Phoenix residents are familiar with the local topography consisting of dry brush and cacti. But a two-and-a-half hour drive north on Interstate 17 shows a different side of Arizona as desert sand and vegetation give way to verdant grass and pine trees.
Flagstaff sits at the foot of Humphrey’s Peak, the state’s highest mountain, and is also the geographical and cultural center of Northern Arizona.
Local history started in 1876 when settlers raised an American flag up a pine tree in honor of the nation’s centennial. The makeshift “flag staff” became a landmark for travelers and became the town’s official name. Merchants and saloonkeepers came to set up shop in Flagstaff during the western expansion of the railroad in the 1880s. Before long, the town became incorporated, thriving on the railroad, lumber and ranching industries.
Today, Flagstaff is dotted with historic buildings including the McMillan Building, Hotel Monte Vista, Babbitt Brothers Building, the Coconino County Courthouse and even the Flagstaff Visitor Center housed within an old train station.
Another historic landmark is the Weatherford Hotel, which is still operating today. The hotel first opened its doors in 1897 and housed Flagstaff’s first telephone exchange company, restaurants, a theater, a radio station and a billiard hall. Several famous guests stayed at the Weatherford including former President Theodore Roosevelt, publisher Randolph Hearst and cowboy author Zane Grey.
Downtown Flagstaff is pedestrian-friendly, offering locally owned shops, art galleries, restaurants and microbreweries. Visitors can sample local sweet treats, learn about Native American art and culture, or purchase hiking and camping gear from an outdoor outfitter.
More than a hundred years of history is sure to conjure up an interesting paranormal history within Flagstaff. Ghost hunters may chance a glimpse at specters of bank robbers, ladies of the night or eccentric hotel guests. Guided tours of haunted buildings depart from the visitor center and are offered throughout October.
The city enjoys the best of all four seasons and boasts a wide range of activities to take advantage of the local climate. Local residents and tourists alike flock to Flagstaff to enjoy hiking and biking in the warm months, and cross-country and downhill skiing during the wintery months. A wide variety of guided tours is offered since Flagstaff is surrounded by national forests and less than an hour’s drive from Grand Canyon. There are plenty of trails and bike rental shops for those who prefer to plan their own outdoor adventure.
Military members and their families can create their own outdoor vacation by staying at nearby Fort Tuthill, operated by Luke’s 56th Force Support Squadron. Visitors can either check in to the hotel, one of the single-family cabins or A-frame units, a permanent tent structure known as a yurt, or set up a tent in the camping area. There’s even an RV area with water and electrical hookups. Winter rates begin in October.
Fort Tuthill also offers a ski rental shop with ski and snowboard packages. Staff members recognize most Arizonians may not own snow boots and shoes, so those are offered for rental as well. All items are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
Outdoor enthusiasts can register for any of Fort Tuthill’s Outdoor Adventure Program trips including a day tour of the South Rim or rafting down Grand Canyon’s Lower Gorge. Reservations are required.
For more information on things to do and see in Flagstaff, visit www.flagstaffarizona.org. For more information on Fort Tuthill lodging and outdoor trips, visit www.forttuthill.com or call 623-856-3401.