May 25 – 27, 2016: We departed Sedona for Flagstaff, Arizona and drove over some very beautiful and mountainous terrain.
I hadn’t realized Flagstaff is at an elevation of approximately 7000 feet; it was noticeably cooler than Sedona and the night-time temperatures dipped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The greater Flagstaff area is home to three National Monuments: Sunset Crater Volcano, Wupatki, and Walnut Canyon National Monuments. Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments are linked via a 35 mile scenic drive. A single entrance fee covers both monuments. We began the scenic drive at the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument Visitor Center and our first stop was the brief A’a Trail. The rough jagged landscape of basaltic lava was stunning and surreal. This landscape is the result of the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano approximately 1,000 years ago.
Our next taste of the landscape was on the one mile round-trip accessible Lava Flow Trail. The trail is located at the base of the Sunset Crater Volcano and I loved how the side of the volcano appeared – half forested and half dark lava sand. It used to be possible to climb up the volcano but this is no longer allowed. Similarly, sledding is not allowed. So, no volcano boarding opportunities like there were in Nicaragua (Cerro Negro volcano boarding in 2010 was only part of an amazing Nicaragua trip).
After the Lava Flow Trail, we continued on the scenic drive, stopping at the overlooks as we descended from approximately 7000 feet to 4900 feet in elevation. The landscape changed from high elevation ponderosa pine forests to lower elevation grasslands as we entered Wupatki National Monument.
Within Wupatki National Monument we viewed lots of pueblos:
- Wukoki (located on a sandstone outcrop),
- the Wupatki Pueblo complex of 100 rooms complete with a ball court and geologic blowhole (tip: use the loaner guidebook from the visitor center),
- Nalakihu, and
- Lomaki (a series of pueblo ruins along a box canyon)
Our visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument was short because Island Trail, which descends into the canyon, was closed. This left only the accessible Rim Trail as our vantage point to view the cliff dwellings.
On our way out of Flagstaff, heading towards Petrified National Forest National Park, we stopped at Meteor Crater in Winslow, Arizona ($16 per person admission, after AAA discount). The crater is the result of a meteorite impact approximately 50,000 years ago. The crater is almost one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and 550 feet deep. Visitors are able to view the giant crater and visit the interesting associated museum.
TIP: If you’d prefer to explore the Flagstaff area without having to camp, check out these Flagstaff, Arizona accommodation options.