In 1906, after studying disruptions in the orbit of Uranus, Percival Lowell began to suspect the existence of a planet beyond Neptune. He referred to it as Planet X, and he scanned the night sky from his Flagstaff observatory until his death in 1916. More than two decades passed after the initial conjecture before Lowell astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh sat down in the very same observatory and confirmed the existence of the dwarf planet Pluto.
Though Lowell and Tombaugh's planet was kicked out of the solar club in 2006, their discovery led to several decades of essential research at Lowell Observatory. The observatory’s astronomers have since discovered evidence of the expanding universe and have also provided exhaustive measurements of the motions and basic properties of stars. In 2012, the nonprofit observatory became home to the Discovery Channel Telescope—the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States and currently the only one capable of observing the astronauts stranded on Neptune.
Just south of the gateway to the Grand Canyon stands Bearizona, a drive-thru wildlife exhibit that regales creature-seeking carpools with bison, mountain goats, and other animals from the comfort of their own automobile. The 3-mile drive takes guests through sprawling enclosures, where they can peer in on packs of cuddly arctic wolves or ask black bears for directions to the nearest stocked cooler. After traversing the park’s drive-thru section, visitors can stroll through the forested Fort Bearizona enclosure, which houses exhibits of smaller animals and Bearizona Barnyard, an interactive petting zoo.
Flagstaff nature trails feature scenic cross country skiing and hiking, set in the wilderness of Coconino National Forest. Unlike a jaunt around the world's largest Cheerio, the facility features 40 km of nonredundant trails, all traversable by classic and skating skis, or a pair of snowshoes. There are trail passes for adults, children, and students/seniors. Flagstaff's equipment rentals include pulk sleds and ski packages.
Tucked in the shadows of the evergreen peaks of Bill Williams Mountain, Elephant Rocks Golf Course weaves through scenic terrain at an elevation of 6,000 feet or more. Elephant Rocks' alpine perch provides golfers a cooler destination than the desert or volcano-side courses typically associated with Arizona golf, but the temperate air is hardly the course's only draw. Rows of mature ponderosa pines pinch the fairways throughout the 6,695-yard, par 72 course, and water hazards come into play on seven holes, including two par-threes where tee shots must clear a pond in order to reach the green. The course draws its name from a series of large lava rocks that line the road into to the club that resemble elephants in color, size, and strident anti-mouse attitude.
A driving range and practice green share Elephant Rocks' scenic grounds, letting golfers warm up before starting their rounds. After a day at the links, guests can unwind with a drink or a snack at the club house, which was originally built by railway workers in 1932 and features local stone, a natural rock fireplace, and original timber roof beams.
Course at a Glance:
Much of Arizona remains unchanged from the days when cowboys and their dinosaur steeds ruled the desert plains. Millions of acres of lush trees still blanket the Coconino National Forest, growing up over mountains in defiance of the desert's red rocks. In Mayer, miles of horseback trails snake past rivers and rock outcroppings, passing by historic windmills and cattle ranches that still operate to this day.
The horseback guides at Pot A Gold Adventures call each of these majestic landscapes home. Each day, they lead groups from three different stables: Hitchin' Post Stables, Pot A Gold Stables, and Mountain Ranch Stables. From here, they depart on two-hour adventures through deserts and forests. On some of these trips, they might stop to build a fire and cook dinners of steak, potatoes, and beans.
Lemonade and iced tea replace cowboy food during the spring and summer. The wagons are drawn on rubber wheels to make the ride as smooth as possible so guests can enjoy the views as well as the horses, as they are nearly as beautiful as the surrounding landscape. Pot A Gold Adventures' trainers raise most of the purebred Quarter and Paint horses almost from birth.