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Guest blog by Jennifer Broome
Flagstaff is the leading craft beer city in Arizona, the world’s first international dark skies city and every astronaut to walk on the moon trained in the stunning scenery in and surrounding Flagstaff. Plus, it’s only ninety minutes to the Grand Canyon. As I found out on a 72-hour stay, it’s a playground of history, culture and adventure.
A spectacular view of the San Francisco Peaks greets you as you arrive at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. I flew in on a direct flight from Denver, got my rental car and headed over to the Visitor Center in a historic train station dating back to 1926. It’s the best place to start your Flagstaff fun for a couple of reason: you can take a selfie in a life-size astronaut suit, pay a quarter to make the toy train to go around, grab some moon-themed souvenirs and take a picture on Route 66.
It was lunchtime so I headed over to Tourist Home Café. It’s part restaurant and part bakery. I ordered the fish tacos and my friend Meg said, “You have to get a pastry for later.” I couldn’t decide between the almond joy or lemon butter bar. “Get both,” said Meg and so I did and enjoyed them over the next couple of days.
As I walked through downtown, I was drawn to a couple of beautifully painted murals, the Mother Mural and Sound of Flight. The Mother Mural near the Route 66 historic drive-in hotels takes you through the history of Route 66. The Sound of Flight near the Orpheum Theatre is 4,500 square feet and is the largest mural in Arizona. It beautifully weaves colorful birds with an ornate piano with even a wolf and statue of David mixed in.
What better way to learn about the history of Route 66 than on wheels? My guide Sasha with Arizona Segway and Petal Tours was full of fun tidbits and cool facts as we cruised all over town on the two-hour tour. He took me through the campus of Northern Arizona State. I had no idea Olympians train in Flagstaff. Learned that as we cruised past the highest diving center in the world. We made a stop in Flagstaff’s Wild West red light district and I learned the story of madame “Mrs. Tea Cup Sallie” and the secret door connecting Paso Del Norte and the red brick building next to it. We passed by La Santisima Gourmet Taco (currently operating as Proper Meats) which has been featured on the Food Network then by Grand Canyon Café, legendary for an 1899 post-Indian Wars gunfight. Then, we went off-roading on Flagstaff Urban Trail System, a network of more than 55 miles.
After the adventure I was in mood for an afternoon tea and popped into Steep Leaf Lounge for a masala chai tea and a chocolate truffle. I savored every nibble of the sweet treat.
I geeked out at my next stop at the USGS Astrogeology Science Campus. Grover, a land rover simulator, is on display in the lobby, along with Neil Armstrong’s handprint. Grover was used by crews of Apollo 15-17. It was built in Flagstaff in 90 days for $1900. Every astronaut to walk on the moon did astrogeology training in Flagstaff. Eugene Shoemaker invented the USGS’s Astrogeology branch in 1961 and established the Field Center in Flagstaff in 1963. USGS is just one of the stops on Flagstaff’s lunar landmarks trail.
I wanted to catch a great sunset and took a 20-minute to Upper Lake Mary. A streak of cotton candy pink lit up the clouds over the lake. Once back in town I went in search of a late dinner and decided on Shift. I sipped a Fuego 75, which is a spicy twist on a French 75 as I dined on golden beet soup and fresh pesto pasta.
Day 2: Scenic Chair Lift, 3 National Monuments and Epic Stargazing
I started Day 2 with a great view from my room of the alpenglow on the San Francisco Peak at sunrise from my room at the Residence Inn by Marriott. I walked over to Toasted Owl Cafe and instantly feel in love with its quirkiness with vintage porch chairs and loveseats outside. Inside it’s a hoot with owl everything including chandeliers, napkin holders, cookie jars and salt and pepper shakers. I loved my multi colored silicone water cup and my smashed avocado toast was enough to feed at least two people. The spice blend sprinkled on the smashed avocado took my breakfast over the top. It was so yummy. I chatted up my waiter and had to ask about the name. “Started by a teacher with owls in classroom and kids brought in owls for gifts and it snowballed from there. Her family owned a restaurant in Grand Canyon, and she did a play on breakfast with name Toasted Owl,” he told me. What a great story I thought to go along with a fabulous breakfast.
Wanting to grab a coffee to go, I popped into Macys European Coffeehouse. With as packed as it was, I could tell it’s a favorite of locals. My mouth watered as my eyes glazed over looking at all of the muffins, scones and pastries. I grabbed a latte and headed off to Flagstaff’s ski country.
During the summer and fall Arizona Snowbowl trades ski slopes for sensational scenery. The 30-minute scenic chairlift takes you up to 11,510 feet. Once at the top, you can have a snowball fight and enjoy the view. On a clear day you can see the Grand Canyon, San Francisco Volcanic Field and even to Sedona.
I thought I was going to be an overachiever visiting three national monuments in an afternoon, but it is totally doable in Flagstaff. My first stop was Walnut Canyon National Monument, about ten minutes from downtown. I decided to do the Island Trail, a steep one-mile trail dropping 185 vertical feet. The first staircase is 273 steps down, which means 273 steps back up at the end. The loop trail has 190 steps scattered along the paved trail. There are more than 300 dwellings including about 70 living spaces of the Sinagua people dating back to between 1100 and 1250.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is 19 miles north of Flagstaff. The eruption that happened between 1040 and 1100 is the most recent volcanic activity in northern Arizona. The cinder cone you see formed during the early stages of the eruption. I hiked the 1-mile lava flow trail. The fascinating landscape was also a training ground for Apollo astronauts. I drove the scenic loop to Wupatki National Monument. Wukoki Pueblo is considered “one of the most impressive masses of aboriginal masonry.” This pueblo was once a home for two to three prehistoric Indian families. I did the short walk to marvel at the masonry work of what was at one time a multi-floor dwelling. My next stop was at Wupatki Pueblo to do the half mile loop around the grandest pueblo in the national monument. I walked up to the citadel for amazing 360° views and then stopped at the Box Canyon ruins and the Lomaki Pueblo out on the prairie in the late afternoon sunshine.
In 1894, Lowell Observatory was established in Flagstaff by wealthy Bostonian Percival Lowell. It made space history when astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. Lowell was used to create the lunar maps for the Apollo moon missions. In 2001, Flagstaff was named the world’s first International Dark Sky City because it is one of the best places on earth to gaze at the night sky. The observatory sits at 7200’ in town and is open for daytime tours and evening viewing. The night I went there were three telescopes available for viewing. I decided to wait in line first for the historic Clark Refractor built in 1896. As I looked through the 123-year-old telescope I saw the M5 cluster almost 25,000 light years away. In the globular cluster I was looking at 100,000 to 500,000 stars. It was star gazing that took my breath away! During night viewings there are programs and demonstrations offered every hour like the Arabian night sky presentation I sat in on.
For a late evening bite I headed over to FLG Terroir tucked away on the second floor of the Switzer building. Several locals had recommended it. I toasted a great day with a sparkling Italian wine and noshed on veggie overload with a delightful roasted asparagus salad.
Before heading to the Grand Canyon, which is just 80 miles from Flagstaff, I stopped in family owned Eat n’ Run at the corner of Route 66 and 4th Street for breakfast tacos and an Arizona sunrise smoothie. This joint is a must for breakfast. Plus, you they’ll even make you a great lunch to go. The Mediterranean wrap I ordered to go hit the spot later in the day.
It’s about an hour and a half drive through the Coconino National Forest from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon. If you’ve never been before, exploring all of the South Rim is a must. For a unique way to experience the canyon, book a Bike Grand Canyon tour with Bright Angel Bicycles in Grand Canyon Village. The Hermit Road Tour is 3.5 hours and the Yaki Point Tour is 2.5 hours. It’s a great way to learn about the area’s geology, anthropology and wildlife while taking in the stunning backdrop during your ride. One thing I learned on my tour is the North Rim is a thousand feet higher than the South Rim. The bike tours are ultra-family friendly and all ages are welcome.
After an afternoon at the Grand Canyon, I stopped at the Museum of Northern Arizona for their Thirsty Thursday event with food, drinks, and time to explore the exhibitions in the museum. They have over five million artifacts in the museum’s anthropology, biology, fine art and geology collections. This museum has worked with native tribes for ninety years. The Native People of the Colorado Plateau tells the story of the ten tribes in the area. I was fascinated by the similarities and differences of the tribes you see in the clothes, pottery and other daily life objects. I also loved the Babbit Gallery filled with stunning pieces of handmade jewelry by the Hopi, Navajo and Zuni tribes.
Wanting to also try a resort experience in Flagstaff, I checked into Little America. In my spacious room, I drifted off to dreamland in the goose down bedding.
The next morning, I took advantage of Little America’s hiking trail on property. It’s a lovely walk on the 2.5-mile hiking trail through ponderosa pines. I managed to snag the primo table by the window for breakfast at Silver Pines.
Before heading to the airport, I took a little more time to explore the original alignment of Route 66 through the redeveloped Southside Historic District. I started back at the historic train station walked over to the classic drive-in motels and by the Mother Road mural one more time. I wasn’t ready to say, “see ya down the road.” I was wishing for more time in this town where history meets adventure.
Jennifer Broome is a freelance television personality, travel writer, travel blogger and speaker based in Denver, Colorado. This adventurer and outdoors enthusiast has over two decades of on-camera experience. As a travel writer, Jennifer has written for publications and digital outlets including AAA Colorado “EnCompass,” “Ten West Living,” the Broadmoor Resort’s in-room magazine, snow.com and AAA National. She blogs about her travels right here on Swept Away with Jennifer Broome.