Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Gettin' Our Kicks

One of the best things about driving around northern Arizona is that with every turn, over every rise, around every corner, the landscape seems to change. Driving along Highway 89, there are parts of the roadway where, on the west side, you see rolling hills: directly to the eastern side of the two-lane highway, tall, jagged cliffs.

As you climb and approach Flagstaff, tall, snow-capped mountains loom in the distance. Cars pass you with ski equipment strapped to the rooftops. In the middle of this desert state is a forested, mountainous territory.

Flagstaff is a booming railroad town and still hosts some of the original strips of the historic Route 66, the interstate that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. Along this stretch of highway, you can still see the neon-lit hotels and restaurants that attracted travelers from as far back as the Dustbowl era to the Hippy age. You can still drive along some of the original route, as well as a stretch of the 
diversion of the late 40s, which remained until 1967.

In Flagstaff, you can still get your kicks on Route 66.

Thanks to my sister, we were able to stay for a couple of days in a cabin just to the south of Hwy. 40, on the easternmost end of the town. It was a spacious shack, surrounded by tall trees, with a backyard view of Humphrey's Peak. One leisurely morning, as we were enjoying breakfast, no less than five deer trotted through our back yard, in a pack, and around the side. Standing quietly on our deck, the deer seemed to pay little attention as they trespassed to our neighbours.

In those moments, we came to the realization that Arizona is diverse in more than its landscape.

If you're a tourist, Flagstaff can be enjoyed in one day. You can have a life-altering breakfast burrito at Martanne's Burrito Palace (which we visited on our way from Phoenix to Page), a rich coffee and pastry at Macy's European Coffee House & Bakery, or partake of some local craft brew at Beaver Street Brewery*. You can wander the streets and photograph some of the old hotels and restaurants, or check out the old railway station, which is now the tourist office. There are lots of shops to help you fill your day.

For dinner, we tried a classic Route 66 diner, Galaxy, which has welcomed travellers with their burgers and shakes since 1955. 

In the evening, the best attraction is made for when the sun goes down. The Lowell Observatory is credited with being the astronomy site where Pluto was first discovered. The observatory hosts a couple of large telescopes as well as smaller, portable ones. On our visit, we were able to get a great view of a half moon, which accentuated the craters with shadows. Imagine holding a basketball about a foot away from your face: that's how big the moon appeared.

We also were treated with a view of Jupiter and four of its moons, and the Orion cluster, which consists of three stars plus the greenish glow of a fourth, forming star. Way cool.

The Lowell Observatory is also a great place from where you can view the town of Flagstaff, with Route 66 glowing brightly.

Flagstaff was a quiet and underrated town for our trip, but I enjoyed it immensely. If I ever return, I'm going to have to try skiing in its famous snow bowl, a ski area that is more like a crater, with peaks on all sides.

From Flagstaff, we continued south, through Sedona, back to Phoenix, and on to Tucson. On Thursday, I'll show what we saw and what we did. Tomorrow, Wordless Wednesday, shows you some of the old signs and night scenes along Route 66.

Stay tuned.

* For a review of the beers of Beaver Street, check out Thursday's Beer O'Clock post.

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