One of the scary things about RV travel is the side winds, whether natural or caused by the passing of a large truck going in the opposite direction. Crossing northern Arizona there is not much to break these winds so you can get socked really badly. The previous day had been so hairy we pulled into an RV park to escape the danger. Luckily, we were close the Meteor Crater Natural Monument and took the opportunity to visit there.
As soon as the winds come they go, so it was with much relief we woke to a quiet and less breezy day meaning we could continue our road trip across Arizona. Pulling out of the campsite we could see ahead of the snow-capped peaks of the San Francisco Mountains, at the base of which was our next destination, the small town of Flagstaff.
The highest peak in the San Francisco range is Humphrey’s peak at 12,633 feet which turns out to be the highest point in Arizona. These peaks were once a huge volcano towering above the plains at over 16,000 feet above sea level (higher than any mountain in the modern contiguous United States). This peak exploded in a massive eruption millions of years ago blowing away enormous amount of rock – similar to the last major eruption of Mount St Helens. The volcano field around this area is vast containing some 600 cinder cones – with the last eruption occurring 1000 years ago at Sunset Crater. This is still an active volcanic area so more eruptions are likely in the future. Having explored a meteor crater we felt the need to visit some more craters.
En route we decided to take a detour to an area called Grand Falls. So, we un-hooked our Jeep and set off. The route took us past some very nice cinder craters and some splendid examples of lava flows. Eventually, we entered the Navajo Nation Reservation and took Indian Road 70, which was an extremely bumpy dirt road. Unfortunately, when it had rains these roads get driven on, and when they dry up they become heavily rutted. Despite being in a Jeep the vibration was tremendous and after about five miles we decided to give up and turn around as we were concerned about the car falling apart (it is after all 10 years old).
Situated on the famous Route 66 Flagstaff is a great little mountain town with some very cute shops and a good selection of places to eat. It is also a great base for a couple of days. From here you can easily get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in about 90 minutes. Close to Flagstaff, there are a couple of other attractions that we think are worth checking out.
SUN CRATER NATIONAL MONUMENT
The aforementioned Sunset Crater, the site of the most recent eruption in these parts, is now a National Monument. As so often is the case our first port of call when going to any National Park or Monument is to hit the Visitor Center to pick up some information on the area. Climbing is not allowed on the banks of the crater wall as the effect of visitors in the past had begun to damage the environment but you can drive around the very well preserved cinder cone. There is no need to be stuck in the car as there are several well-marked trails, some of which are wheel chair accessible. We chose the Lavas Edge Trail which took us under ponderosa pines, over loose cinders and rough basalt along the jagged edge of the Bonito Lava Flow. Along the path, there were many placards with information about the formations and history of the volcanic activity in this area.
|Address:||6082 Sunset Crater Road Flagstaff, AZ 86004|
Open year-round, 24 hours a day. Closed Christmas and New Year days. The Sunset Crater Volcano Visitor Center is open from 9:00-4:30 every day.
Cost: $25.00 per private vehicle
THE LOWELL OBSERVATORY
Another fun thing to do in Flagstaff, especially if you are interested in all things astronomical is to visit the Lowell Observatory.
Wealthy Bostonian Percival Lowell established Lowell Observatory in 1894. He graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. After spending six years working for his grandfather and 10 years in the Orient, he decided in 1894 to build an observatory initially to study the planet Mars.
Lowell postulated the existence of a planet beyond Neptune and began in earnest in 1905 until his death in 1916 to search for the ninth planet, Planet X. It was not until 1930 that this new planet was discovered by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory. It was given the name Pluto. Today, Pluto due to rules defining a planet is no longer considered to be a planet in its own right.
The observatory offers several tours of the facility as well as a museum with some interesting exhibits on the astronomical research activities of the Lowell Observatory past, present and future. We decided to join the night program, where they give talks on the solar system, the lives of stars and exploring the science of galaxies and universes. As well as the talks there are demonstrations and the opportunity to view the stars through the Observatory’s telescopes (weather permitting).
|Address:||1400 W Mars Hill Rd, Flagstaff, AZ|
Adults (ages 18+): $25
Best time to visit Flagstaff
The best time to visit Flagstaff is between September and November when the summer crowds have dispersed, the trees are alight with colour and the weather is crisp and clear. The three months between December and February are popular among winter sports enthusiasts, but Flagstaff typically has very snowy winters, which can make travel difficult. In March, April and May, the city starts to thaw, but this time of year is also known for having high winds. June, July and August are high travel season when visitors descend on Flagstaff to take advantage of the beautiful 80-degree weather.
Where to stay
1. LITTLE AMERICA HOTEL FLAGSTAFF
Just off I-40, this hotel is located on 500 acres of Ponderosa Pine forest. Free Wi-Fi is available in all rooms. Free transport services to Flagstaff Pulliam Airport are offered during limited hours.
All air-conditioned rooms feature a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a small refrigerator at Little America Hotel Flagstaff. Each room has an private bathroom equipped with a hairdryer.
Guests can relax in the outdoor pool at Flagstaff Little America Hotel. A business center with 8 conference rooms is available. Free parking is provided.
Little America Restaurant and Bar offers breakfast, lunch and dinner daily at Little America Hotel Flagstaff. Cocktails and appetizers are available at Little America Restaurant and Bar.
2. ENGLAND HOUSE B&B
3. STARLIGHT PINES B&B
This quaint bed and breakfast offers uniquely decorated rooms with antique furniture. The bed and breakfast is located at the foot of Mount Elden.