Arizona’s Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Flagstaff Regions
by Lee Foster
The Phoenix/Scottsdale and Flagstaff regions, so rich in natural beauty, are best described in a Navajo song, which reads, “In beauty I walk: beauty before me, beauty behind me.” The San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, so lovely for the traveler, were sacred to the Hopi and Navajo as the homes of their yei or kachina spirits. Humphreys Peak, at 12,633 feet, is the tallest point in the state. The mountains support a ponderosa pine forest that is one of the largest such pine forests in the world.
The mountains, surrounded by deserts, might be seen as “islands in the sky.” With the rise in elevation, the amount of rainfall trapped by the mountains increases as the temperature cools, making pine forests the appropriate plant form.
The 20th-century creation of dams, such as the Roosevelt Dam of the Salt River Project, in 1911, made life possible in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area for large numbers of people. Arizona’s state motto is “God enriches,” Ditat Deus, but the motto was only fully realized when water projects made sustainable life possible. The more recent invention of air-conditioning, many would argue, has made life bearable here during the severe heat of summer. Phoenix is known as the Valley of the Sun, a winter resort haven, but a summer ordeal. The triple digit temperatures exude a heat tempered only by the dryness of the air. Misters in homes, restaurants, and even on public transportation, suffuse the air with a fine spray of water, which drops the temperature.
Phoenix/Scottsdale and Flagstaff flourish because of high tech manufacturing and construction, not to mention tourism. Phoenix is home for 1.3 million people, Scottsdale for 203,000, of the 5.1 million people who live in Arizona. Flagstaff is miniscule by comparison, with 57,700 residents.
Arizona politicians sometimes embarrass the locals because outsiders respond with laughter at what they hear. Without the discipline of entrenched major parties, the state seems to encourage the rogue businessman who believes one can run the government like a business. A notable number of high officials have been recalled, indicted, or sued by the Federal Government for fraud. Voting down Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a holiday alienated many travelers; the state now recognizes this January date as a paid holiday.
GETTING TO PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE AND FLAGSTAFF
Phoenix/Scottsdale and Flagstaff are in the central part of the state, with Flagstaff in the north central and Phoenix/Scottsdale in the south central position.
Phoenix boasts a prominent international airport, set in the fertile Salt River basin with the toothy Superstition Mountains to the east. Flagstaff has an airport with limited commercial flights.
Phoenix/Scottsdale is on the Interstate 10 route running from California through the state to New Mexico. The road from California begins with a pleasing highway rest stop at Ehrenberg, where you see sweeping views of low mountains with sharp peaks. Signs at the rest stop alert travelers to the prospect of dust storms. The best advice when facing a dust storm is to get good local information, available from local radio broadcasts, then wait it out rather than attempt to drive through it.
Moving east, Quartzite is a prominent rockhounding town, with several good rock shops. The area was once the Tyson Wells Stage Stop, a place known for good water, but little grass. Aside from the rock shops, the area has a depressing appearance with tinny, aging trailers.
As you approach Phoenix, mountains rise to the north and south of Highway 10. Sheep grazing and alfalfa fields become prominent at Tonopah. Vegetables and wheat are also raised in the plateau around Phoenix because Salt River dams insure year-round agricultural water.
Flagstaff is also on a major through highway, Interstate 40. Flagstaff is the gateway to the Grand Canyon.
HISTORY OF PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE AND FLAGSTAFF
After the Apaches were subdued in the late 19th century, the main problem for development of Phoenix/Scottsdale was an inadequate water supply. Flagstaff, with its position near the San Francisco Peaks, found a readier supply, but because of its altitude and thinner soil, there was relatively less farming opportunity. The farmland around Phoenix, especially in the lower Salt Valley, promised impressive crop yields, even in the sun-drenched winter months, if water could be assured. It is said that Arizona now grows 103 commercial crops with this abundant water, added to its warm, dry, sunny climate. Dams on the Salt River, starting in 1911, provided that water supply and enabled the city to rise, as a phoenix, in the desert. The city is said to rise, symbolically, from the ashes of the Hohokam native village that once flourished here. A relief map of the water projects, visible at the Phoenix Airport, acquaints you with this historic story of regional development.
MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE AND FLAGSTAFF
The “season” in Phoenix, for travel, is October through May. Summer months are bearable only in an air-conditioned environment. Flagstaff, with its mountain position, remains pleasantly cool, even in summer, and offers snow recreation in winter.
The best resource in Phoenix for the cultural explorer is the Heard Museum, which boasts the most prominent kachina doll collection in existence. The collection is known as the Goldwater Kachina Doll Collection, so named for the collector, former Senator Barry Goldwater. Kachinas are the sacred gods of the Hopi and Navajo, who are said to exist in the mountains. The kachina dolls are images, or representations, of the spirits. The kachinas are only a small part, however, of the elaborate permanent exhibits at the Heard, where you can see weaving, pottery, silver, and basketry work of Southwest peoples from all eras, including today. The museum emphasizes the natives’ relationship with the land, whether the Sonora Desert, the pine-clothed uplands, or the Colorado Plateau. The Heard sponsors an annual spring Native American Fair that attracts many artisans. At the fair you can see a Papago basketmaker or a Hopi potter at work. Each day at the museum, you can see at least one native artisan at work. On the landscape around the museum you’ll see several sculptures by Alan Houser, whose rounded and blanket-wrapped figures seem absorbed in the mystery of life.
Parts of the Heard collection are sometimes not shown as the museum undergoes restoration. In that case, a traveler needs to be patient and catch the full collection at a later visit.
Phoenix/Scottsdale does not enjoy the thick, historic, cultural texture that a traveler will find in Tucson. However, climate and business activity have made Phoenix/Scottsdale prominent, and its central location assisted in wrestling state capital status from Tucson. The Wigwam, west of Phoenix, is typical of the luxurious resorts catering to travelers in the Phoenix area. The Camelback Inn and the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa are other resort contenders. Scottsdale has several world-class destination resorts, such as the Phoenician, The Boulders, and the Scottsdale Princess.
In downtown Phoenix, visit the Civic Plaza, which epitomizes the area’s growth. Skyscrapers such as the Valley Bank attest to the business prosperity of the area. Phoenix is a flat, spread-out city, as is Tucson, but Phoenix extends over a greater area, if its satellite cities are included. There are some fun and lyrical elements in the downtown area. Like many cities, such as Denver and San Francisco, the location of the baseball stadium right in the downtown helps to add an element of life to the urban scene. The lyrical nude sculptures of John Henry Waddell in front of the Herberger Theatre suggest that there is some artistic freedom in this sometimes conservative state.
The Pueblo Grande is a major 13th-century Native American ruin within Phoenix, at 4619 E. Washington Street. The ruin amounts to the largest of some 50 mound sites in the region. Probably, the mound was a residential and administrative site for the tribal elite, the chiefs, the water engineers, the medicine men, and the astronomers who predicted rain. Excavations indicate that the early residents, starting in 450, were master farmers with increasingly sophisticated irrigation skills. Pueblo Grande was the center of the irrigation system, which included 1000 miles of canals watering 100,000 acres of crops, mainly corn, beans, squash, and cotton. The population may have peaked around 1200. Why the Pueblo Grande people appear to have abandoned the site around 1450 remains uncertain. Perhaps drought, flood, warfare with the Pimas, and the gradual salinization of the soil, reducing crop productivity, were factors. The Pueblo Grande people possessed a highly-developed culture, complete with trade routes extending deep into Mexico, art to ornament their pottery, woven cotton garments, and the social organization required to maintain a water-distribution system. Both the outdoor trail to the platform mound and the indoor museum displays at the site merit considerable time to peruse. It is said that the Pueblo Grande people had learned to cultivate more species of plants than any other pre-European-contact culture in North America.
The Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix’s Papago Park offers a good introduction to desert flora. The gardens cover 150 acres at 1201 N. Galvin Parkway. Blooming peaks between March and May. The botanic gardens are a joy to stroll through, with their striking Robert Wick sculptures and delicate golden torch cacti. A visitor learns how the mesquite tree, a legume, was the tree of life for the native Americans, providing a dependable bean protein source.
Flagstaff’s residents live high in the mountains surrounded by ponderosa pine. A long, straight pine tree used as a flagpole for the July 4, 1876 centennial celebration gave the community its name.
The nightspot at which to see two-stepping cowboys twirl gals in tight-fitting jeans is The Museum Club. The building is unusual as a roadhouse because several living trees provided the original, literal support for it. The trees now remain as pillars. Live music at The Museum Club can put you in a western mood. The proprietor is also active in the revival of the Route 66 designation for the main thoroughfare in town, evoking a nostalgic pre-Interstate America. Along Route 66 one could get one’s kicks.
Flagstaff is a major trading place for Native American arts and crafts. In summer, the locals can send you to lovely mountain picnic settings, some accessible by car, and others, such as Lockett Meadow, requiring a substantial hike. Northern Arizona University is located in the city.
Flagstaff also boasts an outstanding museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona. Founded in 1928, the mandate of the museum was to focus on the Colorado Plateau, showing its geology, biology, and human history. Flagstaff residents especially wanted the artifacts found in the region to remain here, so a major effort of the museum is research rather than exhibits. Only a small portion of the holdings are on display. You’ll see pottery, bone tools, yucca shoes, woven fabrics, rabbit sticks used to hunt rabbits, copious amounts of jewelry, and kachina dolls. The exhibits include spear points from Paleolithic peoples here between 15,000-8,000 B.C. There are touching small split twig figurines of deer, from 8000 B.C. The museum store adjacent to the display area is a good place to buy quality Native American crafts at a favorable price. Each summer the museum hosts Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni art shows that attract outstanding artisans.
The house of the most prominent family in town, the Riordans, who founded the prosperous lumber business, has been turned into a state park. Visit the Riordan Mansion to see a fine example of American Craftsman architecture, a style that emphasized practicality and ingenuity. The Riordans dined at an oval table, for example, so all could converse without turning their heads. The swing in the living room suggests a family informality that was a direct reaction to the Victorian era.
Celebrations such as the Fourth of July and the Coconino County Fair in Flagstaff are important community events. A Flagstaff Summer Fest encourages cultural activities.
Lowell Observatory, near Flagstaff, played an important role in astronomy in this century. Astronomers here focused their attention on planetary studies, especially of Mars. Pluto was discovered at this observatory in 1930. The observatory is a good example of American philanthropy working to advance science. It was founded above the town on Mars Hill in the 1880s by Percival Lowell, of the Boston Lowells. The Lowell and Cabot families of Boston had a high regard of their prominence, as is evident in the Boston ditty describing how the “Cabots spoke only to Lowells, and the Lowells spoke only to God.” Light “pollution” from Flagstaff, which reduces the clarity of the atmosphere, has destroyed the usefulness of the observatory, but you can still see the 32-inch Clarke telescope. Research continues to be conducted at nearby Anderson Mesa.
The Arboretum at Flagstaff is a major pleasure, showing effectively the flora of the high desert and mountain region known as the Colorado Plateau. Wildflowers, especially penstemons, can be seen and identified here throughout the summer. The Arboretum is close to town on 200 acres at a 7,150-foot elevation, one of the highest-elevation arboretums you are likely to experience. You can walk through groves of aspen and pine trees and view the San Francisco Peaks in the background. There are separate gardens emphasizing Shade, Herbs, and Butterflies for the local gardener seeking advice. There are about 2,500 species of plants in the Arboretum, half of them natives, including about 30 rare and endangered species. All the native plants have evolved to flourish in the short 70-day growing season. The Arboretum is in the midst of the largest ponderosa pine forest of Earth, the Coconino forest.
Skiing is popular near Flagstaff at the Arizona Snowbowl in the San Francisco Peaks.
NEARBY TRIPS FROM PHOENIX AND FLAGSTAFF
When you have extra days to look around in this region, there is much to see. Consult a map and make some judicious picks from these suggestions to use your time wisely.
Wherever one travels in Arizona there is a sense of wide open spaces destined to remain in their present condition. The public ownership of most of the land insures that citizens will always enjoy this terrain. About 56 percent of the state is owned by the federal and state governments. Native Americans own another 26 percent. Private individuals hold the remaining 18 percent.
South from Phoenix, along Interstate 10, an intriguing destination is the Gila River Cultural Center, with its elaborate crafts shop and its park of re-created Native American habitations. The store sells blankets, jewelry, baskets, pottery, and other arts or artifacts. Historically, the Gila were known as a hospitable people, an agricultural tribe composed of capable farmers raising beans, corn, and cotton. Explorer Kit Carson was received here with typical Gila hospitality. The tribal chief said to Carson, “Bread is to eat, not to sell. Take what you want.”
The most fascinating part of the Gila Cultural Center is the cluster of habitations re-created on the grounds by various Arizona tribes. The Hohokam, which literally means “those who have gone before,” lived in heavy mud huts. Papago built a square structure of ocotillo ribs. Gila and Maricopa people lived in thick thatch dwellings. Apache, a word that simply meant “the enemy,” lived in tepee-like structures supported by aspen poles and covered with yucca fibers or bear grass. Both here and in northern Alaska there is discussion about how linguistic details of the Apache language parallel those of the Athabascans in Alaska, indicating a shared origin of the peoples who probably crossed the Bering Strait to North America some 12,000 years ago.
South and east of the Gila Reservation is the Casa Grande, a remarkable four-story structure built in the 14th century. When missionary Eusebio Kino passed through here and described the structure in 1694, the ruins were already deserted. He named it the “great and large house” or Casa Grande. The ample population, obvious food surpluses, and architectural attainments of the natives were considerable to create and sustain such a structure. Its purpose as a ceremonial or living space is not clearly understood. Today the National Park Service has covered the Casa Grande ruins with a metal umbrella to prevent further erosion.
The Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix offer an appealing drive on a route called the Apache Trail. The road climbs through attractive cactus forests and passes several lakes created behind dams. At the end of the road is the large Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The Superstitions can appear black in the high sun of noon, but their appearance softens in the early morning and at sunset. Sagebrush and lone saguaros dot the road at the lower elevations. Blooming century plants may greet the traveler at the higher elevations. On the trip you pass the old mining ghost town of Goldfield and the Lost Dutchman State Park. A favorite dining location in the area is known as the Mining Camp.
West of Phoenix is the mountain resort area of Wickenburg, with its guest ranches and other lodgings. Formerly a working cattle ranch area, the town now supports artists and restaurants that cater to the traveler.
Ballooning, jeep rides, and horseback rides are possible close to Phoenix/Scottsdale. Balloon flights take place at dawn. Horseback rides take you into saguaro cactus country, with the mountains on the horizon.
Arcosanti, the visionary architectural creation of Paolo Soleri, can be visited at Cordes Junction, north of Phoenix. The futuristic site is two miles east of the main road. Soleri attempts to blend his vision of architecture and ecology into a philosophy that he describes as “arcology,” which attracts followers from around the world.
North from Phoenix, the elevation rises gradually after you pass Cordes Junction. The most appealing stop is Montezuma Castle National Monument, a celebrated cliff structure with a confusing name. The structure consists of a cluster of houses, built with stone and adobe mortar into cliff caves. The cliff overhang provided shelter. Beaver Creek and the abundant vegetation of the area, plus good farmland, made this a favorable place of habitation.
Montezuma Castle approaches in its complexity what you can see at the great cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde in Colorado. Unfortunately, the most prominent dwellings at Montezuma’s Castle have been destroyed with time. The destroyed Castle A, for example, consisted of an estimated 45 rooms, housing about 100 people in the period 1200-1450 A.D. Castle is a misnomer, of course, because these are cliff dwellings. Montezuma, the Aztec chieftain from Mexico, had nothing to do with the place, compounding the confusion of names.
A walk along the creek bank near the cliff dwellings reveals why this was such a choice location. Beaver Creek offers a well-watered domain of towering cottonwoods. There are ample walnuts, an added food source, and abundant mesquite trees, a legume whose pods were harvested for the choice beans inside.
Adjacent to Montezuma Castle is the frontier Fort Verde outpost, a place crucial for establishing law and order during the Apache troubles in the 19th century.
Moving north toward Flagstaff, you ascend gradually into the Coconino National Forest, a lovely drive through a high pine forest between 4,000-6,000 feet above sea level. The entire Coconino forest is 1.8 million acres of recreational, lumber, and mining land. The forest is named after the area’s Coho native people. As you approach Flagstaff, snow-capped Humphreys Peak among the San Francisco Peaks looms in the distance. All of the San Francisco Peaks figured prominently in the Native American religions of northern Arizona. The chair lift at the Arizona Snowbowl takes skiers into this snowy domain in winter and remains open in summer to take hikers up to see, among other things, rare stands of bristlecone pines.
Flagstaff is the snowy place to be in Arizona in the winter. The locals go south to Phoenix or Tucson for warm winter sun, causing a migration pattern that reverses in summer, when the overheated valley people seek out the cool mountain climate. The summer daily high temperature in Flagstaff tends to be the summer daily low temperature in Phoenix.
Just south of Flagstaff is the famous Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock area of Arizona. The red and white sandstone rocks and cliffs, the creek, and the abundant broadleaf trees, both cottonwoods and oaks, make this one of the most scenic places in the state. The town of Sedona is an artsy place with many painters and craftspeople selling their wares. Certain new-age religion enthusiasts gather here because of what they perceive to be strong magnetic impulses or vortexes. Small lodges with cozy named like Casa Sedona are hidden away. A major shopping stop flourishes in a cluster of craft places called Tlaquepaque, as in Guadalajara’s famous shopping area. Sedona bills itself as the “Town of Four Mild Seasons,” which can’t be said for Phoenix or Tucson, excessively hot in summer. One of the pleasing views in the Sedona region is along a drive up the Schnedley Hill Road. Use caution in driving the full distance up if you have an RV rather than a passenger car. The road becomes quite narrow and winding, so turn back if in doubt. The most famous view point is at the Schnedley Hill Vista, where you gaze at continuous lines of cliffs known as the Mogollon Rim. From Sedona you can take backroad jeep tours, such as the Broken Arrow tour, organized by Pink Jeep Tours and others, to see the choicest red rock locations. If you want a good place to hike, Bell Rock could be a recommended trail. Sedona is also a fine dining location, especially at restaurant Oaxaca, where the spinach cheese dip, guacamole, and southwest quesadillas are good choices.
East of Flagstaff is the only-in-Arizona tour de force, the 4,150-foot diameter Meteor Crater, where a huge celestial object impacted the earth. The object has been analyzed to determine it consists primarily of the element nickel. Also east of Flagstaff, the Walnut Canyon National Monument encompasses a hospitable canyon with an abundant number of cliff dwellings, testifying to the large populations here around the year 1200 A.D. You can hike to the bottom of the canyon.
North of Flagstaff, on one of the roads to the Grand Canyon, are two interesting stops, Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument.
Sunset Crater is a large volcanic depression remaining from several eruptions between 1064 and 1250 A.D. Lava flows and cinder piles in the area are extensive. The Wupatki Monument (Wupatki is a Hopi word for “tall house”) celebrates the Sinagua native culture from a relatively prosperous period, roughly 1200 to 1400 A.D. After the Sunset Crater volcano erupted, the ash that covered the ground brought agricultural prosperity, due to its ability to retain rainwater. The natives who survived the blast quickly developed their farming skills to take advantage of this phenomenon. Living in sedentary settlements, they tended their crops and advanced their architectural skills. At Wupatki, several of their more impressive housing settlements are preserved on an open and wind-swept plateau. The builders were capable masons, chinking together their flat rocks with an adobe mortar. Wupatki is famous in archaeological excavation circles because artifacts from here confirmed that elaborate trade routes extended from northern Canada to southern Mexico. One Mexican item of trade was a latex rubber ball that was used for some kind of ball game in the two major ball courts at Wupatki. Ball courts are found frequently in the ruins of both Mayan and Aztec cultures. Wupatki is the northernmost outpost of the ball park influence.
The Cameron Trading Post at the junction of the turn into the Grand Canyon, where Highways 89 and 64 meet, offers many native artifacts for sale. The glories of the Painted Desert and Monument Valley, east and north from Cameron, approximate the splendor of the silver, pottery, and wool artifacts found at the trading post. Besides the main shop, ask to see The Collector’s Gallery, in an adjacent building. The Gallery features some of the finest examples of crafts you’ll find in Arizona. Blankets, baskets, kachinas, silver work of several kinds, and pottery are some of the artifacts displayed.
If a traveler is inquisitive and likes to explore vast open spaces, the Phoenix-Scottsdale and Flagstaff regions could entice with a week of rambling.
PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE AND FLAGSTAFF: IF YOU GO
The overall Arizona state tourism information address is: Arizona Office of Tourism, 1110 West Washington, Suite 155, Phoenix, AZ 85007, 866/275-5835, www.arizonaguide.com.
Some other useful addresses for the visitor are:
Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, One Arizona Center, 400 E. Van Buren, Suite 600, Phoenix, AZ 85004, 602/254-6500, www.visitphoenix.com.
Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau, 211 West Aspen Avenue, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, 800/842-7293, www.flagstaffarizona.org.
Sedona-Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 478, Sedona, AZ 86339, 520/282-7722, 800/288-7336, www.sedonachamber.com.
Personalized tours in the region to any of the main attractions or off the beaten path can be organized by Detours, 480/633-9013, www.detoursaz.com.
Copyright © 2015 Lee Foster, Foster Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.
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