Route 66 was completed in 1926 and ran through Flagstaff. Incorporated as a city in 1928, Flagstaff went on to become a popular tourist stop along Route 66, particularly due to its close proximity to the Grand Canyon. Laid-back “Flag” is also home to NAU – a quaint little college town, with some pretty fun and funky little shops in the downtown area, across from the old train depot.Though the Grand Canyon is, undoubtedly, the biggest draw of the area, several smaller and equally interesting destinations are all within an approximate 35 minute (or less) drive from the heart of Flagstaff, and not to be overlooked…while none of the photos in this post are my own (but gleaned from NPS sites and the like), I have been to all of these sites and wanted to share some of the beauty and uniqueness of the area.
WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT can be found about 33 miles northwest of Flagstaff. Once home to prehistoric Anasazi and Sinagua Indians, you will discover scores of ruins scattered over a large section of desert. You can observe freestanding masonry pueblos, field houses, and rock art - remarkable signs of a diverse and complex way of life. The structures all have a distinctive deep red color and were built from thin, flat blocks of the regional sandstone. In all, over 2,700 archeological sites have been cataloged at Wupatki National Monument, the largest being the Wupatki Ruin - an expansive three-story pueblo that contain nearly 100 rooms.
Five sites are accessible by car - the monument provides numerous trails for visitors to walk, hike, and view the different pueblos. At the south entrance, a National Park Service Visitor Center offers literature and colorful information into the history of these ancient people.
Wupatki National Monument is located on the same road as SUNSET CRATER NATIONAL MONUMENT. Sunset Crater, itself, is a volcanic cinder cone within the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The date of the eruptions that formed the 1,120 ft. high cone have been calculated to have been somewhere between 1064 and 1085 A.D. The Sunset Crater eruption produced a blanket of ash and lava covering an area of more than 810 sq. mi, and forced the temporary abandonment of settlements of the local Sinagua people. The volcano has partially revegetated, with pines and wildflowers.
A one-mile self-guided loop trail is located at the base of Sunset Crater but hiking to the summit is not permitted. A trail providing access to the summit and crater was closed in 1973 because of excessive erosion caused by hikers. A visitor center is located near the park entrance, 15 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona, along U.S. Highway 89.
METEOR CRATER – “The most well known, best preserved meteorite crater on Earth!” Meteor Crater sits approximately 35 miles from Flagstaff, on I-40 E., near Winslow (“It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me…” Yes, THAT Winslow, AZ). A breath-taking result of a collision between an asteroid and Planet Earth, approximately 50,000 years ago. Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep - an international tourist venue with outdoor observation trails, guided tours, and a beautiful Visitor Center located on the crater rim.
Visitors are able to explore and enjoy the park by hiking the Island Trail, which is a one-mile round trip. The path winds along the cliff, near the dwellings for an up close view...there are a few of the dwellings that can actually be accessed. The trail also allows for spectacular views down into the canyon.
SLIDE ROCK STATE PARK in Oak Creek Canyon, leading from Flagstaff to Sedona, takes its name from a natural water slide formed by the slippery bed of Oak Creek. Tall red rock formations that are typical of the region also surround the park, which also contains a 43-acre working apple farm. Besides swimming and fishing, there are three hiking trails in Slide Rock State Park: Pendley Homestead Trail (.25 miles), Slide Rock Route (.3 miles), and Clifftop Nature Trail (.25). Slide Rock State Park is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Arizona.
OAK CREEK CANYON is often described as a smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon because of its scenic beauty. State Route 89A enters the canyon on its north end, via a series of hairpin turns, before traversing the bottom of the canyon for about 13 miles, until the highway enters the town of Sedona. The Oak Creek Canyon-Sedona area is second only to the Grand Canyon as the most popular tourist destination in Arizona - depth of the canyon ranges from 800-2,000 feet...and that leads us straight into Sedona, next post...