Western Trips

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Towns in Arizona / Downtown Flagstaff

Flagstaff Arizona has the distinction of being either directly on or very near to many historic sites and attractions. For those enjoying a southwestern road trip, Flagstaff is located directly on Interstate 40 which makes it quite easy to take advantage of everything this northern Arizona town has to offer. The historic downtown area of Flagstaff is alive with activities, annual events, great restaurants and historic hotels such as the Weatherford Hotel shown in the photo below.

weatherford hotel in flagstaff
Weatherford Hotel, Flagstaff AZ
So how did this beautiful small town in Arizona at the foot of San Francisco Peaks get it's name? The story is that a group of easterners who traveled to the then new territory, just won as a result of the Mexican American War, came upon a spring at the base of the San Francisco Peaks. The pioneers were quite impressed with the area and communicated their discovery to the federal government. The group was impressed by the available water, the timber and the fact that there was suitable grasslands for cattle grazing. As a result, a project was started to build a road across northern Arizona that would help emigration to California.

A man of many accomplishments by the name of Edward Fitzgerald Beale supervised the building of this road. Beale's career included being a frontiersman, military officer, hero of the Mexican American War, explorer and Indian superintendent. Of special note in Arizona history of course is Edward Beale's surveying the land which would become the first wagon road through northern Arizona. Those traveling northern Arizona today will notice how directly westward Interstate 40 runs. Beale made some observations about the new road he had surveyed. One was that the road crosses the Arizona desert at it's narrowest point and that nowhere on the road is available water more than twenty miles apart. Edward Beale's road across northern Arizona would lead the way decades later to be a part of historic Route 66 as well as portions of today's Interstate 40.

downtown flagstaff arizona
Hopi Building and public square in downtown Flagst
During the era of western settlement of the southwest, Flagstaff was among other things a prosperous lumber town. In 1857, U.S. President Buchanan commissioned Beale to build a 1,000 mile road between Fort Defiance New Mexico, across northern Arizona to the banks of the Colorado River that was the border of California. Interestingly enough, Edward Beale headed west with the famous army Camel Caravan. This was a group of camels imported from Tunis as a sort of experiment in their possible military benefit at the request of Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War. While the camels could travel for days without water, they apparently scared the horses and eventually the experiment was scrapped. It was said that the camels didn't present the romantic aura of a cavalry mount and this was another reason for it's discontinuance. Nevertheless, Edward Beale made history with his camel caravan while surveying for the proposed Arizona wagon road.

Two additional related historic articles we've published regarding northern Arizona are the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon and also the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

flagstaff downtown
Shops in downtown Flagstaff
The Weatherford Hotel located just one block north of Route 66  was established in 1899 by John W. Weatherford. This impressive structure was built with brick per the new ordinances in Flagstaff because of devastating fires. In fact, fires were the number one problem with many western towns including most of the California gold mining towns. After fires burned early wooden structures to the ground, more and more buildings were erected with brick, stone and iron. Thanks to the hotel's current owners who saved this structure from being torn down, the Weatherford Hotel is operating today and treats guests with a trip back into history. The hotel's address is 23 North Leroux Street right in the middle of Flagstaff's historic downtown.

train depot in flagstaff arizona
Flagstaff Arizona train station
Another interesting historic site in the city of Flagstaff is the train station. The train depot serves to as both an active train station on the route of Amtrak's Southwest Chief running between Chicago and Los Angeles and as a tourist visitor center. Any information you need regarding your Flagstaff visit can be found at the train depot. The tracks are quite active with both Amtrak and the many BNSF freight trains passing by Flagstaff daily.

Flagstaff offers Arizona vacationers a hub to explore nearby sites such as the Grand Canyon to the northwest, the superb old west town of Williams Arizona on Route 66  which is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway and just a short drive west on Interstate 40 plus the world famous Lowell Observatory on the west side of town. In addition to this, popular Sedona Arizona is only a thirty mile drive south on Arizona Hwy 89-A. Add to this the many hiking trails in the San Francisco Mountains, which are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions, just north of Flagstaff and you have a great place to spend several days during your Arizona vacation.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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