Flagstaff: Cool In Every Way

October 12, 2012 — Friday

Flagstaff, Arizona is one of those great, unsung places.  Locals and most other Arizonans call it Flag.  It’s cool, laid-back, good funky, fun, and definitely eclectic.  Think cosmo/combo/college town: lumberjack plaid flannels with jeans, preppy, sports enthusiasts, farmers, cowboys, Native Americans and aging hippies, all nestled in the Grand Canyon’s highest foothills.

Flagstaf is a short hour’s drive from Sedona.  I was still chuckling at the crazy chance meeting of a couple at breakfast who turned out to be the uncle and aunt-in-law of the groom we saw married on the mesa yesterday during The Pink Jeep tour.  They enjoyed telling me about the symbolism of the previous day, 10-11-12, and how the bride wore tennis shoes and hitched up the train of her dress to walk down the red dirt and rock mesa path, then changed into her white wedding shoes, and that the wedding couple were so happy they didn’t care they got rained on and her dress had red mud all over the back.

Good thing their wedding wasn’t today…gloomy grey, rain, sleet, even hail pellets, and still more rain in both Sedona and Flag.  We walked most of downtown Flag’s main streets, a vibrant mix of interesting restaurants, cafes, coffee bars, Native American arts, galleries, former Goldwater’s Department Store turned into a mountain sporting goods shop, 66 motels with neon signs, and vintage architecture.  It all suits this outdoorsy 66/college town.  We wandered through the historic Hotel Monte Vista, partially funded by the late author, Zane Grey, for tourists who wanted to see the Wild West he made famous in his 1920s Western novels.  Rooms are named for Grey and other celebrities who stayed here, like Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Spencer Tracy and Teddy Roosevelt.  Some say it’s full of paranormal encounters.  A few blocks away stands the stately Hotel Weatherford, smaller but also historic, and rumored to have its own share of ghosts.

We dodged the rain to tour Riordan Mansion State Park, a 40-room mansion built by two Riordan brothers who married two sisters from another prominent family.  The two couples lived in matching full-sized homes joined by a large family room, a vintage duplex.  Built in 1904 in the Arts and Crafts style with a mission influence, the Riordan Mansion was designed by Charles Whittlesey, who also designed the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Lodge.  The house looked very much like Frank Lloyd Wright, and bingo, Whittlesey and Wright studied architecture together with a common mentor, the famous Louis Sullivan.  The house is a beauty, meticulously restored and enthusiastically described by volunteer and staff guides. Riordan would be a treasure anywhere in the country and I would love to see it decked out in vintage Christmas finery.

Late afternoon we rushed to a loft apartment in a mixed use industrial building to see Penny, my longtime friend from Hands Across America-Arizona.  We had a nice visit over tea, catching up.

Come suppertime, Margaret and I headed to The Galaxy Diner on Route 66, crammed with a busload of French tourists.  American, French or Flag locals, everyone was having a great time.  A local singer with guitar was belting out rock tunes from the Fifties.  I ordered my first classic hamburger of this trip, checked out the memorabilia, and listened in as the French folks raved about the diner and its food.  Cool place.

Cool temps, too.  The temperature had dropped into the high 30’s and we scooted into our hotel lobby to enjoy a roaring fire and chat with fellow tourists.  As I fell asleep, I wondered if Flag’s distinctive San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon might get their first snow.

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