Watson Lake is a unique dazzling of blue water shining between enormous boulders in Prescott’s Granite Dells in Yavapai County, Arizona that seems a mirage as you approach the area from nearby historic downtown or surrounding valley on Highway 89. It was created in over a hundred years ago when a dam was completed on Granite Creek in 1915.
Giant rock outcroppings and boulders dot the area forming islands to explore by boat. Here you’ll spot kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders making their way across the shimmering waters. You can even rent kayaks from Prescott Outdoors right on the lake’s most southern launch area. While this southern dock zone is not the most picturesque part of the lake, there’s also a dock with easy access here open for all to use plus close parking and restrooms. The coolest launch area puts you smack in the middle of giant granite dells. It is at the end of Hillsdale Road just east of the park’s fee entry station. (It costs $3 for a day pass to Watson Lake, available for purchase at the entrance.) At this more eastern launch area (called “North Ramp” on this map from the city), you have to drop off your boats/boards, then park two minutes up the road and walk about and there are no restrooms here, so go before you drop off your watercraft and passengers. (Though there are a few handicap parking spots right on the water’s edge here.) There’s also a picnic table and a few benches to sit and watch ducks and boaters play.
While all types of boats are allowed on the lake, the max speed is 5 mph, so paddling is the most common here. Still, Watson is a popular place for “fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, camping and day picnicking,” according to the City of Prescott’s website. While the water is safe for fishing and eating those fish, there’s no swimming allowed in the lake because the city doesn’t control the water quality, which means the lake doesn’t meet state standards for swimming, according to AZCentral.com. The City of Prescott owns the lake and surrounding area for use as a public park. More info on park hours and activities from the city’s recreation website prescott-az.gov.
According to the 1983 book Arizona’s Names: X Marks the Place by Byrd Howell Granger (a sequel of sorts to Barnes’ 1936 original Arizona Place Names book and the 1960 expansion Granger herself wrote), Watson Lake was named for James W. Watson, a republican senator in Indiana, who was president of the Arizona Land and Irrigation Company. The PrescottAZHistory blog says that Watson was the “president of the Hassayampa Alfalfa Company of Indiana” at the time of the lake’s creation in 1915. PrescottAZHistory quotes a 1915 article in the Prescott Journal Miner newspaper that said Watson was “one of the original incorporators of the project” and was “persistent” in seeing the grassland turned into “farmland for grain production.”
Interestingly enough, there is also a Watson Peak and Watson Spring in Yavapai County south of Prescott in the Bradshaw Mountains, but it isn’t named after the same Watson. These places were named for a miner named Henry Watson, according to Granger’s Arizona’s Names.
The name Watson has long lived in popular culture for being Sherlock Holmes favorite sidekick doctor. The name itself is like many others that end in “son”… simply meaning son of Watt/Wat, which was a Middle English given name, according to BehindtheName.com. The name etymology website adds that Watt/Wat was a nickname for Walter, which has German origins and means “ruler of the army.”
- Arizona’s Names: X Marks the Place by Byrd Howell Granger (1983), pg. 661.
- “Birth of Lake Watson brought great celebration” blogpost from April 30, 2015 on PrescottAZHistory blog.
- City of Prescott’s Parks and Recreation website
- Arizona Republic “Can I swim in the lakes around Prescott?” from July 23, 2014, published on AZcentral.com.
- “Watson Peak” from PeakVisor.com
- “Watson” from BehindtheName.com