Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Autumn at Watson Woods, a Prescott Gem

Autumn at Watson Wood

The afternoon was warm, the air earthy, and the colors were golden. A family stroll through Watson Woods on a quiet Tuesday afternoon was sure to calm the mind. We enjoyed the golden light filtering through the tall yellow Cottonwood trees and ventured to a quiet pond. We trotted on a red bridge and looked down Granite Creek through a tunnel of cathedral-like Cottonwoods. This place is a favorite! We can explore and  be surprised by the diversity of plants through a changing of a season.

A Selection of Photographs

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Autumn Stroll at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Autumn color at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Seasonal colors at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Red Bridge at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Granite Creek at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Afternoon Golds at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Cora Contemplating

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Sunny Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Watson Woods Pond

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Autumn Reflections at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Big Cottonwood at Watson Woods

Russell Johnson Prescott artist

Change of the Season at Watson Woods

For those interested to know more on Watson Woods, here is a piece I wrote back in 2009 when doing research for a presentation while doing my Masters studies at Prescott College:

Watson Woods Riparian Preserve

Watson Woods is a riparian area a few miles northeast of downtown Prescott.  This area is a 125 acre legacy of what was once 1,000 acre riparian cottonwood and willow tree forest.  Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, founded in 1994, provides multi-faceted roles both ecologically and socially.  For an artist, Watson Woods is an oasis of cathedral-like trees, grasses, wildlife, and perennial water flow that inspires close inspection and consideration. 

 Historical information:

-1860’s: Watson Woods was of vibrant health and heavy use of sheep and cattle grazing began.  Cottonwood, ash, willow, and chokecherry shaded a channel that flowed perennially above ground in areas with groundwater just a few feet below.

-1893: Santa Fe Railway completed parallel to Granite Creek on the eastern border of Watson Woods; the route connected Ash Fork to Prescott.

-early 1900’s: Grazing was reduced and Watson Woods saw an increase of industrial use.  A dam was completed in 1914 to form Watson Lake.  Water from the lake was used to irrigate agriculture and other grazing areas.  Other industrial uses included sand & gravel mining, timber treatment, and sewage disposal.

-1973: Watson Woods established as an Educational and Recreational Natural Area

-1977: Wastewater treatment built near southeastern corner of Watson Woods, settling ponds from effluent water created a wet land area until the late 1980’s when effluent was re-routed near Prescott Municipal Airport.  Other common abuses include target shooting, illegal dumping, and off road vehicles.

-1989: First restoration effort of an organized clean up and tree planting by Prescott College student Eric Glomski.

-1994: Concept of Watson Woods Riparian Nature Preserve presented to city council by Eric Glomski and Jim Donovan (both Prescott College graduates).

-1994: Watson Woods Advisory Board formed

-1994: Prescott Creeks Preservation Association formed

-July 25, 1995: 125 acres Watson Woods Riparian Preserve established

-Today: Roughly 30 cattle owned by a member of the Yavapai Indian tribe graze the area.  Efforts to restore/reclaim natural diversity to Watson Woods persists through planting trees, education, and other forms of management such as public use and monitoring.

 Prescott Creeks Preservation Association: 

A nonprofit organization with the mission to promote, protect and celebrate the ecological integrity of riparian systems and associated wetlands in the central Arizona watersheds through conservation, restoration and education.   The PCPA was designed to educate the community about the importance of Prescott creeks and how people affect them.  Community involvement and stewardship are vital to the health of Prescott’s many creeks.  Programs and projects involve the public and include collaboration with a rich cross section of partners.  Prescott Creeks works with the community to focus on practical solutions to local creek-related issues.

 Description of Watson Woods and its value: 

Watson Woods is located a few miles northeast of Prescott.  Watson Woods consists of a cottonwood and willow tree riparian gallery forest.  Watson Woods has become an oasis for wildlife and humans alike.  While walking within the woods, a person may encounter a king snake slithering through the grass or view a blue heron in graceful flight.  Granite Creek flows perennially through Watson Woods into Watson Lake.  Prescott Historian J.J. McCormack wrote that Watson Lake was first promoted as “An artist’s inspiration, a sportsman’s paradise, a mountain gem and Prescott’s playground.”  Today, the area is a city park and recreation area, a source of pride to Prescott residents.  The area is picturesque; Watson Lakes’ granite rock formations piled on top of each other are reflected on the blue waters as boaters weave their way through coves.  During high water, a boater can venture into Watson Woods via Granite Creek, avoiding cottonwood tree limbs to discover a vibrant habitat of wildlife.  For many residents, Watson Lake and Watson Woods offer a quick escape from city life into a richly diverse natural area.  In a sense, Watson Woods is a park or a playground, a place to enjoy nature and a perchance encounter with wildlife.  Watson Woods also is an inspiring place, a source of inspiration for photographers and artists.  I have been a regular of Watson Woods since my teenage years as a place to practice photography.  I framed pictures in camera of cathedral cottonwoods, abstract reflections in the creek and lake, and close-up images of the ever present insects that attract such a variety of birds to the area.  This natural area is surrounded by a major highway and industry.  Just south of the main area of the Preserve is a wastewater treatment plant, immediately east lies a waste collection sight, a firefighter training facility, and a target practice area for the local police force.  Visiting Watson Woods goes with distractions from highway traffic and other industrial noises and smells.  Fortunately, I am easily distracted by the plethora of natural plants and animals.  How quick the trees block views of urbanization and how easily a person can imagine the passing cars as wind filtering through the trees or the sounds of birds and insects overpower. 

Riparian areas are important in the Southwest, supporting 90 percent of all wildlife.  It is important to protect riparian areas from industry and urban growth so plants and animals can survive.  Even more importantly, riparian areas contain one of the Southwest’s most important resources: water.  Some of the many functions of a riparian ecosystem are to improve water quality by filtering out toxic compounds, stabilize water supply and moderate floods, reduce soil erosion and stabilize stream banks, increase biodiversity by providing plant and animal habitats, and provide recreation sites.  Riparian forests consume water, but at the same time contribute to a more stable water supply in the stream.  The dense vegetation aids in the development of sponge-like soils that serve to retain water.  The sponge-like soils store water when it is abundant during floods and rains, and slowly release it back into the stream during drier parts of the year.


Henson, Pauline.  Founding a Wilderness Capital.  Flagstaff: Northland Press, 1965.  Print.

McCormack, J.J.  “Willow and Watson Lakes Reflect a Beautiful History.” Sharlot Hall Museum Days Past, April 5, 1998.  Web.  November 8, 2009.

Byrd, Michael, Glomski, Eric, Parlette, Brooke, and Gaber, Steven.  Watson Woods Riparian. Preserve Comprehensive Plan.  Prescott Creeks Preservation Association.  1996.  Print.

“Watson Woods Riparian Preserve,” Prescott Creeks.  Web.  8 November 2009.         

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