Cooler Flagstaff a short drive to Grand Canyon, monuments

Flagstaff, Arizona, is not only a good destination to escape the hotter weather of Southern Nevada, it serves as the perfect base camp for a few one-day side trips to the state’s greatest sights. Within an hour or two from town you can be at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, sliding down a natural water chute near Sedona or visiting any of three national monuments.

At an elevation of about 7,000 feet, the city is surrounded by the world’s largest ponderosa forest, which no doubt contributes to its pleasant summer temperatures. Average daily highs through August are about 80 degrees , with nightly lows near 50.

Within Flagstaff itself you will find plenty to do. Highlights might include viewing celestial objects from the Lowell Observatory, (928) 774-3358; viewing choice Native American artifacts at the Museum of Northern Arizona, (928) 774-5213; or walking among the unusual high-desert plants of the Arboretum at Flagstaff, (928) 774-1442. Most enjoy touring the historic district, which reflects the city’s importance as a steam-era railroad town. At night there are restaurants, shops and art galleries to visit. Nearly all exude a hip vibe, thanks to youthful patronage from the nearby University of Northern Arizona.

Setting out south from town via Arizona 89A toward Sedona, you’ll pass through Oak Creek Canyon and Slide Rock State Park. The latter is a wonderful place to be in summer, splashing in the cool, fresh waters of Oak Creek or, if you are adventurous, sliding down the 80-foot natural sandstone water chute for which the park is named. But this is understandably a very popular summer place, so if you go, be there as soon as the entry station opens. The summer hours are usually 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily but are subject to change. Call 928-282-3034 or visit azstateparks.com.

From Flagstaff, you can easily visit all three nearby national monuments in less than a day. Walnut Canyon National Monument might be the first place to go, about 10 miles east on Interstate 40. This is one of the area’s premier parks to see cliff dwellings. These dwellings were built by people archaeologists call Sinaguans, who were hunters and gatherers, as well as farmers, and lived here from about 1150 to 1300. This time of year, the visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 928-526-3367 or go to nps.gov/waca.

From Walnut Canyon, return west toward Flagstaff on I-40, go right to U.S. 89 north and drive 12 miles to Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road. This will take you, in just a few minutes, to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The highlight here is the volcano crater, a vent atop a 1,000-foot volcanic cone. The most recent eruption apparently took place between 1040 and 1100. There are a couple of great base trails to hike, and along the loop drive you will see impressive lava fields. The visitor center is open in summer from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call 928-526-0502 or visit nps.gov/sucr.

From Sunset Crater continue up the loop road, and after about 20 minutes you will be in Wupatki National Monument. It is home to more than 2,500 archaeological sites, including its namesake, the Wupatki Pueblo. This structure was built on the base of a sandstone outcropping and the visitor center now stands in front of it, with a good view of the pueblo. Better preserved than most, the pueblo’s remains are among the most impressive in the Southwest. It once stood three stories and had about 100 rooms, and it is thought to have been occupied from the 1180s to about 1225. The visitor center is open daily in summer from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 928-679-2365 or go to nps.gov/wupa.

For Flagstaff-area lodging, restaurants and other information, go to flagstaffarizona.org.

Deborah Wall’s book “Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 hikes in the Southwest” ($24.95, Imbrifex) is available for preorder on Amazon and will be released Aug. 8. She can be reached at deborabus@aol.com.

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