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Flagstaff: More Than Just

Cooler Than Phoenix

Image by Mispahn and used under a Creative Commons License.

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No Matter What Interests — Or Budget — A Traveller Might Have, Flagstaff Has A Plethora Of Local Activities Along With Many Others Within A One-Hour Drive That Make It A Great Place To Escape Summer Temperatures


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

July 11, 2014 — For the many decades that preceded the expansive use of air conditioning, Arizonans from the central basin that had the ability — the upper crust of Phoenix and its surrounding villages, specifically  — would pack up their lives and head to Northern Arizona where the temperatures were actually livable.

Today, even though people live in an air conditioned world in central Phoenix, not much has changed. Thanks to the rise of the middle class and the proliferation of reliable automobiles, tens of thousands make at least a weekend sojourn into the “cool pines” by taking a ride that has gotten faster and easier.

Northern Arizona is technically anything roughly north of the Mogollon Rim — or the Colorado Plateau to be specific — but a great place to center a trip is Flagstaff. The city is just about a two drive from any other spot below 100 degrees in the state and it has more things to do at prices and interests to suit any sensibility or budget.

Sedona is great and Payson is too, but Sedona is a little too responsive to a certain demographic and target audience and Payson is not geographically centered. Some of the smaller towns like Winslow, Cottonwood and Kingman all have their charms, but are well-suited to a day trip out of Flagstaff.

At 68,000 or so regular residents, it supports a greater number of local resources. And the attractions are more than just one or two, but a solid handful. Highlights include things like the Lowell Observatory, The Arboretum At Flagstaff, and the multitude of events held at the Pepsi Amphitheater.

But the one thing that is ever-present in and around Flagstaff is the scenery — city is amidst the middle of the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the contiguous United States.  

Some highlights:

Pepsi Amphitheater
Situated in the middle of forest in beautiful Flagstaff, the Pepsi Amphitheater is tailor made for festivals and events in the summer. With lots of shade and 80 degree temps, no one is uncomfortable. After attending so many awesome, yet sweaty summer events in Phoenix, it is nice to escape the heat once and a while. Events in Flagstaff have the perfect spot in the Pepsi Amphitheater for Phoenicians seeking something in between a vacation and a staycation.

The Food
Like many college towns, Flagstaff is doing a good job fostering a quality food culture. On my short trip up this time around, we tried a couple of restaurants I would recommend: 1899 Bar and Grill and Diablo Burger.

Situated in the historic NAU North Union building, 1899 is an interesting steak house concept. The open floor plan, made possible by the large historic building, is very inviting and the food is excellent. With Southwestern accented dishes and drinks like achiote chicken wings, Southwest flank steak and a prickly pear margarita. Prices are in the typical steakhouse range.

If you are looking for something a bit cheaper, but just as delicious, check out Diablo Burger. The small restaurant uses locally sourced beef to create several interesting burger concepts, all served on English muffins with the restaurant’s logo branded on them. The Wrigley Field burger, featuring a six ounce patty with bacon, onions, Swiss cheese, and a spicy honey mustard is a recommended item. Prices are in the $10 to $13 range, which is reflected in the heaping serving sizes.

When most Arizonans think about hanging outdoors in Flagstaff, snow and skis come to mind. But the area is actually home to some of the most beautiful nature spots to take advantage of in the summer months.

Both Walnut Canyon National Monument and the Coconino National Forest are close by Flagstaff and provide great hiking and sightseeing opportunities in the summer months when the beautiful flora is not covered by snow.

The San Francisco Peaks are another great nearby attraction. In the summer months, the area is replete with plenty of green foliage and beautiful views. Oh, and did we mention the Grand Canyon is a only a little more than an hour away.

If you plan on camping these areas, always remember to check with Arizona fire restrictions as some activities are suspended in the summer months.

Other Activities
In addition to its natural aesthetic, Flagstaff has plenty of unique activities designed to take advantage of its temperate climate. While running around outdoors sounds like a drag in 100 degree temperatures, the prospect is a little less daunting when it is 83 degrees and windy.

One such activity is Flagstaff Extreme, an elevated obstacle course high up in Flagstaff’s ponderosa pines. The company offers a couple different course for different skill levels and costs $49. The company also offers some packages along with local hotels.

For the less adventurous, the Arboretum at Flagstaff offers group and walking tours. The botanical garden is situated over 7,000 feet above sea level and features a breathtaking array of native plants.

Whether you are a foodie, a nature lover, an adventurer, or some combination of the three, Flagstaff is definitely a cost-effective, somewhat local destination for those looking to escape the heat for a few days.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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