When we were there: July 21 – August 15, 2019 (with a week in the middle at Holbrooke)
Where we stayed: Flagstaff KOA
What we ate: Pizza at Fat Olive’s
What we drank: Local craft beer at Museum Club
What we did: Scenic chairlift at Snowbowl; dodged the Museum Fire; daytripped to Jerome and Sedona (which will be a separate post); spent a Saturday at the Farmers Market; hiked Walnut Canyon; drove Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument; fished at Marble Canyon
Tourism Website: https://www.flagstaffarizona.org/
Worth the Trip? Worth many trips
Summer in the desert is a HUGE mistake
We didn’t want to leave Flagstaff – EVER
An hour to the Grand Canyon
An outdoorsman’s paradise
If you do the Snowbowl lift, even in summer, take a jacket
When hiking Walnut Canyon, make sure you have plenty of water. Two 16 oz bottles per person should do it.
The second biggest mistake of my life was spending summer in the desert. We hit Phoenix in May and temps were in the low 100s and the RV A/C was struggling to keep it at 90°. So what did we do? We pushed on to Lake Havasu, where it was hitting the mid 110s every day.
By the end of the first week I couldn’t take anymore and had a rather spectacular heatstroke sobfest. So we cut it short, suffered through Fourth of July in Las Vegas, then headed east on Route 66 to find some relief.
That relief finally came when we hit Flagstaff on July 21. Temps in the high 80s, which sounds hot until you’ve spent months at over 110° every day. The mountains and Ponderosa pines made me feel like I should be wearing a jacket. I love Flagstaff for itself, but not gonna lie – being in reasonable temps had a lot to do with my joy.
Flagstaff is a rustic mountain town, just like you see in the movies. There’s a commercial area with Target, etc, but the downtown is picturesque and quaint, with unique shops and restaurants, and more bars than I’ve ever seen in one town. Flagstaff takes its drinking seriously. It’s a college town (which might explain things) that focuses on the outdoors: hiking, biking, skiing, and such.
We were supposed to be in Flagstaff a week, then in Holbrooke for 2 weeks, then head to Williams. We loved Flagstaff so much that we cut Holbrooke short and spent that week back in Flag.
Snowbowl is their local ski resort, but in the off-season you can ride the chairlift up 11,500 feet to the top of the mountain and look out over creation. There were a bunch of people there, including a bus full of young Chinese tourists. It was a lovely ride, getting a little chilly as we got to the top, and then it started raining, which turned to hail. Some people were smart and brought a jacket; others (like me) were shivering in shorts and a tank top.
The Chinese kids were here for 7 days – their flight took 20 hours. They had great English and were quite chatty, said they were enjoying their visit very much. I love foreign tourists because they’re always having a good time and admiring our country. They have an appreciation for American culture, especially the young people.
Flagstaff has a terrific farmer’s market on Sunday downtown. TONS of food trucks of every nationality, fresh baked goods, locally grown produce (of course), craft items, gourmet coffee beans, and pretty much anything else you can think of. I brought home a quiche for lunch, a loaf of cranberry pecan bread, and a pound of Viennese cinnamon coffee (in hindsight I should have gotten two pounds).
Sunset Crater is a volcano that erupted in 1085AD and incinerated roughly 4 sq. miles of land. You can hike around on the trails and see the lava formations, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds. You can get out and explore the lava fields, but wear sturdy shoes because the lava edges are sharp and will come right through your cheap flipflops. It’s pretty amazing to see the whole area, black with hardened lava, yet plants are coming back. Life wants to live.
Start at the Sunset Crater Visitor’s Center and drive the loop (52 miles) that takes you to Wupatki National Monument, with ancient pueblos (circa 500 AD) that have been excavated and restored. Between the lava formations and the pueblos is a whole lotta nothin’ – about 20 miles of it. But just when you’re ready to bag it….you see the Painted Desert in the distance, and then the prehistoric villages, so don’t give up! You can get out and explore the pueblos up close and personal; comfortable shoes are mandatory.
Walnut Canyon is right up the road from Flagstaff – about 10 miles. There you’ll see the cliff dwellings built by the Sinagua people (Sinagua = “without water”). You can walk around the rim trail and look down on everything OR you can hike a 1-mile loop that goes down into the canyon. Be aware that you ascend 240 steep steps to get to the trail, and then you must not only walk that trail but come back up those 240 steep steps as well. It’s 700 steps in all, and that’s 700 stair steps, not just walking steps.
240 steps doesn’t seem like a lot, in theory. Then reality sets in…
Many of the stairs/pathways are steep, so going down you definitely want to watch your step because one wrong move and there’s nothing to break your fall. Climbing back up, fatigued and stopping to catch our breath periodically, we were met by a significantly older couple making their way down, and also a quite large woman, so I’m curious how their trip back up went.
We were asked by several people coming down as we were going up whether all that climbing was worth it, and the answer is YES. The history of our badass ancestors who lived in those caves is inspirational and seeing them in person isn’t an experience you want to miss.
The terrain of northern Arizona is highly diverse and Flagstaff is a great location to experience it all. It’s on our short list of places we want to live permanently.
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