February in Flagstaff!

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On my birthday this year, we flew out to Flagstaff to visit our son Dan and his wife Meg and spend a few days getting to know Arizona a little better. We flew out of Bradley to Phoenix via O’Hare. O’Hare is my least favorite airport, so we will try for another route next time!

Where we stayed:

Sonesta Suites, in a two bedroom suite. A little pricey but for a stay of 5 nights, it was great to have the space to spread out in and we even made dinner here one night. We had explored AirBnB options but were not excited about the choices and honestly, they were not cheaper. The downside was that the kitchen facilities were really subpar and we did not make as many meals in our room as we thought. The location was not really ideal – it’s a little far out of town, but since we were roaming all over the place anyway, and it was next to the highway, it worked out just fine. Hope that the new Marriott Residence is ready next time we come because its downtown location is way better.

Food and Drink:

This is clearly our area of expertise and here are some places we tried:

  •  Javalina Cantina (Sedona) After a morning hike at the Courthouse butte loop we were ready for lunch! Shrimp tacos and margaritas hit the spot. The servers maybe overdid the cutesy hola senorita thing and it was kind of a sprawling dark wood paneled restaurant but there were nice views and the food was very good.
  • Criollo (Flagstaff) This is a great place in downtown Flagstaff that specializes in local stuff with a southwestern spin. Ray and I split some calamari and a steak frites with mole sauce and a melange of root vegetables. It was excellent and we even had some Arizonan wines, which we thoroughly enjoyed but could never find again!
  • Diabolo Burger (Flagstaff) Dan met us here for lunch after our return from another morning hike–this one in a desert region near Phoenix. It was also famous for its locally sourced products, and Meg was familiar with the ranch they get the beef from. The beef was absolutely excellent! Dan had a veggie burger and we all had beers. I loved mine, and I am not really a beer drinker, but don’t ask me what it was.
  • Cameron Trading Post (Cameron) In desperate need of coffee and bathrooms after our sunrise trip to the Grand Canyon we stopped here. It was this or a gas station so…. What a really quirky and delightful spot. We didn’t really eat anything, but the food looked good and we sure did know we were not in Connecticut. The trading post has been there for years – right off a Navaho reservation. There were crafts to buy if you like that kind of thing, and the people were very warm and welcoming. It was a great stop!
  • Cuvée 928 (Flagstaff) Truthfully, this place could have been in San Francisco or Boston. Nicely decorated bar with a good wine list, good lunches and looked like some nice cocktails. Ray did his “Can we have this from a freshly opened bottle?” routine, which always makes me cringe even if I know he is actually right to do it. The server did ask him to try the wine that had been opened last night and had been “kept in the cuvée” (never mind that the cuvée was not actually functioning as intended–it was just a really expensive refrigerator). The wine did not pass, but the server was really gracious about it, and we drank most of the newly opened bottle anyway. We ended up having a really long conversation with her and learned some interesting things about booking river tours through the grand canyon. Maybe someday!
  • Tourist Home (Flagstaff): Awesome coffee bar with pretty yummy sweet concoctions. It was a great place for an afternoon break!
  • Tinder Box (Flagstaff). Owned by the same folks that own Tourist Home, this was definitely the cool chic place in town. Dan and I had the duck, which was really good. Best ever? Nope, but still very good. A little too noisy for me, but that didn’t seem to bother the youngish crowd in attendance.

What we did–hike, hike and hike!

  • Courthouse butte loop trail Sedona. On our first day in Flagstaff, where the weather was gray and chilly, we drove about 45 minutes south to Sedona through a breathtaking forest of Ponderosa pines and twisting mountain roads. Sedona is known for its red rock, and even though it is not far from Flagstaff, the weather was sunnier and warmer! There are tons of trails winding through the mesas and canyons of all lengths and degrees of difficulty. Dan and Meg chose one for us which gave us about a 3 mile loop and was not too strenuous, but allowed us to get some exercise, breathe the air, soak up the sun, and enjoy that spectacular landscape.
  • Phoenix Sonoran Preserve Desert Tortoise Loop trail: Our second day in Flagstaff started out cold and chilly as well, so since Dan and Meg needed to work, we got an early morning start and set out to find some cacti! We zoomed south on the interstate back to Phoenix and landed in a natural preserve owned by the city of Phoenix. It was tucked away in an unlikely spot behind miles and miles of suburban homes. The attractive trail head offered water and restrooms! Yay! And soon we were picking our way through an entirely different kind of vegetation. Again, there were lots of trails to choose from and we chose a 4 mile loop that gave us great views and a variety of desert flora. We were back in Flagstaff early enough to meet Dan for lunch in Flagstaff!
  • Sunrise at Mather Point Grand Canyon Benefiting somewhat from remaining on east coast time, we left our hotel at 5:30 am in hopes of arriving at the Grand Canyon for sunrise. The bad thing about driving 90 miles or so before sunrise is that means you have to drive 90 miles or so in the dark. Ugh. But the upside was there was not much traffic once we got off the interstate, and the roads were fairly straight and flat. And we just about made it! Good enough, anyway! It was a chilly 28° when we arrived, but the crowds on a frosty February morn were not gigantic, there were elk and deer meandering about among the tourists, and once the golden light of dawn had ceded to blue-skied dazzling sunshine, we had the rim trail pretty much to ourselves. Hard to beat those views!
  • Drive along Desert View: We had approached the south rim of the Grand Canyon from the southwest, but drove along the canyon to the east when we departed. Desert View is a beautiful drive and offers lots of vistas worth the stop for photo ops.
  • Walnut Canyon National Monument: We do love being outdoors, but generally we like a little culture mixed in with our nature. We had not  yet seen any sites which could give us a feel for ancient civilizations until we arrived at Walnut Canyon – only about 20 minutes from our hotel. The visitor center offered a great video on the Sinagua tribe that inhabited the canyon from the seventh through the thirteenth century until drought (probably) drove them out. It was explained that few artifacts remained due to souvenir-crazed tourists in the nineteenth century!