Arizona – So Much More Than Desert

While on my Southwest trip I spent a week in Flagstaff Arizona. Part of the goal was to visit The Grand Canyon again but I also wanted to visit some of the other area attractions I didn’t have time for the last time I was there. Flagstaff has a special meaning because it’s really where these adventures started. I first visited in 2017, about a year after I adopted Bella. The reason I took the trip was to go on a vacation that I could take her on. We drove the whole way and stayed in AirBnbs and it was where I saw how much of a little travel dog she was. Even after 8-10 hour days of driving she wanted to sit up high and watch out the windshield. She was also so happy to go hike and explore every place we stayed. Consequently, I realized how much happier I was out traveling, not staying on a strict schedule and stopping when something sounded good.

We stayed the week at the Flagstaff KOA, which I would highly recommend. It’s one of those rare stays that I love where you are in the woods, with great views all around, but there is a grocery store almost across the street. It had the fun family appeal you expect from KOA as well as clean sites and plenty of amenities. This included the option to camp in teepees or cabins, take fun post card shots and a jump pad for kids. This particular KOA was one of my favorites to stay at because they also had a great store and breakfast café trailer every morning. Because of the time difference between Arizona and my office being out of the East Coast, my first meeting of the day was 7:00 am every day, so the breakfast and coffee I could walk to was a treat.

One warning about the campground is that the squirrels and Ravens are very bold. If you walk away from food for a minute, they will come after it. Bella was always on guard against them though, because nothing can cross the invisible line that our outdoor mat makes in the campsite. Another great thing about this campground is that it has a trail that takes you to the main trails of Mount Eldon. There is a gate at the back with a short trail leading right up to the mountain. This is the network of trails we hiked when we were there before and just like before, Bella loved the adventure through the woods and all the smells. It was great having a trailhead within walking distance because while she loves adventure, as she gets older and we travel a lot of consecutive days, there are days she will not get in the truck to ride.

This was a fun shot from that week. Unfortunately I never got to meet these people. They were only there one night and gone most of the day they were there. It was funny though the day I came back and the second T@G was there. From the front of the campground I could only see the second one and thought mine had been moved somehow.

When I was in Flagstaff previously it was in April so I thought it was the time of year to be cool, but even in August, the weather is ideal. Because of that the city has so many wonderful outdoor spaces and activities. One beautiful place we found was Buffalo Park. It’s a municipal park with walking paths, at the foot of Mount Eldon. The day we visited it was overcast and dreary but the grass and landscape was bright and beautiful. It has multiple options for paths of 1 -2 miles. It was a great after work option to get out.

While I was there I got to take off a full day to spend at the Flagstaff Arboretum, which like everything in Flagstaff, has views of Mount Eldon. The entire Arboretum has 200 acres of wild and cultivated land, so the area open to the public is just a small portion. Arboretums are one of my favorite places to visit anyway but I got a macro lens right before the visit so I wanted a lot of time to really test it out. Although it took some work to get the settings right, I was very happy with my first real use of the lens.

A fun fact about the Arboretum is that it was originally the residence of it’s founder, Frances McAllister, who first came to Flagstaff while she was passing through on the train in the 1930s. A portion of the land, along with a rustic cabin, were given to her by her husband as a wedding gift. After her husband died she moved to Flagstaff permanently and purchased the land surrounding the original plot and built a permanent residence. The gardens began as an experiment in figuring out what would grow at 7,000 feet and after putting in much work, decided the share her success and research with the public.

Arboretums are one of Bella’s favorite places to visit as well because there are plenty of bees, butterflies, lizards and other small things for her to watch. She is also a fan of sniffing all the flowers. One fun thing about this Arboretum is the mushroom and fungi garden that they also turned into a gnome and fairy garden. I was very pleased with the detail I was able to capture of the moss and mushrooms in the garden with the macro lens.

The Arboretum has continued in the original spirit of Francis McAllister by staying true to being as much as a research faclity as just a pretty place to visit. Their mission from the website is:

The Arboretum at Flagstaffs mission is to increase the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants and plant communities native to the Colorado Plateau. We strive to:

  • Identify, evaluate, display, and introduce plants adaptable to the climatic and soil conditions of the Flagstaff environment
  • Seek through scientific research innovative solutions to conservation issues of this high altitude environment
  • Develop educational programs that increase the understanding of the need for wise stewardship of our natural environment.

On outings like this I really do have the best little dog. She will lay and watch and give me time to set up shots. Her only displeasure on that day was that it did end up raining and she is not a fan of getting wet. We did find a place to wait it out in one of the research centers and greenhouse. This is where they have many plants started for future homing on the grounds.

Of course we had to go back to The Grand Canyon. Because I was working during the week we had to wait till a Saturday, since it is about an hour and half from Flagstaff. Just like at the Arches I was concerned about the crowds based on reports of record numbers of people visiting since the pandemic. But just like at The Arches, I had no issues. In fact I found less people and crowding than when I went in April on my previous trip, on a weekday. Because there wasn’t much of a crowd we got to spend the day much more relaxed than the last trip. We got there around 9:00 am and just leisurely drove to each viewing area and walked around each area. We also walked the rim trail for a while, after which I got Bella some ice cream, so she was the happiest little dog ever. She also got to meet an elk up close, that thankfully she was only fascinated with and did not bark at.

Although this trip was less stressful than the first, there was an unfortunate incident. I have to give a shout out to Canon cameras for making a really tough product. While walking around the village I managed to trip in a parking lot and hit my camera on the concrete when I did. It broke the bayonet ring off my lens so it wouldn’t stay on, but the camera still works fine. I was able to find a replacement bayonet ring for the lens and it still works fine too. It was just really bad timing since it was my zoom lens and it did limit my photography the rest of the day. But, hey, there’s another reason to go back.

I will end this post like I started it, with a comparison of time. I went back and found my pictures from our trip in 2017 and found my selfie with Bella at the rim of the canyon. This trip’s selfie was better since I had a better camera and tripod, but it’s still a great look back. I think Bella was happier this time, but I was happier that in pictures 4 years apart neither of us look very different.

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