Flagstaff is home to some of the most gorgeous scenery and geological formations in Arizona. It’s only 80 miles from the Grand Canyon if you want to take a day trip up north, or you can spend your day taking in the many canyons and natural rock creations closer to the city.
One such formation is the Sunset Crater Volcano, a volcanic cinder cone just north of Flagstaff with colorful geological features mixed among pine trees and wildlife. About 900 years ago, the volcano erupted and the surrounding lands were completely reshaped. Today you can still hike trails to view where the lava flowed and rock fragments were left behind.
A geological discussion of Flagstaff would not be complete without the mention of the San Francisco Peaks. Formed between 500,000 and 1 million years ago, the single, dormant volcano was shaped by a sideways eruption several thousand years before now. It is comprised of six summits surrounding the caldera of the now dormant volcano, the tallest of which, Mount Humphreys at 12,633 feet, is the highest point in Arizona.
No matter where you are in Flagstaff, the rocky slopes of Mount Elden always make for a nice view. At a height of 9,297.9 feet, Mount Elden is a silicic volcano within the San Francisco Peaks volcanic system. This lava dome was probably formed in just a few months and contains two sedimentary blocks on the eastern and northwestern flanks, while the rest of the mountain is composed mostly of dacitic lava flows.
Just 10 miles outside of Flagstaff stands Walnut Canyon with curved walls and a 600-foot drop which was carved out by a seasonal stream leading to the Little Colorado River. Kaibab limestone forms on the upper third of the canyon walls in several layers, causing some to erode more quickly and form shallow alcoves.
Another canyon on the outskirts of the city is Oak Creek Canyon. If you are heading out for a day trip to Sedona, this is on the way, at just 14 miles south of Flagstaff. It is estimated an early version of the canyon was formed eight to 10 million years ago along the Oak Creek Fault and the eroded walls are composed of mostly Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. The youngest rocks you will find in the canyon were formed by several basalt lava flows and are an estimated 6 million years old.
Get out of your hotel in Flagstaff and enjoy some beautiful views and plenty of outdoor recreational options the area has to offer. Mother Nature did wonders with this northern Arizona city!