When we left Sedona and the Verde Valley at the end of April we still had a little over a week before our reserved, much-anticipated stop at Grand Canyon. We easily could have gone back to Verde River RV Resort–they weren’t full–but we decided we’d done and seen everything that we wanted to in that area, we were weary of the hot desert wind sweeping through Camp Verde at times, and we were ready to see new sights. So, while we waited for our appointed time at Grand Canyon, our first interim stop was a long weekend in Flagstaff, staying at Greer’s Pine Shadows RV Park.
Flagstaff has a historic downtown district full of shops, restaurants, and brewpubs (at least seven), and they proudly tout that the old Route 66 runs through it, but after spending an afternoon and evening there we weren’t very impressed. The district was very commercialized, prices mostly seemed expensive for what you would get, and there was no free parking available anywhere–every lot and street had parking meters. (Other places we’ve been, such as Wickenburg, have plenty of free parking, making for easy and comfortable access to shops, dining, and other attractions.) I don’t mind spending money at these kinds of places if the prices are reasonable, but I don’t like it when they make me feel like I can’t do much of anything without keeping my wallet open.
However, Flagstaff does have several nearby national monuments and we were excited to visit two of them, Walnut Canyon and Sunset Crater.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon displays cliff dwellings built by the Sinagua people similar to what we saw at Montezuma Well, but on a much grander and more elaborate scale. We hiked the Island Trail, which drops down quite a bit and proceeds around an “island” promontory jutting into the canyon that was the hub of the Sinagua community here (although other smaller groupings of dwellings can be seen on other walls across the canyon).
The Island Trail has 273 stair steps down (and back up) and we saw quite a few people breathing very heavily and stopping frequently as they slowly made their way back up, which made us grateful for our good health and fitness. The park service clearly points out that “Going down is optional. Returning is mandatory.” It was interesting to see how the Sinagua people used the natural erosion of the cliff walls and natural materials to build shelters that would protect them from the elements. And, it was notable how small their rooms were–they were obviously a smaller people and apparently didn’t mind living in close quarters–and how much their fires blackened the ceilings in their living quarters.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Sunset Crater showcases a volcano cinder cone and lave flows, in a beautiful setting, from an eruption around 1085 AD.
We enjoyed hiking the short interpretative trail that provides close-up views of Sunset Crater, which can support vegetation only on its moister north side, and the surrounding lava flows and smaller volcanic cones. The Visitor Center has some excellent exhibits on the eruption that created this area.
Our next interim stop was in Prescott, where we stayed at Point of Rocks RV Campground for four nights. Prescott also has an historical downtown area, surrounding a wonderful county courthouse square, but unlike Flagstaff they offered plenty of free parking and a more appealing, friendly ambiance.
The courthouse plaza has sculptures on each side. This one memorializes Captain William “Bucky” O’Neill and the other Teddy Roosevelt Rough Riders.
Directly across the street from the courthouse plaza is the block known as Whiskey Row. When it last burned down in 1900 (there were several fires previously) it already had quite a few saloons, but it was rebuilt with about 40 saloons (hence the name). When the 1900 fire started patrons helped the employees hurriedly move furniture and libations out of many of the saloons, placing everything on the courthouse lawn across the street–where many continued drinking and playing music while others fought the fire. Now the block still has a few historic saloons, but also interesting shops and restaurants.
We visited Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum, which is a campus of historical buildings (the original governor’s cabin and a later windmill shown above), artifacts, and exhibits covering frontier days and Native American history of the area. Preserved and developed by Sharlot Hall, a remarkable and very persuasive woman that first opened the museum in 1928, the museum continues to add to its excellent collection.
We also hiked Prescott’s Watson Lake Trail, which we conveniently accessed via a short walk from our campsite. (The image at the top of this post is also from Watson Lake.) Set among fantastic granite dells, we enjoyed the beautiful blue lake, blooming pincushion cactus, and following the trail over and around the many rock formations.
We enjoyed our brief stay in Prescott. In addition to natural beauty, friendly people, minimal traffic and lots of outdoor and indoor activities, we also took advantage of shopping at Costco and eating at In-N-Out Burger. What more could we ask for? We’ll look forward to returning to Prescott in the future.
Next: Grand Canyon