Arizona: Flagstaff & Sunset Crater

From the core of our planet to distant stars – see it all in Northern Arizona!

One of the scary things about RV travel are 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 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 give up and turnaround 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.

Sunset 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 a many placards with information about the formations and history of the volcanic activity in this area.

Location: Hours: Admission:
6082 Sunset Crater Road Flagstaff, AZ 86004 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Private Vehicle – $25.00

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 offer 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 the 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).

Location: Hours: Admission:
1400 West Mars Hill Rd  Flagstaff, AZ 86001              P: (928) 774-3358                E: info@lowell.edu Mon – Sat: 10am – 10pm            Sun: 10am – 5pm Adults: M – Sat $17 | Sun $12                    Seniors / Military: M – Sat $16 | Sun $11  Ages 5 – 17: M – Sat $10 | Sun $6        Under 5: Free     

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