Exploring the Flagstaff Area: Wupatki National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, & Grand Canyon National Park
Located in Northern Arizona, Flagstaff is a city that lies on Historic Route 66 (the former U.S. semi-transcontinental highway) at an elevation of 7,000 feet near Arizona’s highest peaks (San Francisco Peaks Webcam), the Grand Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and Walnut Canyon National Monument. The area is rich with Native American archaeological sites, and the natural beauty of northern Arizona’s high desert environments, including ponderosa pine forests and areas of pinyon pine. Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University and the Museum of Northern Arizona, where studies of local Indian traditions and history are extensive and well respected. The city has grown tremendously over the last ten years, and sprawls past it’s original main street area and train station.
Flagstaff can be reached by car, train, or plane. US Airways serves a small Flagstaff airport and runs flights back and forth from Phoenix International Airport. The overnight Amtrak train from Los Angeles Union Station to Flagstaff is an interesting way to go, if you can sleep. Or, it’s about an eight hour drive from Ventura, California through Barstow, California, Victorville, California, and Kingman, Arizona.
Temperatures in Flagstaff can be moderate. Summertime highs are in the 80′s, winter in the 40′s, and spring and fall in the 60′s and 70′s. The area experiences some summer rain when thunderstorms move through, and precipitation can be a couple of inches throughout the year. Overall, it’s generally dry and comfortable.
WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT:
Wupatki National Monument is 39 miles from the City of Flagstaff. This place includes five prehistoric pueblos dated around the 1100′s. The Pueblos require a couple of hours to view them all because you will need to drive between them. Note that to protect the fragile archaeological sites, the National Park Service does not allow hiking off designated trails. Each Pueblo has a short trail that is a half mile long, or less, leading around the site. The most impressive is Wupatki Pueblo. A half-mile-long, flat, paved trail leads visitors around this site, the largest pueblo in the area. Additionally, a Monument Visitor’s Center with rangers, a few educational displays, restrooms, and a bookstore is situated near Wupatki Pueblo. Wupatki National Monument
I highly recommend reading the book, Letters from Wupatki, written by Courtney Reeder Jones. This book is a collection of letters written by young Courtney, beginning in 1938, when she and her new husband came to Wupatki as the first NPS caretakers. Letters from Wupatki
I visited Wupatki National Monument with my father in 1977. Here is snapshot of us in front of the Wupatki Pueblo.
On a return visit with my father in 2010:
WALNUT CANYON NATIONAL MONUMENT:
Walnut Canyon is 7 miles from the City of Flagstaff.
More than 700 years ago, people inhabited the cliffsides of Walnut Canyon. Cliff dwellings can be viewed up close via a one mile round trip trail with a 185 foot decent down stairs, and back up again. This trail is paved and circumnavigates the “island.” The Island Trail allows visitors to view 25 dwellings up close and see some across the canyon in the cliffs.
The Rim Trail does not descend into the canyon, but provides a couple of overlooks to view cliff dwellings across the canyon, and a pithouse and pueblo set away from the canyon rim. The Rim Trail is paved, flat, and .7 miles long.
There are some longer, Ranger-led hikes offered in summer months. Check this link for those descriptions: Guided Hikes
Also, at Walnut Canyon National Monument, you will find a NPS Visitor’s Center with rangers, educational displays, a bookstore, and restrooms. Walnut Canyon National Monument
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK:
The Grand Canyon is 81 miles from the city of Flagstaff. This spectacular National Park is a sight to see. The Canyon is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. (nps.gov/grca) It is most common to view the Grand Canyon from the road at the South Rim, but there are other ways to see it.
For example, the Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon and can be rafted. Below is a NPS video showing the Canyon and what it’s like to raft the Colorado. If you are an experienced boater, private trips may be taken after obtaining a permit and a long wait, but for most people, outfitters serve the public and guide people down the river on a regular basis.
Hiking and backpacking trips are another common way to experience the Canyon, but require proper preparation and equipment.
Here is the link to all of the NPS online information for the Park: Grand Canyon National Park
If you’re looking for a new place to explore, within a day’s drive of Ventura or Los Angeles, consider the Flagstaff area. The human history, natural history, and outdoor adventures are unique and plentiful.
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