All roads lead to… Flagstaff? In September 2018 I found myself with a job offer for my dream job in International Education. It was in Arizona (one of my requirements at the time), and it was right atop Arizona’s tallest peak. Flagstaff, Arizona has a vast array of seasons that most people never realize Arizona has. Not only does it have all four seasons in vibrant full display each year, it also is one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. I believe it now, after 36 inches of it in a 24 hour time span during what the locals called “Snowmageddon”. Imagine trying to sell that to international students who have a preconceived idea of Arizona in their heads. Really, it’s about as different from all of the things I love about Arizona as I could imagine, but I was ready to give it a try.
I made my way up Arizona’s little mountain to Flagstaff’s 7,000 feet in hopes of great hikes, a great job and some solace after living in the Phoenix area. I stayed for three years and had many ups and downs with Flagstaff. But before I begin, I’ll let you know, I will never live in a high altitude mountain town again.
At a university that vowed to not have any snow days, Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University closed for two days in a row during my winter there. The snow shut down the city for two days. The Mini Cooper didn’t move (obviously) and the Jeep reigned the true hero of the week – rescuing people via Lyft when the rest of the town was shut town.
I was happy to hunker down with a fireplace during the winter and watch the snow, as long as I didn’t have to drive anywhere in it. I was promised in my job interview that the town lives for the summertime, which turned out to be true.
The drive up from Phoenix inspires a teasing glimpse into all of Arizona’s terrain, and is a quick reminder of why I love Arizona so much. From the saguaro forest just outside of Phoenix to the plains near Prescott and the Verde Valley, to Sedona’s red cliffs, Yuma’s sand dunes and Tucson’s Sonoran desert. My very first Flagstaff hike ended up being around 10 miles, in October in 40 degrees, and 9,000ft. It was called the Sunset Trail, off of Schultz Pass road. I eventually found many others I enjoyed, nearly all dog friendly. The sunset covered all the great things that Flagstaff’s hikes seem to, the sprawling and beautiful trees, over smoke covered leftovers from a season of burning, and a great elevation gain shooting us up to over 9,000 feet in a short period of time.
I acclimated to the Flagstaff altitude fairly well. Even my dog and horse had an acclimation period as they got used to exercising in less air. But one thing that never did was my skin. At first I assumed I would have to just use more lotion, like I did in Colorado. I eventually started adding in coconut oils, almond and rose oils too, among others, to have some semblance of “normal” skin. I tried Vasoline and every other great skin cream.
Each time I went down to the Valley or home to Yuma, my skin began to heal, regained it’s elasticity and looked healthier. Although the moment the drive home began climbing up towards Flagstaff when I had to return, I could feel my skin shrivel and tighten again. It was painful.
I spent about the next half a year seeing if my life-long eczema was suddenly reacting to diet. I spent periods of cutting out certain foods. I spent at least a solid month or two cutting out all grain, dairy and alcohol to see if a body cleanse would bring my 30 year old hands back. At the time, you certainly wouldn’t have thought that I was in my thirties if you saw the puffy, scarred and cracked state they were in. I lost 15 pounds during the cleanse, but alas, my skin troubles remained. By this point I was really worried about permanent scarring and the regular need for steroid creams to clear it up for short periods of time.
I think back often to one early doctor’s visit (during my first spring there when my asthma picked up) when the doctor said, “are you planning on staying in Flagstaff long-term?” I said, “I had planned to…,” my voice trailed off with uncertainty, “Are you sure?” She asked. This foreboding question arose from her experience in a home full of seasonal allergy sufferers, which Flagstaff is also known for causing. I think between the allergies and the altitude my body was constantly in a constant battle with itself and the outside world. Fire season there gives way to winter, which gives way to a blossoming spring and left me with a mere month of summer weather before fires began and the cold disappeared, to try and fix my skin and allergy woes. The fires and regular smoke in the air made my asthma worse, which made my skin worse. I never had seasonal allergies before.
I trudged on each year in Flagstaff hoping my body would adapt. I focused on foods that are known to have great skin healing benefits and yet still found myself wanting to retreat each evening to a skin-soothing oatmeal bath.
But alas, Flagstaff is full of some really great people, food and beer. We did have some fun there. My most favorite stop in all of Flagstaff after my three years of living there, was The Mother Road Brewing. Something wonderful happened each time I was there, and the beers seemed to get progressively better each time I went! After Covid their patio expanded and the food truck there always has a great array of food options. They also offer one of the most dog friendly patios in town, and it’s a huge patio! Their building is nestled into an old portion of Route 66 and alludes to John Steinbeck’s description of Route.
It’s a symbol of both comfort and hardship. On the road, we see faith and hope as well as death and despair.
A few other great treats can be found on a day or weekend trip to Flagstaff. Don’t miss the ever expanding Dark Sky Brewing, which now features Pizzicleta pizza (my favorite pizza in town) and a small dog friendly patio. Or the Lowell Observatory – a worthy visit.
Paired with the housing and rent prices sky-rocketing between 2019 and 2021, we realized that Flagstaff was very much not the home we hoped it might be for us. After almost exactly three years in Flagstaff, we drove down that mountain for the final time and headed west, to the coast. Within a week of living in Oregon my skin healed completely.