Friday, May 24, 2013

Haunted hotels, Indian Gardens, and Red Rocks

May 19-21, 2013
Flagstaff, Arizona
J and H RV Park

Our three night stay in Flagstaff just flew by. We knew this would be a brief stopover so we kept our plans pretty low key: spend a day walking around the historic district and Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff and a day in Sedona meeting a friend and checking out a few Sedona highlights.

First a word about the RV park. In doing our usual research, we learned there are no Passport America parks in the area, and the forest service campgrounds nearby were dry camping, so that left us with about four or five private parks that did not have very good reviews. We typically do not enjoy KOAs, so we ruled that one out even though the reviews were pretty good. Another park had major red dust issues and another serious train noise, so we opted for the J and H RV Park in spite of mixed reviews, and ended up quite pleased with everything except the price—$45 with the Good Sam discount. The location was excellent—no road noise and only about eight miles from downtown—and the dogs were happy with an off-leash dog area (plus they have a dog wash station that we didn’t use). Also worth mentioning—no long term residents or park models—just a well-laid out campground with gravel pull-throughs and a few back-in sites.

I should also mention that both of us had been to Flagstaff and Sedona before, but only passing through on our way somewhere else. I should also mention that I lived in Tucson in 1982 and 1983 where I attended the U of A part-time and where my youngest son was born. Other than loving the U of A English department, I did not enjoy life in the southern Arizona desert, especially with a three-year-old and a new baby when it was 110 degrees outside. Aside from the summertime heat, the scorpions, snakes, and tarantulas in our yard were another challenge that contributed to my desire to move back to the Northwest. Some people travel to the desert and discover something that resonates in their soul. I feel this kind of connection in pastoral settings or on a beautiful white sand beach. Vic’s experience in the Arizona desert has been mostly the years his son lived in Scottsdale when we would travel there to visit. Unfortunately, one of those times was a week of babysitting the granddaughters in August with temps above 110 on most days. I should also mention we do not golf, an Arizona pastime that seems to make this area more attractive to others. Having said all this, we are both open to changing our mind about the Arizona desert as a place to consider for a winter stay. We are grateful for the bloggers who write about their passions for desert adventures and hope that someday we will share in their enthusiasm for this part of the country.

The landscape in Flagstaff is quite a bit different than most of Arizona because of the 7000 ft. elevation. and Ponderosa Pine forests. The town actually reminds us more of Colorado or Montana than the Southwest—pretty appealing place but it gets cold here in the winter when the town becomes a bit of ski resort with Arizona Snowbowl only seven miles north of town.

As we walked around town, we discovered several plaques that educated us about the history of the town. One of the more interesting ones was the origin of the city’s name. Some pioneers traveling on the trail that came through this area stopped on the 4th of July to celebrate the 100 year birthday of the nation. They made a tall flag pole to raise a flag by stripping the limbs from a ponderosa pine. Over the years, this "flag-staff” became a landmark for future travelers and the name stuck.

The most significant factor in Flagstaff’s history was the decision to run the Santa Fe Railway through the town in the 1880s. Like many western railway stops, the town became a bit wild filled with sheep herders, loggers, and cattlemen leading to the colorful history of saloons, dance halls, and gambling houses. The train also brought in visitors who used Flagstaff as a jumping-off point for a stage ride to Grand Canyon.

One of the more well-known “trails” coming through town is Route 66, the Main Street of America. The route from Chicago to Santa Monica was originally supposed to go through Phoenix, but Flagstaff won out and visitors today can follow a walking path to see some of the historic sites of the old Route 66 that remain today. We actually walked past many of these landmarks without knowing their history as we discovered the brochure that explains them after our self-guided tour of the town.

Now for the hauntings. You can get map of the haunted places with explanations for a self-guided tour or you can book a tour with costumed guides who take you at dusk and reenact some of the creepy mysteries that are part of the haunting stories. Legend has it that many of the characters associated with these mysteries have stayed around town in the form of ghosts. The two main places we knew about were the two historic hotels in town: the Hotel Weatherford and the Hotel Monte Bella. I went inside and talked to the hotel desk employees and they confirmed the stories. The Hotel Monte Vista even has a handout describing the most famous “permanent residents” of the hotel. The most famous guest of the Monte Bella, the phantom bellboy, was even confirmed by John Wayne when he was a guest of the hotel. The stories are so embedded in Flagstaff lore that they have been featured on the TV shows Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

Other observations from our urban walk. Flagstaff is a recreational town with a high priority placed on outdoor activities as at least four locally-owned sports shops are in close proximity of one another; a second primary pastime may be watching sports and drinking—definite signs of a college life atmosphere.

The downtown is super dog friendly with filled water bowls at many storefronts and invitations to bring your dogs in for biscuits. Other features we liked was free 2-hour parking throughout town, wide streets, and a general laid-back atmosphere. We both really appreciate thriving downtowns with locally owned stores making up the majority of the businesses. We also liked that we saw a thriving used bookstore, a groovy looking used record store, and a large used sporting goods store. The emphasis on reduce, reuse, and recycle is a value we share. They even have a bar that advertises this philosophy.

The Northern Arizona campus, about two miles southwest of the downtown area, is larger than I remembered it.With an enrollment of about 25,000 students, the campus is fairly spread out with three notable features: a dome football stadium, an observatory, and gorgeous townhomes for campus housing.

We looked for a separate college-type business strip, but it looked like most students hung out in the downtown area. Neither of us knows much about the Lumberjacks, but it looked like a welcoming campus with a strong hotel management program and nursing school (judging by their facilities). One big bonus for going to school here would also be the close proximity of a ski resort and lots of hiking opportunities in the nearby canyons. We saw photos of the town covered with snow and it looked an inviting alpine village—something we could enjoy for a few weeks.

Our plans for the next day were to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in about six years who recently moved to Sedona. The fastest way to Sedona is via 89a, the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, about 25 miles vs. 40+ miles on Interstate 17. The scenic route is pretty curvy with some decent grades, not something we would want to travel on in the motorhome, but we did this little daytrip in our Jeep. Our plan was to meet for a late breakfast at Indian Gardens, supposedly next to Garlands. I misunderstood the directions and had Vic pull in at Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge a few miles further north. We were glad to make the mistake as this lodge and its setting were incredible. We arrived early so we even took time to tour the grounds and the historic lodge.

Thanks to texting, we figured out we needed to travel further south to the Indian Garden Market, a lovely café with an outside garden setting near the base of the canyon. Julie, her boyfriend Sean, Vic and I spent at least two hours catching up on our lives and enjoying one another’s company before moving on.

With Julie’s help, we planned the rest of the day around a visit to Tlaquepaque (Tla-keh-pah-keh), one of the many meditation centers in Sedona, and a drive to Red Rock Crossing to view the backside of Cathedral Rocks and its famous valley. One other stop was to see The Heart of Sedona, the coffee shop and restaurant Julie is now managing.

Tlaquepaque, touted as Sedona’s “internationally renowned Arts and Craft Village,” is basically a high-end Sedona style shopping area with restaurants. Notable in that none of the stores or restaurants are chains, so at least everything they offer is pretty unique but therefore $$$. We both had our fill of eye candy in Santa Fe, so not even window shopping was on our mind, but the architecture and landscaping of this outdoor plaza was pretty to see. After walking around, we opted to have an adult beverage at the local brewery there while relaxing on their patio.

center for the new age sign

From Tlaquepaque, it is just a quick jaunt across the street to visit one of three metaphysical gift shops and meditation centers. I always thought of Sedona as a high-end artist community, but was surprised to discover much of its tourism relates to the healing arts. Consequently, there is a plethora of spas and spiritual retreat centers. We only checked out the Center for the New Age superstore which had a meditation gardens, an amazing array of gemstones and crystals, and services including aural photography, psychic readings, and massage. One reason for Sedona’s reputation as a spiritual mecca has to do with the geologic phenomenon of vortexes, spots where the earth's energy is supposedly increased, leading to self-awareness and various kinds of healing. More new learning for us as we were both unfamiliar with vortexes. A Sedona website explains: “”In Sedona vortexes are created, not by wind or water, but from spiraling spiritual energy. The vortexes of Sedona are named because they are believed to be spiritual locations where the energy is right to facilitate prayer, mediation and healing. Vortex sites are believed to be locations having energy flow that exists on multiple dimensions. The energy of the vortexes interacts with a person’s inner self.”  The best evidence for the power of the vortexes is that trees growing in a vortex grow in a spiral.  Interesting. . . .

Another major tourist attraction here is the famous Pink Jeep Tours that take people up in the mountains to see the amazing views that surround the area. (There are even Pink Jeep vortex tours. . . .) These tours are pretty spendy at about $100 per person for a couple hours.Related to the natural surroundings, there are abundant hiking opportunities. We came to Sedona with plans to do some hiking, but the temps were already past the mid-80s by the time we headed to the Red Rocks. We are both wimps when it comes to heat and hiking, so we opted to just enjoy the scenic drive that takes you from the lower Red Rock Crossing to the upper one, about eight miles long.

red rock4

Our last stop was to take a quick tour of the café Julie redecorated and now manages. The place was buzzing with espresso and spirulina smoothie drinkers working on their tablets or chatting away with a friend. We don’t know what it looked like before, but the rustic contemporary design of the place with its bright orange, green, and chocolate brown colors quite appealing. We enjoyed the gojo berry smoothie we shared. Good vibes here.

conscious cuisine sign

Sedona is a place we wished we had more time to explore, especially to hike around the areas where the vortexes are and see if we could experience some of the Sedona magic. Like so many places we have visited over the past two years, we found ourselves talking about a longer stay here another year. This is the addictive nature of this lifestyle as it seems the more we see, the more we want to see and the longer we want to stay. For now, the trick is to stay present and enjoy every diverse moment of our lives. Next up: visiting five grandchildren in Southern California!


  1. Loved hearing about your visit to Sedona. We were there for a family reunion last year for a week. You covered it really well! There's a nice RV park there as well....Have fun with the grandkids in CA, looking forward to hearing all about it! :-)

  2. Sedona is definitely a place I've wanted to visit. I did know about what one friend jokingly called the woo woo factor but I'd like to spend some time there anyway. I have the same problem you do. I keep wanting to stay longer in places and to make myself feel better about leaving I promise to come back. Wonder if I ever will though with SO many places to visit. Why was I surprised to read about skiing in Arizona. I just always think of it as a desert. Really beautiful pictures. I love the story of Flag Staff. I learn so much reading your posts. thanks.


    1. Thanks for being such a faithful reader as some of these posts have turned out to longer than I intended. I appreciate that we share the "I'll be back and stay longer next time" syndrome. And, yes, it does make me feel better to say so.

  3. Sedona is one of our all-time favourite spots. It's a photographers' dream and you did a great job with your pics. Brought back lots of good memories.

  4. I so enjoy your posts...full of history, great photographs, and your own thoughts about where you are! Sounds like Flagstaff and Sedona will go on the to see list. That's one of the great things about all the blogs....that list is really growing!

  5. We love Sedona. After two different motorcycle trips through several years ago, we finally got to visit for ten days in the fall. The best part was we had just sold our motorcycle and purchased a Jeep. Boy, did it get a work out in Sedona. It was full of red dust.

    So nice you had time to meet with a friend:)

    Looks like a great few days!

  6. The vortex explanation was super interesting. Loved the pics too!


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