Today Flagstaff, with a population of more than 60,000, is the largest city in northern Arizona. It is nestled at the base of the San Francisco Peaks at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, surrounded by one of the world’s largest pine forests.
Thomas F. McMillan was the first permanent resident of the area, arriving in 1876. He built a cabin and raised sheep. The sheep and cattle business and the timber industry contributed to Flagstaff’s growth, with rail service reaching Flagstaff in 1882.
An impressive Tudor style railroad station that opened in 1926 now serves as Flagstaff’s visitor’s center. You can pick up a map of the Old Town district at the visitor’s center and take a walking tour of renovated buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
We were amazed at how much there is to see and do in Flagstaff. We took time in the late afternoon to stroll through Old Town, reading historic markers, picking out a restaurant from the menus posted on the windows, and inhaling the aromas wafting out to the sidewalk.
You will find students from the Northern Arizona University sitting with their books open on coffeehouse tables or lounging on benches in the downtown park area.
Flagstaff, best known in Route 66 song lyrics for being on the way to or from somewhere else, now encourages passers-through to stop and look around. Those history buffs who like to get their “kicks on Route 66” will no doubt want to get stickers for their rigs and T-shirts when they stop in Flagstaff.
A short distance from downtown Flagstaff, up Mars Hill Road, is the Lowell Observatory. The observatory was founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, who made important observations about the planet Mars and initiated research that led to the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Lowell spent most of his life at the site, and a former observatory on the grounds was turned into his mausoleum. The current, working observatory hosts a gigantic telescope mounted deep in a rotund amphitheater.
We also visited the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Pioneer Museum, both located on N. Fort Valley Road, a short drive from the center of town. We enjoyed watching a group of school children explore the exhibits at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Children, as well as adults, are fascinated with the prehistoric animal skeletons and rock formations. A highlight of the museum is the reproduction of a kiva—a meeting place and ceremonial room for Native Americans.
We parked our RV across the street from the Museum of Northern Arizona and made a picnic lunch on the grounds of the Pioneer Museum. The museum building was constructed in 1908 as a county hospital. Exhibits include farm machinery, medical equipment, toys and household items. Also on the grounds are a blacksmith shop, a cabin and a 1910 barn with a sheep wagon and a 1923 American LaFrance fire truck.
Flagstaff serves as a central location for day trips to Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona, Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. Snow sports are also an attraction in winter at the nearby Flagstaff Nordic Center and the Arizona Snowbowl.
Today’s travelers can do as the pioneers did—stop where they see the American flag high on top of the pole, camp for the night and visit awhile before continuing on their way.
Marilyn McDonald is a writer and RVer who lives in Oregon and Mexico.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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