An intro to Northern Arizona’s largest city
Flagstaff is the heart of northern Arizona’s culture, dining and nightlife. Here you’ll find history and nature combined with plenty of accommodation and activities.
Visitors to Flag, as it’s affectionately called by locals, are often on a mission: escape the heat of the southern half of the state (in the summer) or hit the slopes in the winter. At an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, you’ll enjoy four seasons, fresh air and a climate to fit your mood. Thanks to its location, outdoor activities are especially popular here. Mountain biking is tops; the city’s 33 mile urban trail system connects with mountain bike trails surrounding the city. Hikers enjoy tackling Mount Eldon, Mount Humphreys (the highest peak in the state at 12,643 feet) and Kendrick Peak. Flagstaff is in the midst of the Coconino National Forest and trailheads are only a few miles outside of town. Lakes like White Horse, Mary and Ashurst satisfy the anglers. The area is overflowing with natural possibilities. What I like best about basing myself in Flagstaff is the number of options it gives you; there are seven national parks and monuments within a 100-mile radius of the city. You can also pay a visit to the Museum of Northern Arizona, or the US Geological Survey’s Flagstaff Field Center.
If you are here for some skiing, Arizona Snowbowl is the place to go. Located in the stunning San Francisco Peaks, the resort offers scenic trails, 2300 feet of vertical drop and a variety of challenging runs. Don’t worry; there are excellent runs for the beginner too, as well as spots for snowboarders. Cross-country skiers love the Flagstaff Nordic Center which offers 25 miles of groomed ski trails. Bring the family as there is a designated sledding and snow play area here as well.
All this outdoor stuff makes one think of the weather. Generally speaking Flagstaff’s climate is a mild, four season one. Lows in the winter can drop to minus 20, and slick roads can be a problem. Summer highs generally top out in the mid to high 80s. The weather does change quickly in the mountains so always be prepared with a light jacket and drink lots of water as the dry air can be dehydrating.
The history of this mountain town is quite interesting. Located along a pioneer trail, first visitors to the area were basically using it as a rest stop. Flagstaff continued in this role although its visitors changed from arriving on horseback, to in trains and eventually by car. The initial travelers are credited with giving the town its name. In 1876 a group of pioneers stopped in the area to celebrate the Fourth of July. Like good patriotic citizens, they wanted to fly the US flag, so stripped a large pine tree of its needles and raised the old red, white and blue. Many travelers in the coming years would see, and often stop, by this massive “flag-staff” and the name stuck.
The arrival of the railroad in the early 1880s though was what truly put Flagstaff on the map. By 1886 the city was the largest one on the main line between Albuquerque and the Pacific Coast. Your first night here, you’ll most likely be awakened at least once by the screech of the train whistle as it passes through town. Industries like lumber, cattle and sheep thrived, and the train brought in tourists, anxious to visit the Grand Canyon.
The famed Route 66 passed through the city, and you can see glimpses of this vehicular past scattered about town. The city’s fate was also in the stars. The US Geological Survey Branch of Astrogeology in Flagstaff played an important part in six Apollo missions to the moon and the famed Lowell Observatory is located here – founder of the not-anymore-a-planet Pluto. These days, Flagstaff is a large college town, thanks to Northern Arizona University, whose roots date back to 1899.
Jacy Meyer is a graduate of Northern Arizona University, and spent about an equal amount of time in class and out hiking.