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Flagstaff - Arizona

For many years, Flagstaff and the town of Williams (30 miles west) have been fighting it out for the honor of being the place from which tourists should stage their visits to the Grand Canyon. Williams is closer to the South Rim and offers the train ride to the national park. Flagstaff is a bigger city -- a university town -- and is close to a number of additional attractions to capture the visitor's interest. Take your choice. However, you should think twice before rejecting Flagstaff as your base for an exploration of northern Arizona.

With an elevation of 7,000 feet, Flagstaff provides pleasantly warm days and refreshing nights during the summer months. Late afternoon showers are customary during the summer and fall period, clearing the air for that refreshing pine scent that infuses the atmosphere throughout this region.

What to See & Do

Local Festivals

Several annual festivals showcase the arts in Flagstaff, including the Zuni Artists Exhibition at the Museum of Northern Arizona (May); the Festival of Native American Arts, held at the Coconino Centre for the Arts (June); the annual Hopi Artists Exhibition (at the museum in June); the Navajo Artists Exhibition (same venue in July); the Festival in the Pines (August); and the city's Festival of the Arts, held annually in July, with symphonic and pops concerts, chamber music, theater, and classic film showings.

Outdoors

Because the city lies at the base of the San Franciosco Mountains and Mount Humphreys, Flagstaff is noted for its winter activity. The Snow Bowl attracts skiers from across the country. With 35 trails, it's the most extensive ski area in the state. The Nordic Ski Center north of town offers groomed cross-country ski trails, as does the Mormon Lake nordic ski area. Summer sporting attractions include a championship 18-hole golf course and fishing in Mormon Lake and Lake Mary, both less than a half-hour's drive from town. Oak Creek, just south of town, is a trout angler's haunt. The city has an Urban Trails System with biking and hiking trails.

To the Grand Canyon

There are two highways you can take to reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff. Our preferred route is covered in the scenic drive beginning on page 178. This route follows U.S. Highway 89, past Sunset Crater and the Wupatki National Monument to Cameron, and then follows the path of the Little Colorado River to the national park's western edge. The shorter route is the drive out of Flagstaff on U.S. Highway 180, through the San Francisco Mountains to the crossroads community of Valle and then completing the trip north (still on Hwy. 180) to the south gate to the park. Using both routes offers a fine loop drive to and from the park.

Native Culture -- Ancient & Contemporary

The history and culture of Arizona's native Indians attracts thousands of visitors annually to the city and environs. Wupatki National Monument, the Sinagua ruins, is located 20 miles north of Flagstaff, just off Highway 89. As well, the city is within a day's drive of the Zuni and Hopi reservations. Descendants of the Anasazi, the Hopi, towns settled northeast of Flagstaff.

In Flagstaff

Fort Valley Road (Highway 180) leads to several points of interest. The Coconino Center for the Arts features galleries displaying regional artists and traveling national exhibitions. The Center stages an annual "Trappings of the American West" show. For information, phone (520) 779-6921. Next door to the arts center is the Arizona Historical Society/Pioneer Museum. The museum includes pioneer buildings and historical displays of Arizona settlement (520-774-6272).

The Arboretum at Flagstaff is one of two fine botanical gardens we visited during our tour of the state (the other is the Boyce Thompson Desert Arboretum near Phoenix). Flagstaff's arboretum is located in a wooded area on Woody Mountain Road, off old Route 66, west of town. Native Arizona plants and flowers are featured, as well as rare plants and flowers not naturally found in northern Arizona.

Visiting the two botanical gardens provides an insight into the incredibly diverse nature of Arizona ecology. For information, phone (520) 774-1442..

The Museum of Northern Arizona (on Fort Valley Road) houses a large collection of southwestern native arts and crafts, in addition to displays on northern Arizona's geology and history. It is the location of several annual native art and crafts exhibitions (see previous page) and always has special museum attractions (520-774-5211).

Lowell Observatory, named for pioneer astronomer Percival Lowell, is located atop Mars Hill just west of the downtown area. The observatory is open daily for guided tours, slide shows and lectures (phone 520-774-2096).

Two vastly different historic homes can be viewed in the city. Walnut Canyon National Monument is an example of ancient Sinagua Indian cliff dwellings. You can walk through the canyon on paved trails or you can follow the rim. It's located 5 miles east of town, off Interstate 40.

Riordan Mansion (a state park) was the home of one of Flagstaff's first families and has been restored as a testament to the pioneering spirit of Arizona's founders. The mansion is found off Milton Road, near Northern Arizona University.

Scenic Drive to Sedona

South of Flagstaff, Alternate Route 89 leads down into Oak Creek Canyon and to the red rock country surrounding Sedona. The short drive to Sedona makes a fine day-trip from Flagstaff, providing lots of time to visit picnic parks along the creek, the old Indian Gardens, and then Sedona with its clusters of chic boutiques, new-age crystal shops, and superb resorts. Before descending into the Oak Creek Canyon, the route passes through pine forest, with access to several small lakes that also provide recreation areas with picnicking and fishing. For more on Sedona and area, see the Sedona Page.

The Red Rock Loop Drive just south of Sedona provides great views of the natural red rock architecture. If you're spending only a day visiting the Sedona area before returning to Flagstaff, this short but spectacular tour is a must.

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