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This is an authentic and atypical mountain town. Its city centre half Mexican half European, interspersed with red sandstone small buildings and brick façades with Spanish style pediments, gives it a certain charm. Murals are splendid. Cafes and restaurants proudly display their originality, as well as western hotels and outdated cinemas from the 1930’s. Saloons line the famous Route 66.
Nestled in altitude in the middle of a ponderosa pines forest massif, it offers a pleasant coolness in contrast to the desert furnace. Known as «the crossroads of Arizona», it is much more than a simple stopping-off point to visit the exceptional natural sites, sights and monuments nearby. Many travelers pass by all year long, but it attracts as much hikers and skiers as tourists and nature lovers.
It was unconceivable for us not to return there, for the hot memory of that unforgettable and unexpected night we had there in June 2013 was still inside of us. So we definitely adopted it as one of our favorite cities. Indeed, the question remained because we wondered whether we had not let our passion carry us away after those unforgettable moments. But we had the opportunity to linger in its streets one night as it was almost deserted, and we were delighted to see that it kept an undeniable character in spite of it all.
We had confirmation of that the day after when we stayed there a few hours in the afternoon, soaking up with its very pleasant atmosphere. It was the first time we visited it by day and we really enjoyed it. We discovered new places, among others the very typical western railway station and its surroundings. Murals there are extraordinary, especially the one that covers a long brick wall on Phoenix Avenue, at the corner of San Francisco Street (photo). It is decidedly one of Flagstaff’s specialties. And then, we went to lunch at the shaded terrace of «Flagstaff Brewing Company» on the famous Route 66 in front of the railway station. Dishes and home-made beers are high-quality, and the place is very pleasant.
We made a stop-off in the heights to get close to the Lowell Observatory, which was founded by Percival Lowell. There were discovered Pluto and the Uranus rings. The big Telescope Clark from the late 19th century fitted with numerous focusing wheels will bring you back to a Jules Verne’s novel. You will be able to observe the moon and, when conditions are favorable, some planets of the solar system. You will also visit with enchantment the Percival Lowell Mausoleum, the Rotunda Museum, the exhibition room and the multiplanetarium. As for us, we only took a walk in the park that offers a nice bird’s eye view of the city. Indeed, we only had a little time and paying the entrance to the observatory was not worth.
Finally, after we saw Flagstaff from various different aspects during our two visits within three years, we know it better and love it more. Like we did in 2013, we left it with a twinge of sorrow to make our way to the extraordinary Grand Canyon.
Flagstaff is part of our favorite cities. To have direct access to the rubric, click here.
It is the nearest park to Flagstaff. Its last eruptions date from the 11th and the 12th centuries. The spectacular lava flows covered the place, giving it its entire characteristic. The superb Lava Flow Trail (photo) allows you to cross that scenery out of the ordinary. If you have the will and if you are in condition, you will be able to take on the hard ascent of the Lenox Crater Trail. A reward waits for you on the top: the view of the San Francisco Peaks.
We contented ourselves with the trail. Black clouds started to come our way, but without blocking the sun, which covered that amazing landscape with beautiful colors. And then, we took the car to go and admire the view from Cinder Hills Overlook, from where we could see the Painted Desert in the distance.
Wupatki National Monument
It is located in the heart of a desert expanse that includes several constructions and ruins which witness the past presence of Indian tribes. They took advantage of the fertilization of the soil by volcanic ashes of Sunset Crater, quite close by. Besides, the visits of those two sites are coupled together. Don’t miss the Wukoki Pueblo, red rock fortress, and the Wupatki Pueblo, village that includes the remains of ancient houses. That night, the stone stood out beautifully thanks to a setting sun under persistent clouds that granted us with blazing warm colors.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
It is a narrow canyon made more attractive by pines on cliffs that include Sinagua tribe’s troglodyte houses. Their lifestyle is basically presented on a short movie in a little museum. To see the ruins from close, you must take the superb Island Trail, which disappears into the canyon, forming a long loop around a rocky peak. That was what we wanted to do but unfortunately, it was under construction. So we fell back on the Rim Trail (photo) that runs along the fault and allows you to see the ruins from a distance.
It is one of the most visited sites in the U.S.A. Its dimensions are gigantic. It is divided in two parts: the North Rim, which is wilder, and the South Rim, more developed for tourism. Desert View Tower is a replica of a prehistoric Indian Tower. Point at the top of the South Rim, it offers an unrestricted view of Grand Canyon, Painted Desert and the San Francisco peaks. The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a huge glass and steel gateway located on Eagle Point. The drop is impressive. The disadvantage is the unreasonably high price. Yavapai Point offers sublime views. There are also photos, exhibits and 3D reproductions. Yaki Point has one of the most beautiful panoramas. In addition, it's never very crowded. To get there, take the bus in Grand Canyon Village.
So we joined it in the end of the afternoon coming from Flagstaff. Then we really discovered that beautiful road, for we had taken it by night in 2013. The heat was persistent, but we could see on the background peaks still covered in snow. We had the impression we could touch it with our fingertips. That contrast was entrancing.
When we arrived, we left our vehicle on a parking to take the shuttle that led us to the different viewpoints. Above us, a beautiful rainbow appeared like it came from the depths of the canyon. It marked a fine end to a small rainfall too brief to thwart our happiness of the moment. The magic already happened.
We took the first shuttle to get to the furthest viewpoint with the intention of join the other ones successively walking along a trail. A condor was playing the game of photographers as he stayed perched a long time on a rocky peak a few meters away from us. We had some time, so we allowed ourselves to make stops on the way to photograph or simply contemplate that amazing site. Obviously, the crowning achievement was the sunset: the rocky cliffs got adorned with superb glowing colors.
Then we took the shuttle again to get back to the starting point. We stayed to have a picnic under the countless stars and admire the deep night sky, as entrancing as the nocturnal silence.
The day after, we wanted to admire the Grand Canyon at sunrise like we did in 2013, still enchanted by the memory of that fabulous moment. We went back to the same spot. We saw does on the parking, and we were able to approach them very easily. Maybe it is the reason why we came a little late. Indeed, the first light of the sun already started to emerge from the horizon. We missed the first minutes of that breathtaking spectacle, when you can make out the outlines of the canyon before it gets revealed little by little. It's a pity.
Eager to discover some more, we went further than we did three years ago, following the trail. After a bend, a vertical rock formation rose in the heart of the gorges, reminding us the Thor's Hammer in Bryce Canyon. Further, the rock shaped small natural terraces, to which some planks were added to make benches in order to admire the view.
On our way back, we saw another doe and approached it easily as well. It was not wild at all, not the least bit disturbed by our presence, so much so that it slowly lied down in front of us to have a few minutes rest after it ate its fills on succulents in the undergrowth. That was a fabulous shared experience.
The best was yet to come: the over flight in helicopter with the Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters Company, my wonderful birthday present a few days early. It was a surprise from my mother, J.R. and our friend. Those two last-mentioned, who obviously took that flight with me, maintained the excitement until the very last moment. Just before, they showed us a video with the instructions to follow. From the first seconds of the takeoff, the sensation was amazing. The height was intoxicating, and we were caught between the will to enjoy every moment and the impatience of finally fly over the canyon, from which we were getting closer and closer while admiring those gorges that were slowly revealing. We saw the South Rim, and above all the North Rim we were then discovering, for it is wilder and less easily accessible. It is more covered with greenery, and the visual effect was really striking as we were moving straight from the plain to the deep gorges that seemed to stretch away endlessly into the distance. It was a totally different way to assess one more time all the hugeness and the majesty of that site. Once again, we felt very small and were like amazed children in front of that fabulous natural spectacle. It was a really vivid experience, the ideal to end in a blaze of glory our return to Grand Canyon. Moreover, the pilot and the ground staff were very nice and very helpful. We took the time to talk with them as we were still under the emotion of that unforgettable escape.
Finally, we hit the road again to reach Monument Valley, our next destination. We made an unexpected stop with other drivers for a stag was on the roadside. Many vehicles were stopped on the shoulder and we parked behind them to dismount. Like the doe we met in the morning, it let people approach it easily as it was grazing the vegetation on the ground or on shrubs.
We could not resist the desire to stop at another viewpoint. There we saw with amusement a dog sitting quietly on a low wall to admire the canyon. It seemed to ignore the visitors’ cheerful comments, giving itself up to its long silent contemplation. Obviously, the Grand Canyon exerts a powerful fascination on every being without any exception. After we visited it twice for a long time and in various ways, we are not surprised at all.
Grandiose and magical landscape, its colors are beautiful at sunrise and sunset. Located in the Navajo reserve, it is one of the strangest sites created by nature. From this vast valley of earth and pink sand rise mesas, flat-topped monoliths with vertical rock faces, as well as «cathedrals of the desert», impressive rocky peaks. Some of these extraordinary formations are erected skyward at a remarkable height, and sculpted into fantastic vertical shapes.
Moreover, the place is legendary because many movies were filmed there. Of course, we think of westerns, including those from John Ford. But we had especially «Thelma & Louise» in mind, which among other things made us want to visit Monument Valley and Western America in general
The Valley Drive track threads its way through these huge rocky blocks dotted about the desert. It takes about 2 hours or 2 hours and a half to cover the loop. It is preferable to venture there with a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The use of an ordinary car is allowed and possible, but requires the utmost caution, and a slow and smooth driving.
We were able to admire that site out of the ordinary at sunset just after our arrival, the same day we contemplated Grand Canyon at sunrise. We were conscious of our great privilege to have brought together in one single day the visit of the two inevitable national parks in Western America, moreover at times of day when they display all of their splendor. The spectacle was magical, with a breathtaking beauty. The warm and bright colors of sand, mesas and «cathedrals of the desert» contrasted with the shade they cast to the ground.
We stayed once again in the View Hotel, which is located inside the site. From the balcony of our room, we had the impression we could touch the «cathedrals of the desert» with our fingertips. The entrance hall is a patio with a fabulous and very typical decoration: magnificent photographs and paintings on the Wild West theme, rugs and Navajo art objects.
As we were always eager to see more, we woke up very early to admire once again the site at sunrise, and the magic of the place and the moment was indeed still there.
Before we leave definitively Monument Valley to go to Moab, Utah, we made a last stop at Goulding’s Lodge, located in front of Rock Door Mesa. More than a lodge, it is a very small village with dwellings, of course, then a Navajo Museum, a gift shop, a theater, a restaurant, a swimming-pool, a grocery, a gym and a gas station. For western fans, the visit of the John Wayne’s Chalet is inevitable. A period cart and a period diligence complete the picture.
Finally, an important detail: be aware that in Navajo territory, mostly located in Arizona, there is a + 1 hour time difference compared to the rest of the state.
Published on October, 28th 2017