Northern Arizona Tour

san fran peaks

We stayed in Flagstaff (or “Flags” as the locals refer to it) for two nights.  The hotel was just south of town (and more distant from the constant freight trains running right through town) and owns a pine forest behind the hotel buildings, so we took a 1-mile walk through the snow.  

pine woods

We also found Chris some new hiking boots with higher ankle support downtown, had some fresh Thai food, some soy lattes at the local coffee shop, and caught up with some laundry.  Although it is an old town (Route 66 goes right through it), Flagstaff’s location and the presence of Northern Arizona University keeps it alive.  It’s on Interstate-40, about an hour north of Sedona, and about an hour and a half south of the Grand Canyon.  Snowbowl, AZ, half an hour north, has over 30 ski slopes as well as cross-country skiing – and Las Vegas is roughly 3 hours west.

We left Flagstaff to drive up to the Grand Canyon via Rte 89 – the eastern route to the South Rim – it includes a side road (about 50 miles long) with access to two National Monuments – Sunset Crater and Wakupati.  The photo above is of the San Francisco Peaks (named after St. Francis of Assisi) from Sunset Crater.  The peaks are just north of Flagstaff.  The folks who study volcanos figured out that these peaks were once part of a single large mountain (draw imaginary lines from the left and right slopes to see the 12,000 foot original mountain).  They had originally assumed that the multiple peaks were formed by erosion, but after Mt. Saint Helens’ eruption, they saw the resultant shape of the mountain and decided that these peaks were actually formed from a single volcano.  In the foreground of the photo is a hill of lava from Sunset Crater – with a sparse growth of pine trees.


The Sunset Crater National Monument area was the first visit I had made to any volcano, and the size of the area covered with volcanic rocks was really amazing.  As we had first left Flagstaff and saw the hill by Sunset Crater we thought it was a mine, but as we drove north and turned toward it, we realized what it was.   There is so little rain in the area that it’s very hard for vegetation to gain much of a foothold.  The area’s web site has a virtual copy of the Lava Trail that I had explored before we went, and even though a lot of the trail was snow-covered, we still walked the 1-mile trail using their interpretive guide to learn more about the lava flows and volcanic activity.  This area around Flagstaff is on the intersection of the Colorado Mountain Range and the basin/plains, which is why scientists believe there are a line of small volcanoes moving east from the San Franciso peaks.  The thick crust of the earth on the mountain range and the thinner crust on the plains causes magma below the surface to push through at that line (don’t you like my scientific terminology?)  From Sunset Crater we drove down into the prairie, getting great views of the Painted Desert.  We toured a pueblo ruin in Wupatki, which was really fun.  It was built on a small hill of red rocks that gave it a commanding view of a large part of the surrounding prairie.
Then we went to the Grand Canyon.  There was snow and ice on the streets and trails, so we didn’t really push the hiking much.  Chris kept reminding me to be careful, which worked.  We walked about 5 miles on paved trails on the South Rim and snapped some photographs.  We talked to a man whose 7-year old son was “in tears from fear” for a while riding a mule down into the canyon, but then got comfortable and had a great time going down one day, staying in the canyon overnight, and riding a mule back out the next day.
We started laughing about taking pictures of things we “didn’t do”, like hiking down this icy trail that the mules used to get down into the canyon:
angel trail
Here’s another view of the same trail from the Rim down more into the Canyon:
angel 2
The Canyon was not crowded (compared to summer) but because it was Martin Luther King’s birthday, there were more people than a typical January weekend.  We caught this evidence of people enjoying the snow:

1 comment so far

  1. Laura Gdula on

    Hi Chris and Bev,
    It’s been a while since I caught up on all of your adventures. Seems like ages since you were in Columbus.
    Always interesting to read of your latest travels and your pictures are professional!
    Was surprised to hear you sold the RV, but glad to hear you may settle down for a time (even though the reason – health insurance – is a bummer)
    Hope to see you in the coming months.

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