Filed under: Historic Places & Landmarks, Nature & Wildlife, Scenic Byways/Historic Routes, State & National Parks
NPs near the Grand Canyon that are also worth the visit!
We recently drove through Flagstaff, AZ, and had the privilege of visiting the 3 National Parks that are located in the nearby vicinity. While everyone knows where the Grand Canyon is, and lots of us travel south from the G.C. through Flagstaff, many do not stop at the other, lesser known, National Parks located hereabouts. Our family decided to check them out, and maybe get a little bit further along on our quest to collect Jr. Ranger badges from every N.P. in the country that offers them. The 3 parks that are located near Flagstaff are:
Sunset Crater National Monument: Located just north of Flagstaff is Sunset Crater; a 1000 year old volcano. This cinder cone volcano is located in an area of over 600 volcanoes. Sunset Crater offers a fun visitor’s center complete with a station where you can create and measure your very own tremor! A short drive to the volcano takes you through an area where there are extensive lava fields on either side of the road (pic on left). Up at the volcano itself, there is a 1 mile walking trail (and 1/4 mile handicap trail) that leads through a lava flow, past a ice cave, and near the base of the volcano.
Sunset Crater is located along a loop of highway that extends off of I89N – and located along that same loop is:
Waputki National Monument: Waputki is a puebloan dwelling site that was built about 800 years ago. The visitor’s center has some great displays and is located very close to the main dwelling. The ruins at Waputki are unique in that the puebloan peoples used the existing sandstone boulder ridge to support and be an integral part of their construction. Also located here is a ‘blowhole’, which we found fascinating! A blowhole is an ‘earthcrack’ that leads to a cavern below - air is forced in or out of the crack based on the difference between barometric pressure up here and the air pressure down in the cavern; we thought of it as God’s air conditioning – and really appreciated being able to stop and enjoy the cool airflow on the warm day that we visited Waputki! Waputki offers a beautiful view of The Painted Desert!
Walnut Canyon National Monument: Walnut Canyon is a gorgeous canyon nestled in the mountains just east of Flagstaff. While the walk down to the cliff dwellings is not for everyone (we didn’t think it was the ‘extreme’ hike it is labeled – but there are 240 steps down to the path), the visitor’s center offers a breathtaking view of the canyon, and some of the dwellings are readily visible from the observation room located in the building. There is also a nice little museum, and a short film that tells about the puebloan people of the area.
We enjoyed visiting each of the 3 parks - they were very different from one another; even the landscape was drastically different, which was a surprise given the close locality of the parks!
All 3 parks offer Jr. Ranger programs where the kids can earn badges with the park’s name on them, and you can also purchase J.R. patches ($1.25 ea.) that list all 3 parks – we purchased them for our 7 rangers as a little treat for finishing all the booklets.
Sunset Crater, Waputki, and Walnut Canyon are all worth the drive if you happen to find yourself in the Flagstaff area! And don’t forget that the Jr. Ranger program isn’t just for kids! The rangers are tickled when adults ask to participate, and the badges you will earn make for great souvenirs and conversation starters!