Friday, May 29, 2009

My Backyard

The Four Corners area includes a lot of real estate. To begin exploring the region a good place to start is my hometown. Flagstaff, Arizona is a gateway into the heart of the region, and there is much to see and do right here.

For the uninitiated, much of Arizona is rightfully considered a desert where abundant sunshine and warm temperatures are the norm. Many snowbirds flock to the southern half of the state during the winter months to escape the gray and frigid extremes of their hometowns. The cities of Phoenix and Tucson share a well deserved reputation for hellishly hot summers, where air conditioning is not merely a luxury but a necessity.

What many who have never visited don't realize is that Arizona is actually a land of much geographical diversity, with elevations ranging from 100 feet above sea level near Yuma to over 12,600 feet on the San Francisco Peaks (pictured above). This wide spectrum of environments over a relatively short distance means it's possible to spend a February morning skiing in Flagstaff, and then hop in the car for an afternoon tee time on the golf course in Phoenix.

Flagstaff is a good example of what most people don't know about Arizona. Situated on the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau at around 7000 feet and surrounded by a vast forest of Ponderosa pine, temperatures here rarely exceed 90 degrees and average around the high 70's/low 80's for much of the summer. In winter the coldest month is January with a mean daytime high of 43 degrees, and lows in the teens. What makes the climate especially enjoyable is the relatively low humidity, generally around 10%.

The region receives most of its' precipitation in the form of snow. In fact, Flagstaff averages 100 inches per year, making it one of the top 10 snowiest cities in the U.S.

In summer, daily afternoon thunderstorms referred to as the "monsoon" can dump heavy rain in localized areas, often accompanied by gusty winds and frequent lightning. Because of the relatively high elevation, Flagstaff and the surrounding area experiences a true four season climate that allows for a wide range of outdoor activities year-round.


Located at the base of the San Francisco Peaks and at the nexus of Interstates 17 and 40, Flagstaff is northern Arizona's largest community. It is home to Northern Arizona University (NAU), the smallest of the state's 3 colleges. The student body adds about 13,000 people to the area's population, currently around 100,000. The city is a mecca for travelers to the southwest, and a haven for desert dwellers to escape the heat in the summer.

Recreation is paramount in Flagstaff. Many current residents relocated here for the outstanding outdoor activities that can be enjoyed all year long. Mountain biking, climbing, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, hunting, fishing, and many other pursuits await the adventurous.

For those interested in more cerebral pursuits, Flagstaff has a vibrant art community, a thriving local music scene, a historic downtown district, and a well respected symphony orchestra. As a crossroads of culture both modern and archaic, the surrounding area also boasts excellent examples of Native American architecture found at Wupatki and Walnut Canyon National Monuments.

Additionally NAU is renowned throughout the country for it's forestry and science programs, and the undergraduates contribute significantly to the unique culture of the community.

Remember Pluto, the on again-off again planet that was? The controversial celestial body was discovered right here in town at Lowell Observatory, located on Mars Hill. Still active today in peering at the stars and home to the new Discovery Channel telescope, the observatory gives daily and nightly programs in astronomy.

Another local institution that has achieved worldwide recognition is the Museum of Northern Arizona, located at the northern end of town on U.S. 180/Ft. Valley Rd. Here you'll find definitive resources on everything related to the places and people of the Colorado Plateau. Several times a year the museum hosts fairs and marketplaces for the various tribes that call the region home, where outstanding works of Native crafts and displays of culture are presented.

For a look at the pioneer life of early settlers, visit Riordan Mansion State Park or the Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum, both of which preserve buildings and showcase exhibits about the first anglo families to establish a new life on the Arizona frontier.

If you'd rather spend the day outside getting fresh air and some exercise, pick a trail on the Dry Lake Hills system. Offering everything from relatively easy strolls in the ponderosa forest to steep slogs up Mt. Elden, the Dry Lake trails have something for everyone. My personal favorites are Oldham #1, Brookbank #2, and the relentless Elden Lookout trail #4. Take a hike!

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