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This past year I told myself and everyone around me that I didn’t want to stay in Arizona after graduation. I was thinking of starting somewhere new, somewhere far, far away from here. But something I saw this weekend made me rethink my decision. Grand Falls. It is kind of crazy how visiting a place can change your mind so completely.

Grand Falls is on the Navajo reservation not too far from Flagstaff. Several miles down a bumpy and rough road in what seems like an endless expanse of land, the horizon opens up to Grand Falls.

The falls are seasonal as they run mostly off snowmelt from the White Mountains, which empties into the Little Colorado River. During the summers, the falls can also run following intense monsoon storms. The months of March and April offer some of the best times to come visit the falls.

There was a lava flow that went through the area, diverting the Colorado and making the falls possible. Another name for the falls is Chocolate Falls, because the water carries so much sediment from the surrounding dusty landscape. Once you arrive, you can enjoy the view from above or hike down into the canyon and see the waterfall up-close. The area is mostly muddy, but there is a grassy field where most people were lounging.

The sound of rushing water and being enclosed by lava rocks made me feel so tranquil. I remember looking up at the waterfall and thinking that I didn’t want to leave Arizona because there are so many other places I haven’t seen yet. I was with my friends, homework in the back of my mind. Four years is not enough.

Another place I still haven’t seen is Snowbowl. I know, right? I’ve been here since 2015 and haven’t gone to the one place most students in Flagstaff visit right away.

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I’m glad I got to see Grand Falls before graduation, though, because it was a beautiful location steeped in history. Close to the site, there are informational boards that detail how the waterfall was made and also one about Navajo history. It was nice to read about the falls and then experience them with that perspective.

Everyone there seemed to enjoy the falls and some people went up to a space where you can be in the water but not be submerged in it. The only sad part about Grand Falls is that there were little trash islands floating in the water and washing up on the bank. For a place so beautiful, it’s been disrespected by careless people. Grand Falls isn’t a regulated place like the Grand Canyon where there are park rangers to make sure the environment isn’t damaged by visitors.

Fortunately, there are various cleanup crews that come out to minimize the trash. For example, there is a Facebook page that continuously schedules Grand Falls cleanups, the last one being on April 7. It is so important to take care of the places that we enjoy, like Grand Falls and the Grand Canyon, so we don’t ruin these places for ourselves and future visitors.

Looking up at the falls this weekend, I realized how wrong people’s stereotypes are about Arizona. It’s not all cacti and deserts. It’s canyons and waterfalls and pine trees. Like all states, Arizona is multidimensional. California, my home state, isn’t just Los Angeles and San Francisco and celebrities. Yes, there are surfers, but there are also people who don’t even make it to the beach.

It was nice to break my own stereotypes of a place where I thought I wouldn’t enjoy myself, but now I don’t even know if I want to leave.

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Ariel Cianfarano is the circulation director of The Lumberjack, Northern Arizona University's student newspaper. College Chronicles aims to connect Flag Live! readers to various aspects of campus life.

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