Get your camera ready for this one, and don't forget your swim suit, hiking shoes, and fishing pole. Just south of Flagstaff, Arizona State Route 89A descends a breathtaking series of switchbacks into a scenic, smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon. Known for colorful rocks and unique formations, Oak Creek Canyon is famous the world around for its spectacular scenery.
Before you drive into the canyon you'll want to stop at Oak Creek Canyon Vista. Here you can get a bird's eye view of what awaits you down the road and, at the same time, shop for Native American jewelry and other craft items from the local Native American artists who set up displays along the pathways.
Once you've snaked your way down the switchbacks, SR 89A winds a lazy course down the length of Oak Creek Canyon. It's actually possible to enjoy the scenery here without leaving your car, but most people choose to get to know these crimson cliffs and crystal pools on a more personal basis. For that purpose there are plenty of overlooks, picnic areas, swimming holes and hiking trails all along the drive. At Midgely Bridge, there's a vista point with an especially unforgettable backdrop where you'll want to stop and use that wide-angle lens.
As you leave Oak Creek Canyon and continue past Sedona through Red Rock Country, an observer with a sharp eye will recognize familiar shapes among the natural sculptures that form the horizon. Keep an eye out for Steam Boat Rock, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock and more.
You can continue down this scenic route to Interstate 17 and then back to Flagstaff, or you may want to turn around and do it all over again. If you're driving a high clearance vehicle, another way to complete the loop is to return to I-17 via the unpaved, rocky Schnebly Hill Road rather than Route 179. The vistas along this rocky but rewarding backroad are as good, if not better, than any along the rest of the drive. A high clearance vehicle is highly recommended for this route. In winter months, the upper part of Schnebly Hill Road is closed above Schnebly Hill Vista (near the top of the ascent up Bear Wallow Canyon), and the unpaved portion may be completely closed during wet weather conditions. Check Road Status before attempting this alternative route.
This drive takes you all the way around Arizona's highest mountain, winding through a land of pine forests and aspen groves, open prairies and rustic homesteads. Anytime is a good time to enjoy this drive, although the roads are closed through much of the winter (you might want to ski or snowmobile it then).
In the spring, wildflowers follow the retreating snow up the mountain. They color the meadows and decorate the forests reaching a climax just as summer comes to a close. Autumn then turns the mountain to gold, filling forest roads and trails with visitors come to enjoy the colorful display.
There are a number of places along this route where you can stop to take a hike, enjoy a lunch or even set up a primitive camp. That way you can take more than one day to do this drive or combine it with one or more of the other scenic drives in the vicinity of the San Francisco Peaks.
One of the most striking geologic features in Arizona is the Mogollon Rim. This steep escarpment, measured in thousands of feet and hundreds of miles, begins just across the border in New Mexico and stretches diagonally two thirds of the way across Arizona. As such, it forms the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau and stands as one of the most impressive overlooks in the Grand Canyon State.
That precipitous drop-off is the star of this scenic drive, part of which traces the rim's edge across the Coconino. In so doing, it follows another feature of interest, the General Crook Trail which the famous Indian fighter blazed to his stronghold at Fort Apache.
When you're not on the rim, you'll still find much to see along this drive, as it winds through a forest well populated with wildlife and gives you a taste of canyon country in scenic East Clear Creek and Barbershop canyons.
The photo above was taken in early April, 2004 on the bridge at FR95 and East Clear Creek. Please click right column "Photos & Multimedia" for a larger view.
Attractions: Panoramic views off the Mogollon Rim, photography, wildlife watching, fall colors, hiking, mountain biking
Road Condition: FH 3 and AZ 87 are paved. All forest roads are gravelled and suitable for passenger vehicles. Forest roads are closed in winter.
Driving Time: 4 hours (154 miles) from Flagstaff, 2 hours (54 miles) from Clints Well.
Elden Pueblo is the site of an ancient Sinagua (Sin ah’ wa) village, inhabited from about A.D. 1070 to 1275. The site is unique for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, it makes archaeology and the study of ancient peoples accessible to the public. Since 1978, professional archaeologists have supervised members of the public in excavations, archaeological research techniques and artifact analysis through a variety of public and school programs.
Conveniently located on U.S. Highway 89 north, Elden Pueblo is thought to have been part of a major trading system. This is evidenced by discoveries of trade items, such as macaw skeletons from as far south as Mexico, to shell jewelry from the California Coast. Important discoveries recently uncovered at Elden Pueblo suggest that the Sunset Crater volcano may have erupted over a much longer period of time than previously thought.
The Arizona Natural History Association sponsors the Elden Pueblo Archaeology Project with the Coconino National Forest to provide opportunities for people to learn about and become involved in the science of archaeology. Annual programs include several Public Archaeology Days, in which the public can participate in site tours, actual excavation, artifact washing and analysis, and try their hand at using ancient hunting weapons. The August Public Day features a Primitive Technology Expo and the last Public Day of the year takes place in the fall as part of the annual Flagstaff Festival of Science.
Elden Pueblo is available for school programs and groups of up to thirty people. Educational programs are correlated to the Arizona State Standards, grades 4-7 in Social Science and Science. Custom programs are available, from 1-2 hours tours, to day-long excavations, or multiple-day programs. Elden Pueblo hosts the Arizona Archaeology Society’s summer field school, where avocational archaeologists receive training in various archaeological skills, such as excavation, stabilization, mapping, and laboratory techniques. There are also summer archaeology camps for students, from third grade and up.
Fossil Creek, one of two "Wild and Scenic" rivers in Arizona, seems to appear out of nowhere, gushing 20,000 gallons a minute out of a series of springs at the bottom of a 1,600 foot deep canyon. Over the years these calcium laden waters have laid down huge deposits of a type of limestone called travertine. Read more...
Fall-Winter Season (October 2 - March 31): No permits are required to visit Fossil Creek in the fall and winter. Camping is permitted near the creek downstream from the Bridge and upstream from the dam. Glass containers and campfires are prohibited. See the Fall-Winter Guide and Forest Order: Fossil Creek Restrictions for the complete rules and regulations.
For current conditions, call the Fossil Creek Hotline 928-226-4611
Ancient Cliff Dwelling and Pictographs Sheltered by Colorful Cliffs of Red Canyon
The Palatki Heritage Site and its sister site, Honanki, were the largest cliff dwellings of the Red Rock Country between AD 1150 - 1350. They were first described by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes, famous turn-of-the century archaeologist from the Smithsonian Institution, who gave them the Hopi names of Honanki (Badger House) and Palatki (Red House). The Hopi, however, have no specific names for these sites.
The Palatki Heritage Site cliff dwelling and rock art site is located near the town of Sedona in north-central Arizona. Currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service under the Red Rock Pass Program, the site is open to the general public for visits seven days a week (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). A small visitor center and bookstore, run by the Arizona Natural History Association, is located a short distance from the parking lot.
There are three trails at Palatki Heritage Site, one trail that takes you up to the Sinagua cliff dwellings, one that takes you to a view of the dwellings and a third that goes to the alcoves that shelter the painted symbols, or pictographs from every native culture to ever occupy the Verde Valley. These trails, each ¼ mile one way making the round trip distance one and one half mile, are fairly easy but they are not accessible to most wheelchairs.
The area next to the cliff dwelling is limited to ten visitors at a time. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Before you visit, please call for reservations at (928) 282-3854 and read our Archaeological Site Etiquette Guide.
Pets are not allowed beyond the parking area at this heritage site.
A Rock Art Legacy from the Southern Sinagua of the Beaver Creek Community
This is the largest known petroglyph site in the Verde Valley, as well as being one of the best-preserved. Acquired by the Coconino National Forest in 1994, the site is protected and kept open to the visiting public for their enjoyment and opportunity to learn more about our national cultural heritage. As partners in this effort, both the Verde Valley Archaeological Society and the Friends of the Forest provide interpretive tours and on-site management. The Red Rock Pass Program provides funding for the protection, enhanced amenities and facility maintenance under authority of the National Recreation Enhancement Act of 2005.
A visitor center and bookstore, operated by the Forest Service and the Arizona Natural History Association, is located about 100 yards from the parking area.
The Beaver Creek Rock Art Style: Rock art is one type of archaeological data that can be used to identify prehistoric cultures and time periods. Various styles of rock art have been identified, based on the kinds of elements, unique elements, relationships between elements, and manufacturing techniques. By making these observations, various rock art styles have been defined for the prehistoric Southwest. One of these styles -- the Beaver Creek Style -- has been identified through the studies of rock art sites in the Beaver Creek area, especially here at V Bar V Heritage Site. This research has resulted in the definition of the Beaver Creek Style, which is diagnostic of the Southern Sinagua between A.D. 1150 and 1400.
The documentation of the V Bar V Heritage Site has provided important information for defining important characteristics of the Beaver Creek Style.
Guided tours are provided by both the Verde Valley Archaeological Society and Friends of the Forest during these hours (petroglyph area is fenced and only accessible during regular visiting hours). Please read the Archaeological Site Etiquette Guide to help you better enjoy your visit without causing inadvertent damage to the site.