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5 fun things for families in Flagstaff

By John Marshall

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, July 20 2011 3:20 p.m. MDT

This undated photo courtesy of Arizona State Parks shows visitors swimming at Slide Rock State Park in Ariz. Considered one of the nation's top swimming holes, Slide Rock Park features a natural chute where swimmers can slide down the slippery bottom and some great spots along the creek to just wade or swim.

Arizona State Parks, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Arizona in summer is known for dashboard-melting afternoons and low temperatures that top some other states' highs. But there's more to the state than cactus and heat, and the Grand Canyon is hardly the only place worth visiting this time of year.

Flagstaff, at about 7,000 feet above sea level, is more like the Rocky Mountains than the desert, with towering peaks, pine trees and mild temperatures. Heck, you might even need a jacket.

"There are certainly visitors who come up at night and are amazed at how cold it is," said Kevin Schindler, outreach manager for Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory.

Flagstaff also makes a great jumping-off point for other major regional attractions. In addition to the Grand Canyon 90 minutes north, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest are driving distance toward the east, and Hoover Dam isn't too far away heading west.

But Flagstaff isn't just a place to get gas en route to somewhere else. There are actually reasons to stay a while.

Located about 2 1/2 hours north of Phoenix, Flagstaff has become a vacation spot filled with interesting bars and restaurants, along with plenty of family fun.

In addition to the Lowell Observatory in town, with its massive telescope, there are ancient cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument just a few minutes away.

Head east on Interstate 40 and you'll find Meteor Crater, the most well-preserved impact site in the world. Just west of town is Bearizona, where black bears and a large variety of animals can be seen up close on foot or in a car.

Touristy and artsy Sedona is about a half-hour drive down through impressive Oak Creek Canyon, where you can stop to take a dip and a slip at Slide Rock State Park.

With all these options, it's no wonder Flagstaff draws visitors from around the world.

"We've been coming here for years," said Jurgen Keller, visiting from Germany with members of his family. "It's so nice with the trees and the weather."

Here are five places in Flagstaff worth checking out with your family:

LOWELL OBSERVATORY: 1400 W. Mars Hill Road, on a hill above central Flagstaff; http://www.lowell.edu/ or 928-774-3358. Summer hours: Open daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Adults $10, children ages 5-7, $4, students/seniors $9.

Lowell has one of the largest telescopes available for public use, a 32-foot antique that's 24 inches in diameter housed inside a rotating dome. Percival Lowell founded the observatory in 1894 to look at Mars and other celestial objects, and it has been the site of some major astronomical discoveries, including Pluto, the rings of Uranus and the first evidence that the universe is expanding. There's a separate site — away from the lights of Flagstaff — where four larger telescopes are used for research, but visitors can look through the old Clark telescope to see clear images of Saturn's rings, nebulas and galaxies millions of light years away. The main telescope shows a couple of predetermined images each night and observatory staff sets up smaller telescopes around the campus. A visitor center offers interactive displays and information on the cosmos, a planetarium and viewings of sun spots and flares at certain times during the day.

BEARIZONA: 1500 E. Route 66, Williams, about 30 miles west of Flagstaff off Interstate 40; http://www.bearizona.com/ or 928-635-2289. Open March-December (bears hibernate in January and February), 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closing time varies with daylight hours). Adults, $16, children 4-12, $8.

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