There’s much to see and do in Northern Arizona in addition to the Grand Canyon, particularly if you have an interest in Native American history and culture.
Flagstaff is also a jumping off point for day trips to see ancient petroglyphs, the ancient rock art of the Native Americans, as well as several unique attractions ranging from the Petrified Forest National Park and Monument Valley, one of the most scenic locations in the American Southwest, to the Meteor Crater, the best preserved crater created by a meteorite in the world where NASA Astronauts have trained.
While many travelers zoom through Flagstaff on their way to the Grand Canyon, the city is home to one of the country’s oldest astronomical observatories, Lowell Observatory, as well as one of the nation’s best museums of Native American art and culture, Museum of Northern Arizona.
Following is a sampling of some of the more interesting attractions in Northern Arizona.
Meteor Crater is the breath-taking result of a collision between a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour and planet Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep.
It is an international tourist venue with outdoor observation trails, air conditioned indoor viewing, wide screen movie theater, interactive discovery center, unique gift and rock shop, and Astronaut Memorial Park at the modern Visitor Center located on the crater rim.
The visitor center is located off I-40 at exit 233 (35 miles east of Flagstaff, 20 miles west of Winslow), Meteor Crater Road, then 6 miles south on the paved road.
The full-service RV park is located at the Interstate exit.
Museum of Northern Arizona
The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff provides an excellent introduction to the Native people who live in Northern Arizona, especially the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni. The museum’s permanent anthropology exhibit documents 12,000 years of Native American tribal life on the Colorado Plateau.
The museum also offers two-day festivals that feature the music, dance and artwork of Native American tribes. These include the 81st Annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture, July 5–6; and the 65th Annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture, August 2–3.
Lowell Observatory is a private, nonprofit, research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. A national historic landmark, Lowell is one of the oldest observatories in the United States.
Research conducted at this observatory had led to several important discoveries, including the realization that the universe is expanding; the discovery by Lowell of the planet Pluto in 1930; the co-discovery of the rings of Uranus in 1977; the discovery of periodic variations in the brightness of Halley’s Comet; and the first detection of water in the atmosphere of an extra-solar planet.
Lowell Observatory is located in Flagstaff at a 7,200-foot elevation.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Sunset Crater Volcano was born in a series of eruptions sometime between 1040 and 1100. Powerful explosions profoundly affected the lives of local people and forever changed the landscape and ecology of the area.
Lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed. But among dramatic geologic features, you’ll find trees, wildflowers, and signs of wildlife—life has returned.
Self-guided Lava Flow Trail is a one-mile loop through the Bonito Lava Flow at the base of Sunset Crater.
Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument preserves many free-standing masonry pueblos, field houses, rock art, pottery, baskets, and tools. In total there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within the monument, but five of the largest—Wupatki, Wukoki. Citadel, and Nalakihu—are close to the main road and these are the only sites open to visitors.
All the dwellings were built by the Anasazi and Sinagua Indians during the 12th and 13th centuries
Wupatki is reached by the same loop road that passes Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, adjoining the main north-south route US 89.
Beauty before me I walk,
Beauty behind me I walk,
Beauty above me I walk,
Beauty below me I walk,
Beauty all about me I walk.
In beauty all is restored,
In beauty all is made whole.
—Navajo Blessing Way