At the beginning of every fall and spring we offer up a student guide for those fresh faces getting acquainted with our wonderful little spot on the map for the first time. Then, earlier this year, we thought: Why not drum something up for the summer folks? The tourists, those who are still somewhat new to town and navigating Flagstaff, longtime residents looking for something different, or otherwise.
As Flagstaff is now what we’d like to call a “found” town, it’s no doubt changing. And whether it’s for better or worse, there’s still a ton of cool stuff to do and discover, regardless of whether it just popped up or has been in plain sight the entire time.
So, without further ado, here’s a short, comprehensive list of things we think are worth checking out to help see you through the summer months. We’ve got upcoming concerts, off-the-beaten-path outdoor locales, new-ish food and drink stops, annual cultural happenings and good reads. But by no means do we claim that we know everything, what’s fun, or what you should do. Let us know your favorite on Twitter @flaglive or by visiting us on Facebook. Enjoy!
Calexico: June 4 at Wheeler Park (Hullabaloo).
We’re not going to mince words here. Calexico remains Arizona’s most important band. For around 20 years, the Tucson-based indie-rockers have blended Latino music influences—“I think for Calexico’s influence, our window has always faced south,” co-founding member Joey Burns shared in a recent interview—with smart, sophisticated alt-rock. The core of the band is Joey and John Convertino, who have turned the band into a music lover’s dream. Each of their studio albums is consistent, strong and thematic. The high-water mark is, to many, their 2012 minor masterpiece Algiers. However, earlier records such as Feast of Wire and mid-era efforts such as Carried to Dust are wonderfully worthy revisits. Oh, and the band has worked with the likes of Jim James from Morning Jacket, Neko Case, Arcade Fire and Iron & Wine. Catch them when they headline this year’s Hullabaloo. www.flagstaffhullabaloo.com.
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros: June 8 at the Orpheum Theater.
In the summer of 2009, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros became instant favorites in the indie-folk music and festival scenes with their upbeat, airy ’60s debut album Up From Below. Equally as fast, “Home,” the album’s second single—which could be heard pretty much everywhere from Alabama to Arkansas and beyond—became an unmatchable summer anthem, and as their star continued to rise, ESMZ built a live show that, through camaraderie in the moment, connected deeply with audiences. Since, the band’s three follow-up albums have fallen progressively short with fans and critics as they’ve notably failed to reach the connectivity and energy of their popular live performances. Person A (their first since founding member Jade Castrinos’ departure), released in April, continues to follow that pattern. But the silver lining here is that their live shows haven’t waned. And by all accounts, their long-awaited arrival in Flag ought to mark yet another memorable show to roll through town in recent years. Don’t miss it. www.edwardsharpeandthemagneticzeros.com.
Junior Brown: June 9 at the Museum Club.
This country legend is known to shred the double-necked guitar and lap steep combo that looks like a mad scientist wound up with a fascinating example of instrumental mutation gone incredibly right. With lightning-fast plucking matching Chuck Berry’s speed and enthusiasm, Brown backs up his playing with honkytonk-type tunes about smokin’ and clinking glasses, not to mention calling all the shots. www.juniorbrown.com.
The Psychedelic Furs: June 15 at the Pepsi Amphitheater.
The late ’70s boasted punk rock politics and musical spirit to match. With stripped-down chord progressions and instrumental amalgamations, the Furs covered the U.K. art rock scene before jumping on the new wave train with tunes like “Love My World” and “Pretty in Pink.” Their synth-driven sound wormed into millions of ears worldwide before a hiatus spanned 1992–2001. www.thepsychedelicfurs.com.
The Melvins: Aug. 4 at the Green Room.
“Millions of people won’t like what we do. No question of that.” So intones Buzz Osborne in the trailer for the upcoming documentary of the Melvins called The Colossus of Destiny. As the who’s who of rock legends line up for interviews for the film, they all point to how the Melvins—Osborne and Dale Crover the constant members—have stayed true to their hard-driving, thrashing roots. Few bands have such cache without breaking into the mainstream. They have deep roots in Washington state and significant connections to the band that went big, Nirvana (Osborne introduced some of the band members to one another). But nevermind all that. The Melvins stand on their own as a do-what-they-want-and-to-hell-with-everything-else attitude. Maybe some people won’t like it, but thousands of others do. www.themelvins.net.
East Clear Creek and Blue Ridge Reservoir.
Aside from running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, one thing a lot of folks here in Flag regularly comment on is the lack of areas for water sports. And yes, in extreme adventure capacities, that might be true. But, if you’re on the hunt for a relaxing day on the water under the sun, check out these two spots on the map. About an hour to an hour-and-a-half east and southeast of town respectively, ECC offers a beautiful stretch of calm water between tall canyon walls while Blue Ridge features a narrow winding river of sorts with a picturesque forested canyon on either side. Both are perfect for an all-day getaway on paddle boards and/or in a kayak—and for a longer journey, float down and camp on the banks of Blue Ridge. Oh, and be sure to pack a fishing rod. www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.
West Clear Creek.
South of the Mogollon Rim in the heart of Arizona is this gem. Surprisingly, not a ton of people are aware of its existence, but it’s easily one of the best summer day or extended escapes in the state. Southeast of CampVerde between the 260 and 87, this creek system running roughly 22 miles in length can be accessed via a spider web of forest service roads, and offers up everything from canyoneering, hiking and swimming to fishing and camping. Some areas are easier to access, while other present their own fun challenges, but no matter where you go, we assure you that it’s worth the trip. www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.
Alright, we know the deal. Most of the free world knows about Fossil Creek. But for the local or frequent visitor to the northern Arizona lands, it’s possible the hordes frightened the prospect of visiting this sparkling gem in the desert. Luckily the National Forest Service has launched a new parking permit system that is designed to limit visitation and congestion to the magical place. So, it might be the year to give it another go. For those who have not been, Fossil is a gushing, perennial creek with emerald green waters and a dissolved mineral that makes things like leaves and sticks become fossilized-looking over time. We have not heard of it happening to people, so no worries there. Aside from the joys of splashing, Fossil Creek is a verdant riparian wonderland that’s just a great place to bask. www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.
It’s time to meet your new national monument! OK, so that’s totally premature, but it’s difficult not to be excited at the possibility of the proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument becoming reality before President Obama heads out. The idea to protect areas both north and south of the Grand Canyon to preserve the watershed of the most famous gorge in the world is one that continues to gain traction. Even though it hasn’t happened yet, there are plenty of places to explore on foot to get a feel for the place. One that we like is the Saddle Mountain Wilderness Area up on the Kaibab Plateau (really, is there a better place to be in the summer?). Just hop off Route 67 at Forest Road 611 on the way up to the North Rim (it’s 27.5 miles from Jacob Lake). Grab the map and consider exploring the NorthCanyon section. www.fs.usda.gov/Kaibab.
Can’t afford that spendy Colorado River trip? Well, the good news is you can still float down part of the mighty Colorado—on your own terms, and for next to nothing thanks to Colorado River Discovery who will backhaul you and your paddle board, canoe, kayak or inflatable duckie up river, as far as one mile from the Glen Canyon Dam, where you can float back down self-guided. No joke. They’ll drop you off upstream at a desired location and you can float back down to the main Ferry parking lot in a handful of hours or camp overnight at one of the six designated campgrounds along the river. Campgrounds are first come, first served, and a 1–7 day vehicle pass is only $20 while an individual permit is a $10 per person. Get the details at www.raftthecanyon.com.
Museum of Northern Arizona Heritage Program.
MNA’s annual edition of heritage festivals highlight the rich traditions of Indigenous peoples of the Colorado Plateau. The series kicks off this weekend with the 26th annual Zuni Festival before leading into the 83rd annual Hopi Festival July 2–3, the Navajo Festival Aug 6–7 and Celebraciones de la Gente Oct 22–23. www.muznaz.org.
The Arboretum at Flagstaff.
Butterflies! You heard right. We’re all a-flutter for the fact that the Arboretum at Flagstaff is launching a Butterfly House this summer. Complete with 17 different species of native butterfly, the enclosure will offer a chance to be surrounded by the technicolor wonderment of some of our favorite flying insects. (Think about it: any better flying insects than butterflies? We didn’t think so). The Arboretum staff is dialing it up all around this summer to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the attraction. And, what we always love is the Summer Concert Series at the Arboretum. This year, we have the astounding Mariachi Mexico Antiguo on June 4; the cute and plucky awesomeness of Jessica Fichot on July 2; some string-and-sing power with New West Guitar Group featuring Sarah Gazarek on Aug. 6; and the sweet goodness of the Honey Dewdrops on Sept. 3. www.thearb.org.
Wool & Fiber Festival: June 4–5 at the Pioneer Museum.
Flag’s historic connection to ranching and sheepherding makes this a prime spot for the dominating Wool & Fiber Festival, now entering its 20th year. Contests, demonstrations, workshops and speakers all lend testament to where fibers and weaving have been and where the art is headed. www.flagwool.com.
Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival: June 18 at the Continental Driving Range.
If you look in the right places, you’ll find that Flagstaff has a solid following for blues music. And each year—now in its fourth—the annual Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival spans out across the grassy lawn at the Continental Driving Range for a day-long celebration of one of the oldest and purest forms of music in American much to the delight of lovers of the genre across town. This year, along with the usual great spread of beer, food and vendors, the eclectic festival will feature headliner the Sugaray Rayford Band out of L.A. and six other equally bluesy national and local acts. www.flagstaffblues.com.
Flagstaff Pro Rodeo: June 23–25 at Fort Tuthill County Park.
Perhaps nothing speaks to the ways of the Southwest more than cowboy culture. And even if you’re not regularly knee deep in manure or herding cattle because, well—out there are cows. And plenty of them—the rodeo is something worth experiencing if you really want to feel at home in northern Arizona. After a five-year hiatus between 2009 and 2013, the annual Pro Rodeo returned in a big way in 2014. Now in its third year back and strong as ever, the PRCA sanctioned rodeo will feature bull riding, barrel racing, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, team roping, tie down roping and steer wrestling to name a few things worth saddling up for. And don’t dare forget your Stetson! www.flagstaffrodeo.com.
Pride in the Pines: June 25 at the Thorpe Park Sports Complex.
Last year, Flagstaff’s coolest LGBTQ Pride festival celebrated just after the groundbreaking victory for equality, when SCOTUS voted “yay” for marriage equality. This year, the cheers continue with a one-day 20th anniversary blow-out featuring live entertainment from Belinda Carlisle, Crystal Waters and more. www.flagstaffpride.org.
For years the Wine Loft sat three stories up looking out over North San Francisco Street. Dim and quiet with a chill vibe, it offered exceptional wine, a litany of board games, and one heck of a playlist flowing through the speakers. Then, in mid-December, it got a face lift and a new name: FLG Terroir. And while all of those aforementioned things still exist, the look and feel are entirely new, not to mention they added a kitchen focused on dishing out fresh, house-made small plates that pair with the wine they carry. Like much of Flagstaff, they’re ever-evolving, and a place definitely worth visiting, or revisiting. See them on Facebook.
This hoppin’ nightspot is owned and operated by the same folks who bring you SoSoBa Noodle Shop, located right next door in the heart of downtown. With clever twists to inspired dishes and cocktails, the Commerce offers seasonal takes on perfectly prepared proteins like duck, seafood and quail eggs married with hearty vegetables—all offered until midnight. Visit them on Facebook.
Root Public House.
Since its glory days as the Mad Italian, hosting punk shows and harboring the Southside’s seedy community, the building on the southwest corner of San Francisco Street and Cottage Avenue has never really found another who could truly call it home. It was a bar that was so unmemorable we don’t even remember its name, then JAX (not that that was memorable, either), and then WHyld ASS. The good news: we think that time of influx is finally over. As you read this, the space is under construction by a couple of really swell local folks. What we know is: it’ll be called Root Public House, feature contemporary American food (locally sourced from farm to table) and craft cocktails, have a Southern vibe, and redefine what it means to be a local hang out—without pretense. There’s no set date for an opening, but a little birdy told us sometime in June, so keep an eye open and a fork in your pocket.
Downtown’s newest restaurant offers a fresh approach in preparation, presentation and more to really Shift local dining culture. With an exceptional affinity for locally sourced, quality ingredients, Shift’s small menu is on constant rotation along with a list of off-beat cocktails not often found at Arizona establishments. Visit them on Facebook.
It’s a big year for politics, and a contentious one at that. But a new local restaurant with a political name is having fun with all these popularity contests. The Mayor—located where El Charro used to be on South San Francisco Street south of Butler Avenue—allows its customers to run for office. Based on social media and revenue, the elected Mayor for a Month chooses a handle, a sandwich and celebrates with a free party for 10. Even for people who don’t win, they’re in luck. The retro-themed restaurant invites with its velvet lounge seating, shag carpeting and burnt orange décor to go with the reinvented pub fare. On the patio, a silver Airstream serves as the bar. Happy hour means $8 for a burger and a beer. And the lingering daylight means plenty of time to hang with the outdoor seating and kick back with a round of cornhole or big-block Jenga. www.themayorflagstaff.com.
All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West by David Gessner (W.W. Norton).
Just out in paperback this past month, David Gessner’s All the Wild that Remains is a great road or trail companion to add to the reading list this summer. Gessner’s book gets great traction out of comparing two figures in Western literature. Ed Abbey is the wandering barbarian and Wally Stegner is the steady and disciplined scholar and witness—or so it first appears. As it turns out, Gessner’s premise compares the two literary giants with striking effect. He also hangs some ideas on the climate crisis and loops it into the mix. In a few places, Gessner struggles to say something new about Abbey, but it feels like he’s digging into some fresher ideas on Stegner’s legacy. Consider it eco-warrior required reading.
Micrograms by Nicole Walker (New Michigan Press).
OK, so we are somewhat biased toward great books by our contributing writers. But, that aside, Nicole Walker (of Letters to Ducey fame) has a sharp and sprawling collection of recently released mini-essays called Micrograms. She already hit the mark with her memoir-esque Quench Your Thirst With Salt, which details her coming of age in Utah in a non-Mormon family. Much like Quench, Walker is keen to blend the deeply personal with the widely universal in her wild variety of what can best be called nano-nano nonfiction (not to be confused with Nanu-nanu, the Mork from Ork signoff). All the essays—save for one; we’ll let you find out which—start with the prefix “Micro.” The whole thing ends with a (mini) bang with the essay “Microapocalypse.” It’s a book where small words spell huge ideas.
True North by Jim Harrison (Grove Press).
Arizona lost one of its great residents this spring when author Jim Harrison died of a heart attack at the age of 78 at his home downstate in Patagonia. Harrison split his time between Arizona and Montana, while many of his novels take place in his home state of Michigan. However we look at his geography, Harrison is a legend whose deep catalogue of work spanning multiple decades demands a visit or revisit, multiple times. How do we pick a favorite from this master, who might best be known for Legends of the Fall and the Brad Pitt-starring film it spawned? Well, True North (2004) is a solid starting point. The novel tells the story of David Burkett, who, as a teen in the 1960s, seeks to rectify the ecological damage done to his beloved Upper Peninsula area of Michigan by his timber baron ancestors. The book overflows with classic Harrisonian themes. Yes, we just made up that word and hope it sticks.
The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea (Back Bay Books).
This is the time of year hikers—however experienced—deserve to be reminded to exercise the utmost care when exploring the vast, rugged and dynamic terrain Arizona has to offer. The low Sonoran desert is unforgiving, as temperatures race toward 100 degrees before dawn. Tijuana-born author, Luis Alberto Urrea, penned a novel in 2005 not as a cautionary tale, but to retell the stories of 26 Mexican men who were abandoned by their coyote (people smuggler) barely over the border near Ajo. Like right now, it was May and mercury exploded from thermometers before they could even get their bearings. Urrea’s investigative-style novel employs a colloquial voice and hefty doses of humor while dissecting the twisted intersections of race, politics and entrenched cultural indifference toward an oppressed people. However heartbreaking, this book will teach as loudly as it demands to be read.
Bullies: A Friendship by Alex Abramovich (Macmillan).
In early March, NPR’s Fresh Air contributor, Dave Davies, brought on an author promoting his new book. Alex Abramovich was in his 30s when he reconnected with an old—you thought I’d say friend—but it turns out, he connected with his childhood bully. After listening to the interview, our interest was piqued to the extent that we went home and immediately ordered Bullies from that nifty, however soul-sucking, place called Amazon.com, and dove right in when the postman delivered the goods. Part memoir, part social commentary, Abramovich deconstructs the influences of childhood friendship and the effects it can have on adulthood. As a kid, the author was bullied by a man who now leads up the East Bay Rats motorcycle club in the rough-and tumble-Oakland, Calif. The Rats emphasize violence, but Abramovich hung out with the gang for four years à la H.S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels, and was able to convey the circumstances of a taboo lifestyle entrenched in one of America’s most dangerous cities.