Flagstaff is a place for the outdoors hiking through pine forests and aspen groves, skiing and snowboarding in the mountains, exploring ancient Indian ruins and climbing the cinder cone of a volcano that erupted 1,000 years ago. It's also a university town with a museum of Native American arts, crafts, and artifacts and a museum inside the 40-room mansion shared by two pioneer families who ran a logging business in pioneer days. And it's the gateway to northern Arizona, at the junction of Interstates 17 and 40 with the Grand Canyon, the red rocks of Sedona, and the reservations of the Navajo and Hopi all within driving distance.
Flagstaff sits at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, the forested remains of an extinct volcano that erupted millions of years ago. The caldera formed by that eruption now hosts a lush alpine environment notable for having the world's largest contiguous stand of ponderosa pine. The earliest settlers, however, didn't pick Flagstaff's. Ancient Indians instead settled to the east in Walnut Canyon, which was thriving by 600, and north in Wupatki, which by 1100 had the largest pueblo in the region and was a crossroads for other Indian cultures to the north, south and east. White explorers came later. In 1855, Lt. Ned Beale was surveying a road from the Rio Grande in New Mexico to the Colorado River and passed through the area where Flagstaff now stands. While camping nearby, Beale had his men cut the limbs from a pine tree to fly the U.S. flag. Beale's route became the Beale Wagon Road and was followed by the railroad and highways later.
Flagstaff became a commercial and transportation hub and boomed with white settlers after the arrival of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad in 1882. The railroad ran from New Mexico to California, and Flagstaff was the largest town on the railroad between Albuquerque and California. Route 66, which passed through Flagstaff and connected Chicago and Los Angeles, was established in 1926. The railroad and the highway brought not only goods but tourists, and Flagstaff leaders raised money to build the Monte Vista Hotel downtown in 1927 to provide first-class accommodations. A series of low-cost motels also rose along Route 66 to serve tourist families. Currently I-40 and I-17 have had serious construction work and many visitors have seen construction equipment and highway crews slowing down traffic.
The Lowell Observatory was established in 1894, and that spurred interest in developing a teacher's college for Flagstaff. The Legislature passed a bill in 1899 to establish the Northern Arizona Normal School, and it opened that fall with classrooms in a single building that now is known as Old Main. The school's name was changed to Northern Arizona University in 1966. Flagstaff received a further boost as metro Phoenix boomed after World War II, with desert residents finding a city in the pines to be an attractive escape from the heat for a summer weekend or for a second home.
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Population: 60,222 (Census Bureau estimate for 2008)
Land area: 63.6 square miles County: Coconino (Flagstaff is the county seat)
Altitude: 6,903 feet above sea level Climate: Mild summers, cold winters, and moderate humidity.
Climate: Annual precipitation of 23 inches. Skies clear or partly cloudy 164 days a year. Summer weather: Average high in July is 82, with just four days each summer above 90. Average low in July is 51. Monsoon storms in the summer can bring severe thunderstorms with heavy rain, large hail and strong winds.
Winter weather: Frequent light to moderate snows, with an annual average of 109 inches of snow. January has an average high of 37 and low of 12.