U.S. Route 89 heading south of The Gap Trading Post in Cameron, Arizona, was like driving over asphalt moguls. With the fifth wheel chugging behind the truck, we rocked side to side, up and down, and forward and backward as we rolled over the recently paved road. Motion sickness set in for the duration. I can’t imagine why Arizona DOT would intentionally pave over bumps and hills.
The AAA tour book listed a few places to explore in Flagstaff, so as we rolled into town we scanned the signs for places to park the rig. J and H looked promising with its pull-through sites and thick gravel roads. We checked in for three nights on October 12, 2017. We would have gone for four or maybe even five nights, but the park closed on the 15th.
Although they are an RV park with a number of restrictions—no kids, no smoking, no campfires, no motorcycles, no rig washing—we would stay there again for the quiet and the mature trees. We don’t have kids or motorcycles, don’t smoke, can do without campfires, and can wait to wash the rig in another location.
Historic Downtown Flagstaff and Railroad District
Thomas F. McMillan established the first permanent settlement in 1876 when he built a cabin at the base of Mars Hill before the city’s establishment in 1882. By 1886, the surrounding area had grown into the largest city on the railroad line between Albuquerque and the West Coast of the United States. In a 1900s journal entry, Sharlot Hall described the town as a “third-rate mining camp.” A description, I believe, accurate for a lot of towns in the west during that time.
Timothy and Michael Riordan moved to the Arizona Territory in 1880 and formed the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company shortly after. They later married women from Cincinnati who were sisters and built a home in 1904 (see Riordan Mansion State Park below). The brothers were instrumental in bringing electricity to the city, building a dam to create a lake and water source, and medical care for not only their employees but visitors and members of the community. They also founded a normal school, or teacher’s college, which eventually became Northern Arizona University (NAU).
The city prospered through the 1960s but experienced an exodus of businesses during the 1970s and 1980s when the companies either closed down or relocated to the new mall. In 1983, the railroad was added to the historic district and in the 1990s a downtown revitalization attracted new businesses and restaurants to set up shop. The historic district is now a vibrant business and commercial destination.
At an elevation of 7,000 feet, Flagstaff sits at the foot of Mount Elden, which is a large lava dome. The mountain offers plenty of trails to hike and explore. Unfortunately, we did not have time to pull on our hiking shoes and wander in the forest.
With our limited time in Flagstaff, we opted to try out a couple of restaurants instead of spending our time cooking and cleaning dishes.
We loved the casual atmosphere, bright colors, and Day of the Dead décor of MartAnne’s Burrito Palace where we ordered a tostada plate with chips and salsa to eat while we sipped our margaritas. We’ll definitely try other menu items the next time we are in Flagstaff.
Beaver Street Brewery, located in the Halstead Lumberyard Building, was the place to go for pizza and beer. The menu includes a full bar and beer on tap, along with an assortment of appetizers, fondues, hearty salads, sandwiches, and dinner selections. Diners are sure to find something to suit their palates.
Riordan Mansion State Historic Park
Located in the Historic Downtown near NAU, is the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park. In 1904, Michael and Timothy Riordan built the Arts and Crafts style duplex for their families. Built by Charles Whittlesey, the 13,000 square foot home is similar in style and architecture to the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Hotel, which was also built by Whittlesey. Ponderosa pine slab siding and volcanic stone arches adorn the exterior of the home. The wood siding was milled at the brother’s Arizona Lumber and Timber Company.
Timothy’s family occupied the east wing (on the right), and Michael’s family occupied the west wing (on the left). They shared the common area in between. Docents conduct 60-minute interpretive tours daily (except Christmas day) of the east wing, which is furnished with Edison, Stickley, Ellis, and Steinway family heirlooms.
No photos are allowed in the east wing where the tours are, so I only managed shots of the exterior and the west wing, which primarily housed information on the construction of the house and of the families and included a few roped off areas on the first floor.
Next up we continue our Flagstaff visit, take a tour of the Lowell Observatory, and learn about the cliff dwellers who made Walnut Canyon there home.