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The mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona, located in Southwest USA has one of the best spring seasons going. Guest blog by Stacey Wittig.
I’ve lived all over the Rocky Mountains, but Flagstaff captured my heart with its remarkable springtime. With over twenty Flagstaff spring seasons under my belt, you can count on me to call out the following five things that make Flagstaff’s spring surprising.
In many parts of the West, springtime is considered “Mud Season,” but because of its location in the dry Southwest, Flagstaff surprisingly offers a selection of relatively dry spring hiking, running and mountain biking trails. When trails are soft higher on the San Francisco Peaks, we locals gravitate to the paved and gravel paths at Buffalo Park and other trails on the amazingly un-urban FUTS (Flagstaff Urban Trail System) Old Caves Crater Trail and Sandy’s Canyon are also Flagstaff springtime favorites.
Many visitors are surprised to learn that Arizona Snowbowl, the snow resort located fifteen miles from historic downtown Flagstaff is open through early to mid-April depending on the weather. What’s even more surprising is the last day of the season festivities that include costume skiing (or unsanctioned no-costume-at-all skiing) and a party at Agassiz Lodge. Yes on the last day of the season, some revelers show up to ski or board in bathing suits, or nothing at all, to mark the end of epic Arizona spring skiing and snowboarding. With cutting edge snow-making technology – the same used at the Olympics in South Korea – spring snow conditions are sure to blow your insulated socks off.
Springtime is the perfect time to be surprised by lava flows and volcanic cinder cones right in Flagstaff’s backyard. You won’t believe that you are still in Arizona when you drive through Sunset Crater National Monument or hike its Lava Flow Trail. You may imagine that you are in Hawaii… or on the moon. The one-mile, self-guided hiking trail astounds with surreal volcanic features sporting Hawaiian names like pahoehoe or a’a’ lava flows. So closely does this volcanic terrain mimic that moon, that Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin practiced lunar landings on similar cinder fields nearby.
Who didn’t enjoy splashing through puddles during spring days of their childhood? Some of us have not outgrown it and still love to splish-splash through mud and water. However, backroad explorers are sometimes surprised to find that Coconino National Forest is closed to motorized traffic in the early spring. Forest roads around Flagstaff typically open in late-March.
According to Brady Smith of Coconino National Forest, “Every year we have seasonal road closures that are determined by the weather. We do this in order to protect the roads and also keep people from getting stuck or stranded in the middle of the forest. We don’t have a set date for closing and opening, but they generally happen around the same time every year, beginning in December and ending approximately in late-March.”
To check the status of forest roads around Flagstaff, click here. As an alternative, the Cinder Hills Off Highway Vehicle Area, located thirteen miles northeast of downtown Flagstaff, is open year-round.
Watchable Wildlife Experiences at Rogers Lake County Natural Area begin at the end of March once forest roads open. I love this wildlife viewing area in the spring when I’ve glassed waterfowl galore including migrating Canada geese. You’ll be greeted by the sound of chorus frogs and perhaps hear haunting howls of coyotes. Insider tip: a bald eagle typically roosts on the southwest corner of the lake. Download the online audio guide and get advice from local experts such as if you see a lone Pronghorn antelope, she has probably just given birth. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope.
Flagstaff’s spring weather is always surprising. You could be hiking under sunny skies in shirtsleeves before noon and then be skiing in the midst of spring flurries in the afternoon. So dress in layers, including a wind-proof, rain-resistant layer and always bring water, sunglasses and sunscreen. April temperatures in Flagstaff average highs of 58F (15C) with average lows of 29F (-2). In May, you’ll experience 68F (20C) highs and 35F (2C) lows. With over 264 days of sun, expect sunny conditions with Flagstaff’s renowned clear, fresh mountain air.
Stacey Wittig’s adventures have led her up the Inca Trail in Peru eating fried caterpillars, across the plains of Spain enjoying steamed barnacles, and through the vineyards of Cinque Terre sipping Chianti Classico. “The Grand Canyon State is a remarkable place to call home,” declares the wandering writer, who writes from her home in Flagstaff.