowly and steadily sweated our asses off. I wiped the crusties from the corner of my eyes, asked Renee what time it was (her reply: 5:30 am), and wondered aloud why in the hell we were awake at such a ridiculous hour of the morning. She answered by lazily pointing out the door in a “Hey, check that out!” sort of motion.
Mountains! And tall pines…! Well, I’ll be damned. The GoogleMaps aerial perspective made this campground look like a flat, featureless desert scrubland. I was really reluctant to even book a site here, because I thought it would be painfully ugly and insufferably boring to look at. But whaddya know, this place is remarkably rugged and ridiculously gorgeous. My persistent good fortune really does astound me sometimes.
Clockwise from top left: the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott’s city square; Hugh Slayden painting hanging at the Lone Spur Cafe in downtown Prescott; Volkswagen bus and Ford Model A parked on the courthouse square, illustrations by the author.
Everything in Prescott revolves slowly around the central courthouse square. It’s the obvious destination, the place to be, and the life of the party at all times. Even in the wee hours of the morning, the courthouse is still brimming with activity. We were starving, of course, so we did like everyone else does and made our way to the heartbeat of town, parked right across from the city square, and made our way to The Lone Spur Cafe for breakfast. I’m normally a pretty adventurous bloke, but some of the stuff on their menu looked downright deadly. Bacon steaks, cowboy skillets, and a thousand things slathered in sausage gravy looked devilishly delectible on one hand… but like a sure-fire recipe for indignant indigestion on the other. We played it safe this time around, although the pepper-rubbed bacon slabs that came with my belgian waffle were pretty damn delicious. In between bites, we were well-entertained by a bevy of beautiful, western-themed Hugh Slayer impressionist paintings, and a posse of cowboys and sherriffs parading through the dining room, complete with clanking boots and rattling spurs. For a skateboarding city-slicker, this was akin to exploring and experiencing a whole new planet.
Mike Fann Community Skatepark, Prescott, Arizona.
I had some serious time to kill before the contest, so I figured that a little bit of skating might be in order. The Prescott park was the natural first stop; surely the contest festivities would rule out any casual skating there for the balance of the amateur-contest weekend. I was super impressed with the quality build of the park… which is quite excellent, especially considering its small-town setting… but not so much its overall design and layout. It’s super tight; it immediately felt like a sardine can of skateboard obstacles. Everything is over-efficiently shoehorned in there, making the overall effect feel cramped and restrictive. It’s smooth and fast, but maybe just a little too quick for my mellower tastes.
Prescott Valley Skatepark.
Prescott Valley is only about twelve miles away, and much more up to my speed and style. The small bowl complex there was superbly enjoyable, with lines all over the place and unintimidating heights for the newbies and geezers that live in all of us. The much bigger, faster, and scarier snake-bowl right next door was a superb challenge, making even simple backside grinds on its roller-coaster kink sinks a pretty manly proposition. But I still got up and got some of it, so it’s all good as far as I’m concerned. Between runs, I had the company of a wide-smiled older chap named Doug… “older chap”, relative to my 44 years aged, means he was pretty darned old… happily engaging me in enthusiastic skateboarding small-talk and tales of his own skateboarding travels. He was a really friendly fellow. The kids remained stubbornly aloof, as always.
Left: The Smoki Museum, Prescott, Arizona. Right: An observant woman reads the racist history written on the walls of the Smoki Museum.
When we returned to the Prescott park, I decided that I wasn’t quite up to scorching in the sun watching sequential slams just yet. So I spontaneously decided to follow Renee into The Smoki Museum across the street, and learn a little bit of local lore. The “Smoki People” take a little bit of explaining; that much I know. How in the hell to explain these people, however, still somehow escapes me, a full four days later. Explaining them in “politically neutral” terms is even harder… because what these “people” really were, at the end of it all, were whiteys dressed up in Indian garb and “redface” (a word I just invented to illustrate the Native American equivalent of “blackface”) to entertain other whiteys for money. Money that was then spent to fund and propagate the local rodeo; the world’s longest-running rodeo, to be accurate. So, basically, it was for-profit racism.
Naturally enough, the whiteys saw it as “a sincere and noble effort to honor the culture and the customs of the indigenous peoples”. And naturally enough, the indigenous peoples saw the whole thing very, very differently.
The Prescott Skate Stop doesn’t play around. When they put something together, they do it right and they do it with f’n gusto. There were a heap of sponsors for the event; I was suitably impressed. Some sent along buckets of prizes, while some of the more saavy (small) companies made their presences felt in a really big, really professional way. The big difference here was that the brands who had a presence at the event got to talk face-to-face directly with thier market, and sell some of their latest and greatest product… some of them even sold completely out of product, if you can believe that bullshit… while the prize-sending contingent got an honorable mention on the bottom of the flyer, and over the intercom airwaves. It just goes to show, nothing (and I mean nothing) beats having a personal presence. Once The California Contingent gets that all figured out, they’ll start to see some serious (and sustainable) market share growth again. But not before they figure that out.
As a magazine guy, I love having the opportunity to sit, smoke, and chat with all of these small-company guys. I’ll save the details for the next round of Small Company Field Guide segments… those should be a whole lotta fun… but suffice to say, there’s still a lot of vibrant energy to be found floating around the skate scene, as much as the market analysts, the doomsdayers, the negatroids, and the naysayers will breathlessly blabber all over themselves in an effort to full-force deny it. Skativity isn’t being stopped, or even subdued; it’s just floating up out of your pocket, and into somebody else’s. That’s revolution at work. That’s skateboarders taking skateboarding back, bitches.
Iron Springs Cafe, Prescott, Arizona, illustration by the author.
There’s a cute little train-depot restaurant on the north side of town called Iron Springs Cafe that I just had to sample some lunch at. First of all, it was scorching hot outside and the humidity was climbing off the charts; an air-conditioned interrupt felt like a heavensent rest and relaxation opportunity. But then we had the adorably inviting board and batten architecture of the former Santa Fe, Prescott, and Phoenix railway depot itself, which had been relocated and renovated from its original siding in Hillside, and surrounded on its present plot by lazy, inviting benches and white picket fencing. The menu is top-notch, and the service was far beyond friendly; it’s no real surprise that they both consistently rate near the top of somebody-or-anothers Top Ten foodie-fun hit list. The tastes might be best described as “Southwest Cajun Culinary Fusion”, or something along those sorts of pretentious mouthfuls. But I’m a super-simple skating stiff at heart, so I’ll just call it well worth taking the time to experience.
Left: The BJ Johnson Muffler man. Right: Hugh Slayden painting hanging at the Lone Spur Cafe in downtown Prescott.
“Ohmygawd, look at that Renee! It’s a real-deal Muffler Man…!”
Only I would get excited about such obscure roadside novelties… but once you experience the Muffler Man phenomenon for yourself, trust me on this one kid, you’ll become a connisseur too. Muffler Men always came, quite literally, out of the same fiberglass mold; you can spot their trademark hand-holding position a mile away, maybe more on a clear day if you’re fully awake and paying attention. Designed to hold fast to a Paul Bunyan-sized axe, they’re sometimes posing with such ample-sized oddities as mufflers (obviously), hot dogs, swords, tires, picks, sticks, rifles, or even rockets. They’re epic Americana, super-sized to absolutely outlandish proportions, marvels of yesteryear marketing and outsized self-promotion. The BJ Johnson Muffler Man turned out to be the only Roadside America tourist tip in town, and here I’d managed to serendipitously stumble into it all on my own. I must be developing a finely honed radar for this sort of swanky stuff; maybe the travel-geek in me has gotten entirely out of hand.
Left: Paul Bacher, alley-oop out of the extension and back into the bowl. Right: the schedule (and the sponsors) for the weekend’s festivities.
Back at the contest, stuff was really starting to heat up and bubble over. Thank goodness for the cloud cover that rolled in; without that, we would’ve all been a bunch of goners out here. There were lots of standouts, almost too many to list really. But I actually managed to work a little bit and take some serious journalistic notes, so here’s the rapid-fire: Chris Roberts and his bio benihanas; little Tyler B (riding for The Sk8 Haus) drawing long lines all over the street course; Ericson (from Flagstaff) ollieing the pyramid to flat, and backside blunting the weird little hip out of the really big corner; Vincent McLaughlin (my pick to be the winner) switch boardslide into the channel hip, and a vertical nosestall to frontside 360 revert that left the Raoul Duke-channeling contest announcer stammering and stuttering, unable to figure out what the hell just happened there; Dev The Dog ollieing the hip to a solid stand-up corner fifty; David Sparrow flying all over the place between puffs on his cig; Jerrett’s tre off the platform and straight into the flat of the bowl; and Alec Martinez’s bigspin front board on the tall rail, “the best trick of the day” according to The Duke. I’m not going to get into who the final winners and losers were, because they’re always winners in my book. They put on a pretty good show. Prescott’s got some seriously legitimate talent floating around that small city.
The post-party shenanigans revolved around the city square once again, as Renee and I sauntered into town to sample some local treateries, lay out under a shade tree on the courthouse lawn, and enjoy a couple hours’ worth of bluegrass revival. The whole scene felt a lot like being a little kid in a candy store; having a legitimate treat shop right across the street from the courthouse certainly didn’t hurt the cause a single bit. They had free-to-sample popcorns, everything from caramel to kettle to to cinnamon… yes, candy-coated cinnamon popcorn is a taste reality, folks… to cheddar, to chocolate covered cheddar, to Ohmygawd that stuff’s f’n amazing everywhere. The ice cream flavors were equally eccentric; of course I can’t remember them all at the moment, because the maltball flavor that I bought totally blew my brains away. It was epic awesomeness, that much I do remember. I probably gained about five solid pounds of fatass on this trip.
Sunday morning was a virtual replay of Saturday’s bright rays of sunshine, without the luxury of cloud cover to keep things comfortably cool. Same stunning view out the back door of the camper; same slow scenic route into town; same impressionist paintings at the same Lone Spur Cafe, on the same sunny square that we walked around yesterday. But today, I’m feelin’ frisky. That Cowboy Skillet is callin’ my name, all two eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon, ham, and gravy of it. If that’s not mean man enough for ya, I also opted for the biscuts-and-gravy side plate, just to speed up that inevitable heart attack into supersonic screech mode.
Three hours later, I’m befuddled and hopelessly stranded in a stinking stall of an outhouse at the Prescott skatepark. Something that I ate attacked my tummy with a vengance, and now I’m paying for it in the worst of unimaginable ways. The stainless steel toilet was torture enough; now I have a stubborn door to unsuccessfully contend with here. I’m locked in, and I can’t get the damn thing to budge; talk about maddeningly frustrating situations. Thankfully, somebody on the other side of that damned door had to shit even bigger than I did, and lended me a heap-sized helping hand to free me from my potty-pants predicament. The sun was scorching hot, and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky to protect us from it’s baking rays. I was exhausted, I was frustrated, I was grumpy, and I was spent. It was time to go home.
All of the sincerest apologies in the world go out to the intermediate and advanced bowlrider battles that I missed… especially the over-40 competitors that I really wanted to support with a few extra-enthusiastic yells… and even bigger apologies to all the fine ladies and gents that I never got to say a proper thank you and-or goodbye to. Renee and I won’t be strangers to the Prescott skate scene for very long, though; I’m sure we’ll figure out some fast rhyme or reason to get back up there sooner than later.