A Look at Flume Trail’s Vibrant History

by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Services Coordinator, Prescott Parks and Recreation

Known to many, the remarkable Granite Dells offer numerous outdoor recreation opportunities. Often recognized for its stunning views, challenging mountain biking and hiking trails, as well as established climbing routes, the Dells’ illustrious granite boulders so characteristic to the area also chronicle many of Prescott’s historic treasures.

While there seems to be plenty of observable history preserved among the Dells, such as the Peavine National Recreation Trail and its past as a railroad corridor, there is also plenty of the area’s past not so obvious.

Many local trails honor the earlier period by paying tribute in name or designation — Constellation Trails or Centennial Trail, for instance. The Flume Trail, officially grouped among Flume Canyon, Watson Dam and Northshore Trails, exhibits characteristics of known history (hence the name, Flume), punctuated with unfamiliar yet spectacular details of the distant past.

Situated at the base of Watson Lake Dam, the area surrounding the Flume Trail is often lush with vegetation and wildlife likely benefitting from the rainy summer season or winter snowfall accumulation. Functioning as somewhat of an oasis in this desert chaparral climate, it is quite surprising to learn this very land served as one of the largest producing peach orchards in Arizona history.

Peach Orchard Past

This is a heartwarming story of John Bianconi, a Swiss immigrant boy bringing with him the dream of winning a fortune in a new country and ultimately finding success by working hard. Bianconi transformed the former Clough Orchard into an acclaimed peach orchard nestled in the heart of the Granite Dells. According to reports, Mr. Bianconi’s orchard grew to hold between 3,000 and 4,000 fruit-bearing trees stretching across some 40 acres of this 200-plus acre ranch.

To Mr. Alfred Clough’s credit, he worked diligently on the land that was eventually sold to Bianconi, but he struggled with managing irrigation. Despite his investments, Clough never made much money.

However, Bianconi devised systematic ways of diverting the water off the granite boulders (flumes and ditches) and studied what crops were best suited for the local climate and altitude. Some of the shoulder crops that thrived included grapes, apricots, apples, plums, and of course, his award-winning peaches. After discovering his crop bounty had outgrown the residents of Prescott, Bianconi skillfully devised distribution methods, eventually selling his goods to larger distributors like Safeway in Phoenix.

Building a Legacy

Bianconi understood the necessity of sound infrastructure, having the foresight to construct (with the help of his neighborly friends) what is now referred to as old Highway 89. This road made owning early automobiles important, even critical, for timely distribution of Bianconi’s bountiful harvests.

Not one to remain content with less-than-desirable conditions, Bianconi overcame many challenges throughout his life, including suing the Chino Valley Irrigation District after the construction of Willow Lake Dam (Willow Creek Dam) to receive continuing water rights for his thriving orchard. After becoming an official American citizen, among many other successes, such as an appointment to the Yavapai County Fair Commission, Bianconi passed his legacy on to his children, who managed the property surrounding present day Point of Rocks until it was sold in 1941.

Getting There

Today visitors can access this area, the Flume and associated trails by parking in the gravel lot off Granite Dells Road and State Highway 89, north of the entrance to Watson Lake Park. Look for a brown recreation sign on the right. Parking is complimentary and trail maps are provided in the map box at the trail head. Due to the technical nature and areas with low canopies along the trail, suggested users include hikers and mountain bicyclist. This area of the Granite Dells is also very popular for rock climbing.

Tips for Trail Users

Trail users are asked to remain courteous to the private-property owners in the area by keeping voices to a minimum. The total mileage for Flume Canyon, Watson Dam and Northshore Trails equals 2.4 miles one way and is approximately 600 feet of elevation gain. Alternatively, these trails can be accessed from Watson Lake near the north boat ramp (Northshore Trail) for a $3 parking fee. Depending on precipitation amounts, there can be water crossings, and it is a good idea to bring some insect repellant and trekking poles.

In addition to the trail maps available at trail heads, local retailers and businesses, the City of Prescott offers the map through the Avenza Map app. This can be found by going to your app store in your device, downloading the Avenza app and searching Prescott Trails and Recreation Map to download the current version of the trails map. A major benefit to this is your phone location system will identify its location on the app with a small blue dot, which is especially helpful if you are uncertain of your location.

For more information on the Flume Trail, other City-managed trails or the Avenza Map App, visit prescotttrails.com.