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Filed under: Historic Places & Landmarks, Nature & Wildlife, Scenic Byways/Historic Routes, State & National Parks

NPs near the Grand Canyon that are also worth the visit!

April 20, 2011 by · 5 Comments 


We recently drove through Flagstaff, AZ, and had the privilege of visiting the 3 National Parks that are located in the nearby vicinity.  While everyone knows where the Grand Canyon is, and lots of us travel south from the G.C. through Flagstaff, many do not stop at the other, lesser known, National Parks located hereabouts.  Our family decided to check them out, and maybe get a little bit further along on our quest to collect Jr. Ranger badges from every N.P. in the country that offers them.  The 3 parks that are located near Flagstaff are:
lava field near Sunset Crater volcanoSunset Crater National Monument:   Located just north of Flagstaff is Sunset Crater; a 1000 year old volcano.  This cinder cone volcano is located in an area of over 600 volcanoes.  Sunset Crater offers a fun visitor’s center complete with a station where you can create and measure your very own tremor!   A short drive to the volcano takes you through an area where there are extensive lava fields on either side of the road (pic on left).  Up at the volcano itself, there is a 1 mile walking trail (and 1/4 mile handicap trail) that leads through a lava flow, past a ice cave, and near the base of the volcano.
Sunset Crater is located along a loop of highway that extends off of I89N – and located along that same loop is:

main dwelling at Waputki National Monument

main dwelling at Waputki National Monument

Waputki National Monument:   Waputki is a puebloan dwelling site that was built about 800 years ago.  The visitor’s center has some great displays and is located very close to the main dwelling.  The ruins at Waputki are unique in that the puebloan peoples used the existing sandstone boulder ridge to support and be an integral part of their construction.  Also located here is a ‘blowhole’, which we found fascinating!  A blowhole is an ‘earthcrack’ that leads to a cavern below - air is forced in or out of the crack based on the difference between barometric pressure up here and the air pressure down in the cavern; we thought of it as God’s air conditioning – and really appreciated being able to stop and enjoy the cool airflow on the warm day that we visited Waputki!  Waputki offers a beautiful view of The Painted Desert!

view down canyon

view down Walnut Canyon from path

Walnut Canyon National Monument: Walnut Canyon is a gorgeous canyon nestled in the mountains just east of Flagstaff.  While the walk down to the cliff dwellings is not for everyone (we didn’t think it was the ‘extreme’ hike it is labeled – but there are 240 steps down to the path), the visitor’s center offers a breathtaking view of the canyon, and some of the dwellings are readily visible from the observation room located in the building.  There is also a nice little museum, and a short film that tells about the puebloan people of the area.
We enjoyed visiting each of the 3 parks - they were very different from one another; even the landscape was drastically different, which was a surprise given the close locality of the parks! 
All 3 parks offer Jr. Ranger programs where the kids can earn badges with the park’s name on them, and you can also purchase J.R. patches ($1.25 ea.) that list all 3 parks – we purchased them for our 7 rangers as a little treat for finishing all the booklets.  
Sunset Crater, Waputki, and Walnut Canyon are all worth the drive if you happen to find yourself in the Flagstaff area!  And don’t forget that the Jr. Ranger program isn’t just for kids!  The rangers are tickled when adults ask to participate, and the badges you will earn make for great souvenirs and conversation starters!  :)


5 Responses to “NPs near the Grand Canyon that are also worth the visit!”
  1. Lee K. says:

    Those sound like interesting places that I have to keep in mind for future trips to the Southwest. There is also a great souvenir available for adults (or kids, if they are interested.) Last year, while visiting the Gateway Nat’l Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, NJ, I discovered a National Parks Passport booklet that I bought in the visitor center gift shop. There is info on all the national parks, by region, and spaces to stamp an Official Cancellation and to affix regional stamps. The Official Cancellations are dated stamps that are available at the counter in the visitor center. I had stamped a blank sheet of paper at the Grand Canyon in 2009, but didnt realize there was an official book to use these stamps in. Now this booklet is just making me want to visit more national parks so I can fill my passport with these stamps!

  2. G Finley says:

    Lee, I am so very happy that you found “THE BOOK”. We were told about it in Florida in the Everglades about 15 years ago by a park ranger at the visitor center. It makes traveling to the parks, monuments and different places so much nicer. All of our trips involve visiting the parks – and that “LITTLE BOOK” has brought us so much joy and knowledge and love for our parks. We would never had known about 2 of the above parks had it not been for our “LITTLE BOOK”!!. We went to the first two mentioned above and they are not to be missed if you are near the area. It was too late in the evening for the 3rd park so we had to move along. Maybe the next time out west we will get to see this place. I always encourage everyone that I talk to about vacationing, to buy that book and become visitors to our parks. My husband and I are retired and we have the senior book, it has paid for itself time over time and some more time. On one trip, we went into Yellowstone 3 days in a row – free – because we had “THE BOOK”.. We are so hooked on our parks and monuments. Enjoy your book and your time in “ALL” the places in the book. We never knew there were so many parks and monuments to see until we bought “THE BOOK”.

  3. G Finley says:

    Lee, if you visited parks before you bought you book, a park ranger told me to write down the date that you visited the park on a piece of paper and send that sheet of paper with a SASE to the park office and they will stamp the paper for you with the date you specify and return it to you. At that point all you would have to do is cut the stamp out and paste it to your book. We were at a park in Hawaii, and they sent out papers to me because the stamp was broken. All I did was cut it out and paste it in my book. Good Luck and I am so happy for you and your future with your “LITTLE BOOK”.

  4. dana t. says:

    We also have the National Parks Passport Book – it is great for remembering the dates that we visited a park. We keep ours on the dash of our van as we have learned that if we keep it in the RV, we sometimes forget to take it with us to the park…
    I really liked the map that came with the book, and would love to find another since our has long been trashed from use! LOL!
    Thanks for mentioning the Passport Book – very appropriate for a visit to any of these parks!!!

  5. Patti Faustini says:

    Hi Dana, Sunset Crater is great. A caveat for readers, especially those with kids: wear long pants! I can’ t remember exactly how it happened, but our then 14 year old managed to fall on some cinder…it wasn’t pretty! Something about bloody kneecaps come to mind…

    Happy Tales,

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