Flagstaff is a vibrant, fascinating city that's always on the move. Recent developments have made it a tourism haven filled with many things to do.
Historic Downtown/Railroad District Downtown Flagstaff is presently undergoing a renaissance. Turn-of-the-century buildings are being renovated, new cafes and jewelry stores extend onto recently bricked sidewalks and narrow alleys are turned into arcades. For any visitor new to town, the first stop should be the
Across the railroad crossing downtown, you'll find the
Adjacent to the campus,
A 14-mile drive from downtown Flagstaff on Highway 180 will take you to the alpine meadows of
The Colorado Plateau is rich with remnants of the people that populated northern Arizona long before the arrival of European settlers. Just seven miles east of Flagstaff on I-40, lie the cliff dwellings of
Nearby Sunset Crater Volcanic National Monument is also worth a visit. Tinged orange-red by iron oxide, this cinder cone is an impressive reminder of the area's violent geological past. Although Sunset Crater last erupted about 900 years ago, the jagged lava fields look as though they were created just yesterday. To the north, you'll see
Before embarking on an exploration of Flagstaff, be sure to equip yourself with maps and brochures available at the Flagstaff Visitor Center inside the Amtrak Station or at any of the numerous newsstands around town.
Flagstaff Historic Downtown Explore the Flagstaff Historic Downtown, where you'll find the Colonial Hotel Monte Vista and the Weatherford Hotel. Take a walk through Thorpe Park, then grab a bite to eat at Pasto.
Northern Arizona University Explore the large Northern Arizona University campus, which is almost a self-contained town in its own right, with plenty of opportunities for learning and diversion. Visit the Old Main Art Gallery on the northwest end of the campus. Tour the Riordan State Historic Park, which contains a mansion-style estate, then dine at nearby Strombolli's Restaurant and Pizzeria or Buster's Restaurant and Bar.
Pioneer Museum Explore the offerings at the Pioneer Museum, marked by the 1929 Baldwin logging train in front, and the Coconino Center for the Arts and the Art Barn, the main center of artistic activity in the area and a great source for Native American arts and crafts. The Museum of Northern Arizona offes a good introduction to the geology and history of the region. The Lowell Observatory is a short drive away, and provides some great aerial views of the town. When you're through, dine at Sakura.
Wupatki National Monument Many ruins have been found in the eastern area of Flagstaff, with Wupatki National Monument being the biggest and best preserved one of them all. You will also find Walnut Canyon National Monument and the Homolovi Ruins State Park here. Walk the popular Bushmaster Park then enjoy a meal at the Western Gold Dining Room.
Flagstaff Nordic Center Enjoy breakfast at Cafe Espress downtown, then head to Northern Arizona. The Flagstaff Nordic Center offers skiing opportunities, while the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site allow visitors a glimpse into the Navajo way of life. Archaeological treasures are abound at Petrified Forest National Park.
There are tour companies that specialize in everything from helicopters trips to white water rafting expeditions.
Bus Tours Flagstaff Express ( +1 928 225 2290 ) Tour West America ( +1 800 900 8687 )
Helicopter Tours Maverick Helicopter Tours ( +1 866 689 8687/ http://www.maverickhelicopter.com/ ) Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours ( +1 800 528 2418/ http://www.papillon.com/ )
Adventure Tours Open Road Tours ( +1 877 226 8060/ http://www.openroadtours.com/flagstaff/ ) Great Ventures Tours ( +1 800 578 2643/ http://www.greatventures.com/ )
The first settlers in Flagstaff, drawn to the cool pine forests around 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, shared the land with bison, antelope and camel, supporting their people by hunting and foraging, until they settled into an agricultural way of life, surviving on a diet of beans, squash and corn.
From those early settlers, the Sinagua evolved, a tribe that moved into the area of present-day Flagstaff and south to Oak Creek Canyon around the year 1,000 CE. Their name is derived from the Spanish for "no water," a reference to the leaky, porous limestone cliffs where the tribe built dwellings that were noted by the first Spanish explorers. The Sinagua constructed an elaborate system of irrigation and adobe pueblos in the nooks and niches of protective cliffs such as Walnut Canyon, but by the time the Spaniards came to the region in the 16th Century, the Sinagua had already abandoned their homes for reasons that are still unclear. Historians debate whether they were driven away by drought, disease or hostile Athabascan tribes invading from the north. Hundreds of ruins like those at Wupatki National Monument have been found to prove the tribe existed, but nothing remains to confirm why they left.
European settlers did not move into the area until the 1870s, soon after the Apaches had been driven to southeastern Arizona. A few colonizers arrived in 1876 and established a settlement called Agassiz near San Francisco Peaks but, lacking the knowledge and technology of the Sinagua, decided that the area was not good for farming. A sheepherder named Thomas Forsythe MacMillan eventually arrived in the area and concluded that it was a great land for raising sheep. By 1880, the area's population had grown to 67.
Two years later, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (now the Santa Fe) arrived, and the town's future was secured. The sound of trains has remained Flagstaff's acoustic trademark, as any visitor will confirm after listening to the whistle of the many freight trains that pass through Flagstaff every day.
According to local lore, the town acquired its name from a pole that may or may not have ever existed. Some say that a Ponderosa pine tree was stripped and a flag hoisted on July 4, 1876, to mark the Centennial of US Independence, while others insist that it was used as a marker to guide travelers west. No matter what happened, the pole is lost forever, as it was turned into firewood for one of the many saloons. What we know for sure is that the name Flagstaff was selected by a group of citizens meeting at a tent store in 1881.
In 1886 and 1888, fires destroyed the settlement. Fortunately, enough lumber was around for rebuilding, and in 1891, Flagstaff became seat of the newly created Coconino County. In 1894, the city was incorporated and Lowell Observatory was established, which was destined to become one of the leading astronomy institutions in the world.
Lumber quickly grew into the main industry in Coconino Forest, making some entrepreneurs very rich in the process, notably lumber magnate Michael Riordan, whose legacy is well preserved in his mansion at Riordan State Historic Park. Riordan also gained some notoriety for being one of the first known pot-hunters, exploring and looting the Walnut Canyon ruins until local citizens became alarmed at the extent of the destruction wreaked on the cliff dwellings. The Chamber of Commerce, acknowledging the tourist value of the ruins, denounced the mutilation in 1891, and in 1904, the site became part of the San Francisco Mountain Preserve.
While timber remains one of the mainstays of Flagstaff's economy and the county provides more than half of Arizona's domestic sheep, tourism has now become the city's most important enterprise. Located at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet, in close proximity to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff has long attracted health seekers as well as people from around the world eager to explore its natural beauty.
In 1912, Flagstaff just barely missed the opportunity to become the movie capital of the world, when director Cecil B. DeMille came looking for a location where outdoor shooting was possible all year round. Unfortunately, a snow flurry descending on the town convinced him that this was not the place, and he moved further west to a region with more agreeable weather. However, Flagstaff has been frequently featured in film and TV productions since. One room at The Monte Vista Hotel was actually used for a scene in the movie Casablanca, and you can spend the night there, too. The foundation of Normal School in 1899, the precursor to Northern Arizona University (NAU), added a new cultural and intellectual dimension to this timber town, and metropolitan Flagstaff has since developed into the main center of cultural activity in Northern Arizona. Numerous events and festivals, such as the Coconino County Fair and the Flagstaff Winterfest, attract enough visitors to create serious traffic congestion during summer months. NAU itself, which is now the town's biggest employer, hosts a variety of art and music events throughout the year. While most of the shopping has moved to the suburbs, new cafes and specialty stores have sprung up inside well-tended old structures in the historic downtown district. With a population of 65,000 and growing, Flagstaff suffers from symptoms of urban sprawl, but there is little of the downtown sleaziness and scruffiness that characterizes many other cities trying to cope with the problems of rapid growth. The restoration and expansion of downtown Flagstaff is on going, and the best way to keep current and get a feel for the history of this town is to get out of the car and take a leisurely walk around the historic district along Santa Fe Avenue, the street also known as Route 66.
Tourism has long been one of the pillars of Flagstaff's economy. Situated at a major crossroads of ground transportation, and in close proximity to some of the greatest natural wonders in the country, the town offers an abundance of accommodations for both business and leisure travelers. Lodging may be found in both central locations and further out, in the Ponderosa Pine forests surrounding the town.
Historic Downtown/Railroad District
If you want to avoid the sterile ambiance of motel chains, consider staying in the downtown district. A surprising number of bed and breakfasts and historic hotels are sitting right in or around the center of town, within easy walking distance from its urban attractions. Lodge in luxurious bedrooms and savor award-winning breakfasts at the Inn at 410 on Leroux Street, or stay in a downtown Flagstaff historic building at Lynn's Inn Bed and Breakfast. Lovers of Southwestern ambience and Hollywood lore should definitely check out The Hotel Monte Vista, where one can spend the night at very low rates in rooms bearing the names of the movie stars who used to lodge there. Hunters of historic celebrities will also be attracted to the Weatherford Hotel on Leroux, considered the most elegant hotel of its day, with guests including President Theodore Roosevelt, Wyatt Earp and cowboy writer Zane Grey. Just a few minutes south of the railroad tracks on San Francisco Street, the Grand Canyon International Hostel offers private and shared rooms to travelers from around the world at budget rates, which include free breakfast and coffee as well as transportation to the Greyhound Bus Station.
Located in a residential neighborhood just half a mile from downtown, the Comfi Cottages of Flagstaff combine generous breakfasts with privacy and conveniences like barbecue grills and picnic tables. Days Inn Flagstaff - West Route 66 offers laundry facilities and, more importantly, a pool to cool off in after a long day hiking. Buffalo Pointe Lodge is located close to many fishing, cycling and bird watching options, while the rustic interior of the Radisson Woodlands Hotel Flagstaff makes guests feel as though they're staying in the wilderness.
More lodging near nature is available on the northern side of town around the base of the towering San Francisco Peaks. Located three miles north of the Flagstaff Mall, the Fall Inn to Nature, surrounded by wildflowers and Ponderosa Pines, sports a natural decor with a view of Mount Elden and the peaks. Trails and horseback riding are nearby. As an area popular with nature lovers and outdoor persons, Flagstaff offers several options for campers. The largest such facility is located three miles south of downtown off I-19 at Fort Tuthill Coconino County Park on 30-acres of pine forest with plenty of opportunities for hiking. As this site is situated right next to the Coconino County Fairgrounds, summer visitors must expect to occasionally be exposed to the lights and noises of carnivals and fairs. Ample space for both RVs and tents is also provided at the Flagstaff Grand Canyon KOA on the northeast side of town on Highway 89, the road leading to nearby Sunset Crater and Wupatki Monument. The KOA offers various conveniences such as showers, coin laundry, groceries and a range of planned summer recreational activities such as cookouts. Similarly, Black Bart's RV Park on Butler, off I-40, has all the amenities expected from a typical American campground, including full hookups.
For travelers wanting to be close to nature during their stay here, the pine forests south of Flagstaff contain plenty of accommodations far from the noises of cars and trains. Located six miles south of downtown, The Sled Dog Inn offers private baths, spa and breakfast packages, and is also open for dinners on weekends.