on October 25, 2011
Flagstaff has a huge tourism sector because of Route 66, two national observatories, and fantastic skiing. It is the largest city in Northern Arizona and it has become a starting point for tourists heading out to Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon. But Flagstaff also has three US National Parks in and around the city.The first park we stopped at was Walnut Canyon. A much smaller canyon compared to its northern counterpart, it still has unique characteristics that not even the Grand Canyon can match. We got off at Exit 204 heading east on Interstate 40. The park is located three miles south of the exit. Upon arrival at the visitor’s center, there is a $5 fee admission fee, which is good for seven days. There is also a Flagstaff Park Pass for $25 which grants you admission to all three parks and is good for one year. After paying the fee, we exited out of the rear door which leads to the Rim Trail. This trail is a .7 mile round-trip hike that offers excellent views of the Canyon Floor. The Canyon rim sits at 6,690 feet and the canyon floor descends another 350 feet. The Rim Trail has two canyon overlooks, but only one is on the paved portion of the trail. For a more strenuous hike, the one mile Island Trail takes you 185 feet into the Canyon. The park rangers urge hikers to take it easy especially for those that are not acclimated to high elevation. For those that take the trail, you will be presented with 25 different cliff dwellings of the Sinagua Indian Tribe. We then headed up US Route 89, which takes you to the other two national parks. US Route 89 also takes you to the east entrance of the Grand Canyon. While it’s possible to visit all three in one day, I would encourage making the Grand Canyon a one day trip. We turned onto Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road and after stopping at the visitor center, we headed back out on the scenic drive. The drive takes you by numerous different scenic overlooks. The landscape changes so rapidly from rugged lava trails to the fine black lava deposits leading from the crater to the base of Sunset Volcano. The volcano has partially revegetated as there are wildflowers and ponderosa pines surrounding the base. At one time hikers could climb to the top of the crater but because of damage, hikers are now confined to a trail around the base of the volcano. The 21 mile loop road takes you through the changing landscape of Sunset Crater and then into even more changing landscape as you approach the Wupatki National Monument. Wupatki preserves five pueblos built by the ancient pueblo people. It was first inhabited around 500 AD. There is a half-mile trail behind the visitor center that leads to the Wupatki Pueblo, the largest pueblo in the Flagstaff area. From here you can take the loop road back south through Sunset Crater or take it north where it meets with US Route 89. While most tourists prefer to visit just the Grand Canyon, there is more to do in Flagstaff than just staying here.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009