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Flagstaff, Arizona
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Flagstaff (Navajo: Kinłání) is a city located in northern Arizona, in the southwestern United States. In July 2006, the city's estimated population was 58,213.[1] The population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area was estimated at 127,450 in 2007.[3] It is the county seat of Coconino County.[4] The city is named after a Ponderosa Pine flagpole made by a scouting party from Boston (known as the "Second Boston Party") to celebrate the United States Centennial on July 4, 1876.[verification needed]

Flagstaff lies near the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau, along the western side of the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the continental United States.[5] Flagstaff is located adjacent to Mount Elden, just south of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in the state of Arizona. Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet (3,850 m), is located about 10 miles (16 km) north of Flagstaff in Kachina Peaks Wilderness.

Flagstaff's early economy was based on the lumber, railroad, and ranching industries. Today, the city remains an important distribution hub for companies such as Nestlé Purina PetCare and Walgreens, and is home to Lowell Observatory and Northern Arizona University. Flagstaff has a strong tourism sector, due to its proximity to Grand Canyon National Park, Oak Creek Canyon, and historic Route 66. The city is also home to medical device manufacturing, including such companies as W. L. Gore and Associates, and Machine Solutions.
Flagstaff ca. 1899; view of Post Office and other buildings on Terrace Street.

In 1855, Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale surveyed a road from the Rio Grande in New Mexico to Fort Tejon in California, and camped near the current location of Flagstaff. The lieutenant had his men cut the limbs from a straight Ponderosa Pine tree in order to fly the United States flag.[6]

The first permanent settlement was in 1876, when Thomas F. McMillan built a cabin at the base of Mars Hill on the west side of town. During the 1880s, Flagstaff began to grow, opening its first post office and attracting the railroad industry. The early economy was based on timber, sheep, and cattle. By 1886, Flagstaff was the largest city on the railroad line between Albuquerque and the west coast of the United States.[6]

In 1894, Massachusetts astronomer Percival Lowell hired A. E. Douglass to scout an ideal site for a new observatory. Douglass, impressed by Flagstaff's elevation, named it as an ideal location for the now famous Lowell Observatory, saying: "other things being equal, the higher we can get the better".[7] Two years later, the specially-designed 24-inch (610 mm) Clark telescope that Lowell had ordered was installed. In 1930, Pluto was discovered using one of the observatory’s telescopes. During the Apollo program in the 1960s, the Clark Telescope was used to map the moon for the lunar expeditions, enabling the mission planners to choose a safe landing site for the lunar modules.[8] In homage to the city's importance in the field of astronomy, asteroid 2118 Flagstaff is named for the city, and 6582 Flagsymphony for the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra.
Old Coconino County Courthouse from Birch Avenue, June 2005

The Northern Arizona Normal School was established in 1899, renamed Northern Arizona University in 1966.[6] Flagstaff's cultural history received a significant boost on April 11, 1899, when the Flagstaff Symphony made its concert debut at Babbitt's Opera House. The orchestra continues today as the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, with its primary venue at the Ardrey Auditorium on the campus of Northern Arizona University.[9]

The city grew rapidly, primarily attributable to its location along the east-west transcontinental railroad line in the United States. In the 1880s, the railroads purchased land in the west from the federal government, which was then sold to individuals to help finance the railroad projects.[10] By the 1890s, Flagstaff found itself located along one of the busiest railroad corridors in the U.S., with 80-100 trains travelling through the city every day, destined for Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.[11][12]

Northern Arizona University's Old Main building.

Route 66 was completed in 1926 and ran through Flagstaff. Flagstaff was incorporated as a city in 1928,[6] and in 1929, the city's first motel, the Motel Du Beau, was built at the intersection of Beaver Street and Phoenix Avenue. The Daily Sun described the motel as "a hotel with garages for the better class of motorists." The units originally rented for $2.60 to $5.00 each, with baths, toilets, double beds, carpets, and furniture.[13] Flagstaff went on to become a popular tourist stop along Route 66, particularly due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon.

Flagstaff grew and prospered through the 1960s. During the 1970s and 1980s, however, many businesses started to move from the city center, and the downtown area entered an economic and social decline. Sears and J.C. Penney left the downtown area in 1979 to open up as anchor stores in the new Flagstaff Mall, joined in 1986 by Dillard's. By 1987, the Babbitt Brothers Trading Company, which had been a retail fixture in Flagstaff since 1891, had closed its doors at Aspen Avenue and San Francisco Street.[14]

In 1987, the city drafted a new master plan, also known as the Growth Management Guide 2000, which would transform downtown Flagstaff from a shopping and trade center into a regional center for finance, office use, and government. The city built a new city hall, library, and the Coconino County Administrative Building in the downtown district, staking an investment by the local government for years to come. In 1992, the city hired a new manager, Dave Wilcox, who had previously worked at revitalizing the downtown areas of Beloit, Wisconsin and Missoula, Montana. During the 1990s, the downtown area underwent a revitalization, many of the city sidewalks were repaved with decorative brick facing, and a different mix of shops and restaurants opened up to take advantage of the area's historical appeal.[14]


As home to a major astronomical observatory, the city has recognized an interest in preserving its dark skies by keeping light pollution to a minimum. In 1958, the city council passed the nation's first ordinance governing outdoor lighting, and similar ordinances in the latter half of the 20th century have maintained this commitment to preserving Flagstaff's dark skies.

On October 24, 2001, Flagstaff was recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association as the world's first "International Dark-Sky City."[15][16]


Flagstaff is located at 35°11′57″N 111°37′52″W / 35.19917°N 111.63111°W / 35.19917; -111.63111.[17]

At 7,000 feet (2,121 m) elevation, located adjacent to the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in North America, the area around Flagstaff is considered a high altitude semi-desert.[5] However, ecosystems ranging from pinon-juniper studded plateaus, high desert, green alpine forest and barren tundra can all be found within a short drive of Flagstaff.[18]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 63.6 square miles (164.8 km²), of which 63.6 square miles (164.7 km²) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) or 0.06 percent is water.

The Flagstaff Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) encompasses all of Coconino County.[19] On July 1, 2006, the total population of the Flagstaff MSA was 124,953.[20]

San Francisco Peaks from Flagstaff.
View of Flagstaff from Mars Hill.

Downtown Flagstaff lies immediately to the east of Mars Hill, the location of Lowell Observatory. Streets in the downtown area are laid out in a grid pattern, parallel to Route 66 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Rail Line, running east-west through the city. Milton Road branches off from Route 66 west of downtown, and travels south, adjacent to the Northern Arizona University campus, to the junction of Interstate 17 and Interstate 40. Milton continues to the south, becoming State Route 89A, and traveling through Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona. Traveling north from downtown, Fort Valley Road (U.S. 180) connects with the Museum of Northern Arizona, Arizona Snowbowl, and Grand Canyon National Park. Traveling east from downtown, Route 66 and the railroad run in parallel toward East Flagstaff (and beyond), at the base of Mount Elden. Much of Flagstaff's industry is located east of downtown, adjacent to the railroad tracks, as well as in East Flagstaff.

Several towns are located close to Flagstaff along Interstates 40 and 17. Approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) south are the small urban areas of Kachina Village (west of I-17) and Mountainaire, Arizona (east of I-17; 2 miles). Both of these areas were built in the early 1960s as second homes for people escaping the Phoenix heat in summer. Recently these areas are now permanent all-year-round housing. About 35 miles (56 km) to the west is Williams, 20 miles (32 km) to the south is Munds Park, which features a semi-public Golf Course called Pinewood, and 30 miles (48 km) to the south on AZ HWY 89a is Sedona. 15 miles (24 km) to the east of Flagstaff is the town of Winona, mentioned in the famous song, Route 66. Holbrook is 90 miles (144 km) to the east.

[edit] Climate

Flagstaff has a highland semi-arid climate (Koppen climate classification BSk) with four distinct seasons. The combination of high altitude and low humidity provide mild weather conditions throughout most of the year, and the predominantly clear air radiates daytime heating effectively. Temperatures often fall precipitously after sunset throughout the year, and winter nights can be very cold. Despite being less than 150 miles (241 km) from Phoenix, the average temperatures are approximately 25 °F (14 °C) cooler, due to its higher elevation.[21]

Winter weather patterns in Flagstaff are cyclonic and frontal in nature, originating in the eastern Pacific Ocean. These deliver periodic, widespread snowfall followed by extended periods of fair weather. This pattern is usually broken by brief, but often intense, afternoon rain showers and dramatic thunderstorms common during the so-called monsoon during July and August. Summer temperatures are moderate and high temperatures average around 80 °F (27 °C).[6] The record high temperature is 97.0 °F (36.1 °C) on July 5, 1973, and the record low temperature was -30 °F (-34.4 °C) on January 22, 1937.[22]

The average annual precipitation is 22.91 inches (58.2 cm) and annual snowfall averages 100.3 inches (254 cm), making Flagstaff one of the snowiest cities in the United States.[23] Overall, the city enjoys an average of 283 days without precipitation each year, and the climate is officially classified as "semi-arid." Although snow often covers the ground for weeks after major winter storms, Flagstaff's relatively low latitude and plentiful winter sunshine quickly melt much of what falls, and persistent deep snowpack is unusual.[6] One notable exception occurred during the severe winter of 1915-1916, when successive Pacific storms buried the city under nearly seven feet (2 m) of snow, and some residents were snowbound in their homes for more than one week.[24]

According to the 2000 census[28], there were 53,894 people, 19,306 households, and 11,602 families residing in the city. The July 2006 estimated population of the city was 58,213.[1] The population density was 831.9 people per square mile (321.2/km²). There were 21,396 housing units at an average density of 336.5 per square mile (129.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 77.9% White, 1.8% Black or African American, 10.0% Native American, 1.2% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 6.1% from other races, and 2.9% from two or more races. 16.1% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. The city's African American population is considerably lower than the U.S. average (1.8% versus 12.3%), while the Native American population is markedly higher (10.0% vs. 0.9%). This is primarily attributable to the city's proximity to several Indian reservations, including the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, and Yavapai.[29]

There were 19,306 households out of which 32.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.0% were married couples living together, 11.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.9% were non-families. 23.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 3.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.59 and the average family size was 3.13.[29]

In the city the population was spread out with 24.3% under the age of 18, 21.7% from 18 to 24, 30.5% from 25 to 44, 18.2% from 45 to 64, and 5.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 27 years. For every 100 females there were 98.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.4 males.[29]

The median income for a household in the city was $37,146, and the median income for a family was $48,427. Males had a median income of $31,973 versus $24,591 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,637. About 10.6% of families and 17.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.6% of those under age 18 and 7.0% of those age 65 or over.[29]

As a college town, Flagstaff's population is considerably more educated than the U.S. average. 89.8% of the population has a high school diploma or higher, while the national average is 80.4%. 39.4% of the population has a Bachelor's degree or higher, compared to the national average of 24.4%.[29]


The violent crime rate, such as murder, robbery and rape, is very low in Flagstaff. However, the property crime rate, including larceny (theft) and burglary, is considerably higher than the average for Arizona cities. In 2002, the FBI's Uniform Crime Report indicated a crime index (incidences of crime per 100,000 population) for Flagstaff of 5,597, with 535 cases of violent crime and 5,062 cases of property crime. Of the 5,062 property crime cases, 4,042 cases were classified as theft.[30] While the property crime rate fell in 2005, it is still high for a town of this size.

BNSF train travels through downtown Flagstaff. The rail and freight industry has long been a part of the city's economy.

In its early days, the city's economic base comprised the lumber, railroad, and ranching industries. Today, that has largely been replaced by tourism, education, government, and transportation. Some of the larger employers in Flagstaff are Northern Arizona University, the Flagstaff Medical Center, and the Flagstaff Unified School District. Tourism is a large contributor to the economy, as the city receives over 5 million visitors per year.[6]

Scientific and high tech research and development operations are located in the city, including the Lowell Observatory and Northern Arizona University. Lowell Observatory continues to be an active astronomical observatory and a popular visitors center which hosts educational displays and tours. It has a distributed network of small telescopes which together create images of celestial bodies with much higher resolutions than any other single telescope can produce. Current research is involved in observations of near-Earth phenomena such as asteroids and comets. The observatory is also involved in a $30 million project with the Discovery Channel to build the Discovery Channel Telescope, a sophisticated, ground-based telescope with advanced optical capabilities for future projects.[31]
Purina PetCare building in Flagstaff.

There are five industrial parks in the city, situated near I-40 and I-17. Major manufacturers in Flagstaff include W.L. Gore & Associates, widely known as the maker of Gore-Tex; Nestlé Purina PetCare, manufacturer of pet food; SCA Tissue, a major tissue paper producer; and Joy Cone, manufacturer of ice cream cones. Walgreens also operates a distribution center in the city.[6]

Air cargo carriers FedEx Express and UPS Airlines fly direct from Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, and the city has ten motor freight carriers. The one-day travel truck radius extends to Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Albuquerque, El Paso, Los Angeles, and parts of Mexico. Rail cargo transportation is served by the BNSF Railway.[6]

With proximity to Grand Canyon National Park, the city also has a thriving travel and tourism industry, with numerous hotel and restaurant chains. The downtown area is home to two historic hotels, the Weatherford Hotel and the Hotel Monte Vista. The first hotel of the Ramada Inn chain opened in 1954 at the intersection of U.S. Route 66, 89 and 89A adjacent to what was then Arizona State College (now Northern Arizona University). The original building is still intact, operating as a Super 8 Motel.[32]

[edit] Arts and culture
The Orpheum Theater in downtown Flagstaff features a wide variety of concerts and other performances.

Flagstaff has an active cultural scene. The city is home to the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, which plays concerts from September through April at Ardrey Auditorium on the NAU campus.[9] The city also attracts folk and contemporary acoustic musicians, and offers several annual music festivals during the summer months, such as the Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music Festival, the Flagstaff Music Festival, and Pickin' in the Pines, a three-day bluegrass and acoustic music festival held at the Pine Mountain Amphitheater at Fort Tuthill Fairgrounds.[33][34][35] Popular bands play throughout the year at the Orpheum Theater, and free concerts are held during the summer months at Heritage Square.[36]

Flagstaff is home to an active theater scene, featuring several groups. Northern Arizona University Department of Theatre is an active and successful theatre program that produces quality productions for the community as well as the campus. The department has won many prestigious awards including multiple invitations to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. NAU Theatre performs in two facilities including the Clifford E. White Theatre (named for long-time Theatre professor Clifford E. White) and the Studio Theatre. Both facilities are housed in the Fine and Performing Arts Building on campus.The season includes 4 mainstage and numerous second stage productions and a summer collaboration with Theatrikos Theatre Company. Theatrikos Theatre Company, the community theater company, was founded in 1972 in the basement of the Weatherford Hotel, and today puts on five major productions per year. The group recently moved into a new venue in 2002, the Doris-Harper White Community Playhouse, a downtown building which was built in 1923 as an Elks Lodge and later became the Flagstaff library.[37] Since 1995, the Flagstaff Light Opera Company has performed a variety of musical theatre and light opera productions throughout the year at the Sinagua High School auditorium.[38] There are several dance companies in Flagstaff, including Coconino Community College Dance Program, Northern Arizona Preparatory Company and Canyon Movement, which present periodic concerts and collaborate with the Flagstaff Symphony for free concerts during the summer and holiday seasons.[39]

A variety of weekend festivals occur throughout the year. The annual Northern Arizona Book Festival, held in April, brings together nationally known authors to read and display their works.[40] The Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival is held every spring, featuring outdoors, environmental, and other experimental films.[41] The summer months feature several festivals, including Hopi and Navajo Festivals of Arts and Crafts, the Arizona Highland Celtic Festival, Pride in the Pines,[42] and the Made in the Shade Beer Tasting Festival.[43] The Coconino County Fair is held every September at the Fort Tuthill County Fairgrounds, featuring a demolition derby, livestock auction, carnival rides, and other activities.[44]

On New Year's Eve, people gather around the Weatherford Hotel as a 70-pound, 6-foot (1.8 m) tall, metallic pine cone is dropped from the roof at midnight. The tradition originated in 1999, when Henry Taylor and Sam Green (owners of the Weatherford Hotel), decorated a garbage can with paint, lights, and pine cones, and dropped it from the roof of their building to mark the new millennium. By 2003 the event had become tradition, and the current metallic pine cone was designed and built by Frank Mayorga of Mayorga Welding in Flagstaff.[45]

The Museum of Northern Arizona includes displays of the biology, archeology, photography, anthropology, and native art of the Colorado Plateau. The Arboretum at Flagstaff is a 200 acre (81 hectare) arboretum featuring 2,500 species of drought-tolerant native plants representative of the high-desert region.[46][47]

Route 66, which originally ran between Chicago and Los Angeles, greatly increased the accessibility to the area, and enhanced the culture and tourism in Flagstaff.[48] Route 66 remains a historic route, passing through the city between Barstow, California, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. In early September, the city hosts an annual event, Route 66 Days, to highlight its connection to the famous highway.[49]

[edit] Sports
Northern Arizona University's Walkup Skydome, home to Lumberjack Football, Basketball, and other collegiate sports.

There are no major-league professional sports teams in Flagstaff, which is typical of such small American towns. The Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League have held their summer training camp at Northern Arizona University since the Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988, with the exception of the 2005 season due to an outbreak of a flu-like virus.[50] The NAU training camp location has been cited as one of the top five training camps in the NFL by Sports Illustrated.[51]

Northern Arizona University and the city of Flagstaff are home to the Center for High Altitude Training, a facility where athletes can train in the unique environment provided by the city's 7,000 feet (2,100 m) elevation. The center has been designated by the United States Olympic Committee as an official U.S. Olympic Training Site.[52]

Winter sports—including snowshoeing, alpine and Nordic skiing—are also popular in the area, and the surrounding National Forests provide an extensive network of roads and trails for winter use. The Arizona Snowbowl ski resort is 15 miles (24 km) to the north of the city on the San Francisco Peaks. The resort has plans to expand their facilities, adding a fifth chair lift and snow-making capabilities using reclaimed wastewater to extend its ski season in dry years. These plans face opposition by the Navajo and several other Native American tribes, who claim that it violates their religious freedom, as the San Francisco Peaks are considered sacred in many of their religions. In August, 2008, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the snow making scheme does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.[3]

[edit] Parks and outdoor recreation
Scenic Oak Creek Canyon is a short drive from Flagstaff, on the road to Sedona, Arizona.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Flagstaff has acquired a reputation as a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts, and the region's varied terrain, high elevation, and amenable weather attract campers, backpackers, climbers, and mountain bikers from throughout the southwestern United States. There are 679.2 acres (275 hectares) of city parks in Flagstaff, the largest of which are Thorpe Park and Buffalo Park. Wheeler Park, located adjacent to city hall, is the location of summer concerts and other events.[53] The city maintains an extensive urban trail system, consisting of surface trails for hiking, running, or cycling. The trail network extends throughout the city, connecting the downtown area with the Fort Tuthill Fairgrounds, and extends to Peaks View County Park in Doney Park and Sawmill Multicultural Art and Nature County Park.[54][55]

The area is a recreational hub for road cycling and mountain biking clubs, organized triathlon events, and annual cross country ski races. Several major river running operators are headquartered in Flagstaff, and the city serves as a base for Grand Canyon and Colorado River expeditions.[56]

Flagstaff's proximity to Grand Canyon National Park, about 75 miles (120 km) north of the city, has made it a popular tourist destination since the mid-19th century. Other nearby outdoor attractions include Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and Barringer Crater. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell are both about 135 mi (216 km) north along U.S. Route 89.