By Rebecca Borman
Every spring, a group of volunteers from the Desert Botanical Garden takes a trip to an Arizona destination. This year’s trip took us a few hours north, to the city of Flagstaff. Even though most of us had been to Flagstaff at some point, we all had some new experiences.
Our first afternoon’s activity was one of my favorites. Willow Bend Environmental Center offers what they call the Downtown Geology Walk. A young and knowledgeable guide first reminded us that there are a lot of rocks in that area of Arizona, and after several major fires, the city fathers decided that it might be advisable to use rock rather than wood for their buildings. The tour took us to some of the best examples, and our guide showed us the different kinds of rocks that were used. It was fun to combine just a little geology with a tour of some of the important and beautiful buildings downtown. The Ice House, for example, is near the railroad tracks, because fresh produce was brought by rail from California and stored there. The rock walls allowed the building to stay cool, even in the summer…..
That evening, we had another adventure, this time at Lowell Observatory. Flagstaff is a “low-light” city, so its observatory gets spectacular views of the night sky. After listening to several lectures, most of us decided to brave the cold and do some star-gazing. With the help of the observatory staff and their huge telescopes, I got to look at stars that are hundreds of light-years away. Very cool. It was a great first day!
The next morning found us at the Museum of Northern Arizona. The building isn’t very large and it’s so nondescript that it would be easy to pass it by on the way out of town. That would be a big mistake! Inside is a trove of beautiful artifacts. There are several different docent tours, and we chose the one that focuses on the culture of the Native Americans of the Colorado Plateau. We had the great luck of being there only 5 days after their newest gallery opened, and it’s one of the most beautiful galleries and exhibits I’ve ever seen. The docent gave us some information about the general organization and pointed out a few displays, but he repeatedly encouraged us to walk back through when the tour was finished and take our time, which we did. We spent more than two hours in the museum. I’ll definitely return, and I’d encourage anyone who visits Flagstaff to take time to see it. And, just as a side note, the museum gift shop has lovely items, including a bracelet I couldn’t pass up!
After lunch, we drove to the campus of Northern Arizona University to visit the Riordan Mansion. I have to admit I’m not usually a big fan of touring fancy houses and mansions. But this one did not disappoint. The house was built in 1904 by two brothers, Tim and Mike Riordan, who were married to sisters. The house is an enormous duplex. Again, we had a great docent, who brought the house to life. That wasn’t hard to do, however, because the house seemed so modern and comfortable. It was hard to believe it was build over 100 years ago. The bedrooms were big and sunny. The dining room had a table shaped like a canoe, so that all diners would face each other. And the living room had a large swing for a sofa. I was ready to move in! For me, it was an unexpected delight…..
The next morning, we set off in snow flurries for our last adventure, Bearizona in Williams, about 30 minutes away. Bearizona is privately funded and features a drive-through wildlife park. Visitors may drive their own vehicles, but if they want the full experience, the best choice is to take the “Wild Bus Ride.” Once we were on the open-air bus, our driver/guide set out, and we began our trip through the animal park. She gave us a lot of information about the park and about the animals. Most of them are rescue animals. It’s hard to believe that people actually think it’s ok to cage a bear or wolf as a “pet,” but that happens, and when Fish and Wildlife nab these evildoers, the animals are often sent to Bearizona. The animals are in their natural habitat, but the different species are separated by fences. Because they’re still wild animals. They are not fenced back from the road, however, so they might come right up to the bus or saunter slowly across the road. The animals are doing what animals actually do in nature, and it is very much fun to see them. Our driver knew every animal by name, and she often predicted individual behaviors. Despite the cold weather, we had a great time……
But, by this time, most of us were worn out. Geology, anthropology, history, architecture, animal science, and lots of walking and good food. It was time to go home. We voted it one of our best trips ever, and I came home determined to visit Flagstaff again and soon. It’s a city with lots of surprises!