Flagstaff, a City of Wonder – and More

To my south, red rocks flash in the sun, engulfed by endless ponderosa pine. Coconino National Forest stretches nearly two million acres, soaring as high as the San Francisco Peaks. Recreation seemingly has no end here.
Prepared By:

Semaj Thomas

Photographer, Traveler & Writer

Wonders of the Southwest

Peaceful mornings slicing silently through glass-like waters, with only a paddle to punctuate the stillness of the moment. Grins and grimaces dot action packed and elevated afternoons. Sunlit craters and canyons become stargazing silhouettes as night falls. And that’s just the first day. Sink your mind, body and soul into all that is Flagstaff.

This story was created in partnership with Discover Flagstaff.

There is nothing quite like the trip towards a sunrise adventure in a new destination. With only car beams and starlight to guide me, the road takes me from Flagstaff to Ashurst Lake. While the lake itself is its own pride, with campgrounds, fishing and mountain biking trails, it’s the backdrop setting that brings me here; kayaking across Ashurst as the sun greets the San Francisco Peaks, one of the city’s seven wonders.

Kayaker on Ashurst Lake

Heights and Hikes

Its easy to lose track of time with this view, as water licks up the sides of my origami style CORU kayak. After some time, I remember that I’m sandwiched between two more of Flagstaff’s must-see destinations, and my paddle turns still waters to waves as the adventures of the day beckon. To the south, red rocks flash in the sun, engulfed by an endless family of Ponderosa Pine. Coconino National Forest stretches nearly two million acres, soaring as high as the San Francisco Peaks. Recreation seemingly has no end here. With heights in mind, dance above the ground as you attempt to tackle the aerial course that is Flagstaff Extreme! Secondly, don’t forget the zipline, a breezing glide through treetop terrain!

Traveling north, Walnut Canyon is a literal step into history. Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail signal a simpler era, before bulldozers and skyscrapers. It’s indicative of how far civilization has come, and how much weight preserving the past holds. Farther north still, black rock and ashen trails spread far and wide. Hundreds more Ponderosa Pine prick the base of Sunset Crater, seemingly rising through ash; the ongoing birth of a landscape. Protected sites like this volcano echo the importance of ecotourism, with strong partnerships and principles; in fact, the very local initiative of Pledge for the Wild emphasizes this embrace of Leave No Trace. Continuing this eco-pledge, sustainability centered Flagstaff is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2030. Always remember to stay on the trail, respect the land and its inhabitants, and consider a small donation when visiting eco-conscious environments.

In the City

Back in town, local art both historic and new canvas the walls and halls of Flagstaff. Outdoors, breathtaking murals by both local and world-renowned artists will stop you in your tracks. This amazing art scene offers a wide range of mediums, including mosaics, sculptures and photography! This Public Art Map, with options for walking or biking between more than 20 pieces, will be something you go back to again and again! The outdoors in town continue to amaze after the sun sets in this, the world’s first dark sky city. Couple these breathtaking views in all directions—just while standing on the sidewalk—with an average 100 inches of snow and the surprising opportunity to go downhill skiing in Arizona, and you’ll understand how Flagstaff can delight the seasons year-round.

Indoors, native sculptures, vases, weavings and more showcase the history and talent of the people of the Colorado Plateau. For instance, the partnership between curators at the Museum of Northern Arizona and members of native tribes give us some knowledge directly from the source.

Finally, would you believe that astronauts went from Flagstaff to the Moon?! Believe it! At the Astrogeology Science Center, learn how astronauts prepared for space travel around the city. Moreover, discover how they trained in the otherworldly terrain to simulate Moon missions!

Flagstaff is a year-round hub of adventure and learning, with access to wonders as magnificent as the Grand Canyon and vast night skies, and as significant as its own local culture. This is at once the true Southwest experience and uniquely Arizona.

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