After camping for three days in Moab, Utah, visiting three of Utah’s big five national parks, we broke camp and loaded up the minivan. Following a stop to fill up on fuel and a last visit to my new favorite coffee shop, Moab Roasters, we hit the road to start the trek home through Flagstaff. There was one snag, however. Fires in the Coconino National Forest north of Flagstaff, which according to multiple news outlets appear to have started around the time we were driving through along U.S. 89 four days prior, had grown significantly with the gusty conditions, closing our originally intended route to Flagstaff in northern Arizona. As a result, we would be taking an alternate route through Colorado and New Mexico before traveling into Arizona.
The route taken, U.S. 491 to I-40, is a north-south highway that serves the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The drive through Colorado was pleasant, with ranchland and the hills of the San Juan National Forest in the background. We passed within about 12 miles of Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado, a park we visited ten years ago when the kids were still little. From the time we entered New Mexico, we were in the Navajo Nation. It was a long stretch of desert, with communities interspersed along the highway. We made a stop in Gallup for lunch at Sonic, which we regretted when we remembered that both the food and the service were consistently subpar, then got onto I-40 which would take us directly to Flagstaff.
The last part of our trip consisted of two days in Flagstaff. The goal was to rest up and relax prior to heading back to the Los Angeles area via Scottsdale. We’ve stayed in Flagstaff on a number of occasions, both while passing through when en route to a further destination and as a vacation in itself. We had already visited the Flagstaff Area National Monuments back in 2016, as well as the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Park in 2018. Even so, there were still a few adventures to be had on this trip.
Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve- 3920 N El Paso Road, Flagstaff, AZ
Michael found a cool hike in Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. This park is located less than five miles from the Wyndham in northeastern Flagstaff. The city had acquired 478 acres back in 2012 to provide an area for education on archaeology, ecology, and geology. There are also exhibits and an outdoor school area. It is a popular spot for easy hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and bird watching.
We visited the park on a Thursday. After driving behind the Purina dog food factory, and parking not far from the nearby Wildcat Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant, I was ready for some not stinky fresh air. After checking out the map, we started counter-clockwise on the Tom Moody Trail. We passed the water treatment plant and the pond, which had around it number of birds. Indeed, the area is a designated Watchable Wildlife Site and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Just ahead of us was a school group on the trail. We met up with the group at the small waterfall in the basalt canyon less than a half-mile from the start of the trail; turns out they were a summer school program. The easy trail has a number of features that makes it perfect for just that purpose. After getting some water, we continued on the loop trail.
The trail was particularly pleasant on the day we visited. There was a nice breeze and mild temperatures, and the ponderosa pines made for some nicely shaded spots. The other cool thing about the park, in addition to the number of natural resources, is its cultural significance. Picture Canyon has petroglyphs left by the Northern Sinagua people, who lived in northern Arizona from about 700 till 1300. The Waterbird Site, named after the waterbird depicted on the stone, has a number of images etched in the stone. We appreciated the markings from behind the chain rope and took photos.
Continuing on the Tom Moody Loop, there was a cute bridge over the Rio de Flag, the small but important stream running through Flagstaff. This stream creates a riparian ecosystem in an otherwise semi-arid environment. There was a couple of bird watchers on this part of the trail, watching the small birds flitting in the grasses along the stream.
Other than the school group and handful of hikers and a mountain biker, the park was relatively quiet on a Thursday morning. It was kind of nice being in the quiet and enjoying the natural beauty within the city of Flagstaff. We hiked back to the car to pick up a few lunch items before heading back to the resort. It was a lovely, relaxing morning hike.
Places to dine:
The adventure wasn’t over yet. Sami’s favorite vacation activities include swimming in the pool and hanging out at the Bear Paw Activity center. We also like to enjoy a meal out while on vacation. On this trip, we tried three new places- two for dinners and one fun brunch spot. Both My Pita Wrap near Northern Arizona University and Oregano’s on Country Club Drive were pretty good for dinner. My Pita Wrap is a Mediterranean grill that also sells a small selection of grocery items. The food was reasonably priced and plentiful, and in addition to our three plates, we purchased a container of baklava, which was also pretty tasty. Oregano’s is an Arizona pasta and pizza chain with locations in the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas. Our meal on our second night in Flagstaff was a bit more than what we usually spend, but the food was good, and we also bought drinks. In the end, it was less than what we would likely spend for the same type of meal back in California.
But Sami and I particularly liked The Toasted Owl, a breakfast and lunch restaurant with a number of vegan and vegetarian plates and a ton of eclectic owl decor.
The morning we departed for Scottsdale and home, we stopped in at The Toasted Owl eastside location on Cortland. Though popular, we were seated right away on a Friday morning. The menu had a selection of typical breakfast/brunch fare as well as some interesting Southwestern-inspired dishes. The storefront is decorated with an eclectic collection of owl-themed decor, along with unique chandeliers and pendant lamps. The place had a really cool, vintage vibe.
Once we were seated, it was a little bit before our drink orders were taken, but our server made it up by bringing us a very large cinnamon roll. We of course had coffee, and then the tough decision was what to order. I ended up ordering the Owlapeño Scramble, a breakfast scramble that had jalapeño and jalapeño poppers, and served with tortillas and a side of breakfast potatoes. The scramble was good, especially with the green salsa, but what really made the plate were the potatoes. Those were fantastic. All of the items in the restaurant are for sale, just inquire with your server about price. I purchased one of the owl mugs, which I’ll probably use in my classroom at summer’s end.
There is so much to do in Flagstaff. The downtown area is also pretty fun with shops and cafes, not to mention the nearby natural features such as the Flagstaff area national monuments and the Coconino National Forest nearby. We took a few walks in the area around the resort, and the surrounding forests and mountain views made for some scenic views. As in times past, I really enjoyed our short stay in Flagstaff. It was the perfect place to relax before heading back through the scorching Sonoran and Colorado Deserts.
To plan your Flagstaff adventure, check out:
City of Flagstaff
The source information for Picture Canyon can be found here, as well as in the pamphlets at the trailhead. There’s so much to learn at this scenic and culturally significant park.
I truly enjoy our treks through northern Arizona. Flagstaff and Sedona are wonderful places to stop and recharge on a longer road trip or as vacations on their own. There are so many happy trails to enjoy along this road of life, especially in grand adventures meant to be shared.