By: Joel Fornara
The dog days of summer are now upon the East Valley – it’s 115 degrees outside, you’re hot, sweaty, and football season is nowhere in sight. Now, picture this: you can load up the family, hop in the car, and drive only a few hours to arrive at a cool sanctuary of Pine trees and football. Think it’s a desert mirage playing cruel tricks on your mind? Think again. The aforementioned paradise is located on the campus of Northern Arizona University (NAU), just a brief two- to three-hour journey and a 7,000-foot climb up Interstate 17. While the last few grains of sand slip through the hour glass of your summer vacations, there is still plenty of time to plan an in-state getaway.
The beautiful campus of NAU has played host for the all too brief summer migration of the Red Birds since 1988; and as long as the Cardinals have been making the journey, so have their fans. Whether it’s the preferable temperature (about 30 degrees cooler than East Valley temperatures) or the long awaited kick-off to the football season, fans all over the East Valley enjoy making the trip up north. Also, many in the sports media boast the Cardinals training camp as having one of the highest levels of player accessibility. With this winning combination, it’s no wonder why Clark Judge, senior writer of CBSSports.com, lists it as his favorite training camp.
Despite not landing the “big fish” of the free agency that is named Peyton Manning, there is still plenty to get excited about this off-season. Kevin Kolb will look to fill the coveted starting quarterback slot on the depth chart while the scrappy John Skelton nips at his heels. Kolb was a big splash free agent just one short year ago, and after an insufficiently brief off-season with the NFL lockout last year, and an injury plagued regular season, many fans have some unanswered questions regarding Kolb heading into this season. NAU will be the proving grounds for this battle.
In addition to the quarterback competition, many supporters will eagerly await the arrival of fan-favorites. There’s the sure-handed, walking-highlight reel that is Larry Fitzgerald and Mesa’s own and former Arizona State Sun Devil, Todd Heap. Or, perhaps the exciting game changing skills of Patrick Peterson, who, as a rookie, tied an NFL record last year for return touchdowns in a single season.
Summer Camp is also a great time to welcome new faces to the team. For their first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, your Arizona Cardinals selected the Notre Dame Fighting Irish star wide receiver, Michael Floyd. During his years at Notre Dame, Floyd broke and set several single-season and career records for the historically noteworthy football program. The Floyd draft pick, although receiving some criticism, proves that the Red Birds are hoping to re-create the dynamic receiver tandem they had with Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in 2008-9, when they shocked the world by making the Super Bowl. The Cardinals will also be welcoming draft picks Jamell Fleming, Bobby Massie, Senio Kelemete, Justice Bethel, Ryan Lindley, and Nate Potter.
Besides football, Flagstaff has much to offer the average East Valley vacationer. The experience starts shortly after reaching city limits, where travelers can journey along the historic Route ’66, often referred to as the “Mother Road.” If you head west on Route ’66 toward Mars Hill, you can stop by Lowell Observatory. Lowell is home to the Pluto Telescope, the same telescope that discovered Pluto and was the resource used to first sketch Mars.
If the visit to Lowell Observatory ignited a further interest in astronomy, then you must take Interstate 40 45 minutes east to check out Meteor Crater – the world’s best preserved meteorite impact. Trust me; you won’t believe what an asteroid traveling 26,000 miles per hour does to the earth’s surface. Meteor Crater is 1 mile across, almost 2 1/2 miles around, and just over 550 feet deep. Visitors of Meteor Crater can view an animated, 3-D production of the impact that rocked Arizona 50,000 years ago.
After some unbelievable extra-terrestrial views, come back down to earth by visiting Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon offers tourists a true look at the cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by the Sinagua tribe for almost 1,000 years. The two different trails, the Rim and the Island, offer hikers an up-close and personal glance at life in the canyon.
Before departing back to the East Valley, be sure to soak in one last authentic Flagstaff experience: Arizona Snowbowl. Despite not being ski season, Snowbowl’s Scenic Skyride remains up and running Friday through Sundays over the summer. From an elevation of over 2 miles, the Scenic Skyride renders spectacular views of majestic mountains, 70 miles of beautiful northern Arizona scenery (from historic downtown Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon) and an array of wildlife.
In addition to the Scenic Skyride, Arizona Snowbowl provides access to three different trailheads. If you thought the views from the Scenic Skyride were breathtaking, be sure to bring an oxygen tank if you decide to hike Humphrey’s Peak – Arizona’s highest point. At an elevation of 12,633 feet, Humphrey’s Peak is the crest of the dormant, volcanic San Francisco Peaks.
Football, great weather, tourist attractions, fresh mountain air, all things East Valley residents can, and will, enjoy on their last-minute summer trip to Flagstaff. So just about the time you think it couldn’t get any hotter here in the East Valley, and there isn’t enough time to plan a summer vacation, think Flagstaff.