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Surrounded by Forests, Mountains and Deserts, Friendly Flagstaff Boasts Old West Character, a Fun Downtown and a Touristy Vibe
Flagstaff (population 78,000) came into being in 1882 after a U.S. military lieutenant first scouted the area for a new road and cut down a Ponderosa pine tree to use as a flag staff. The transcontinental railroad soon arrived, boosting the small metropolis' fortunes, and for years Flagstaff thrived as a timber and cattle hub. It was later a stop on famed Route 66.
Today this mountain metropolis retains much of its Old West character and is a touristy, friendly place, surrounded by forest, mountains and desert in north central Arizona. It also home to Northern Arizona University (29,000 students), which gives it a youthful vibe, and it has grown 13% during the last 10 years. Thanks to the elevation, which is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, Flagstaff is cooler than most other Arizona cities and is actually one of the snowiest cities in the nation. It is also a liberal, diverse place, with sizable Hispanic and Native American populations.
The cost of living is 40% above the national average, and the median home price is $625,000, reflecting a 5% increase from a year ago. Twenty-three percent of locals are age 45 or better, and 45% hold at least a four year college degree. The crime rate meets the national average.
Almost everyone who comes to Flagstaff seems to enjoy it, whether it be the inspiring natural beauty, lively cultural scene or recreation opportunities. Outdoor activities, everything from hiking in the nearby canyons and kayaking on the Colorado River to alpine skiing in the San Francisco Peaks, are a way of life.
Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon National Park, are within a two hour drive. The city has 700 acres of parks, six private and public golf courses and an extensive network of bicycle and walking trails. Tourists come for the outdoor fun but also to lodge and lounge before heading out to the nearby national parks.
Although mother nature is a major draw here, Flagstaff has more to offer than just outdoor adventure. This is a sophisticated small city with a symphony orchestra and several theatre groups, including the Theatrikos Theatre Company. Northern Arizona University's award-winning theatre department mounts several productions a year. Residents also enjoy opera performances, produced by the Flagstaff Light Opera Company, as well as the works of at least three dance companies.
Festivals also bring the eclectic residents of Flagstaff together throughout the year. The annual Northern Arizona Book Festival, September's Route 66 Days and the summer Hopi and Navajo Festivals of Arts and Craft are just a few of the city's fun events.
The downtown has been revitalized and now boasts brick sidewalks, refurbished historic structures and a varied mix of retailers, shops, restaurants and galleries. Shopping consists of a lot of boutique-style shops, but the Flagstaff Mall has 80 name brand retailers (and there are two Wal-Marts). Flagstaff Public Library has a bookmobile, computer classes, public computers with internet access, book clubs, interlibrary loan and more.
The 200-acre Arboretum at Flagstaff sits in a national forest and has 2,500 plant species. The city is also home to two observatories and intentionally maintains dark nighttimes skies. The stars often seem close enough to touch.
The city's park and recreation department manages the Thorpe Park Community and Senior Center and sports a strong menu of classes and activities for the age 50+ demographic. Card games, singles events, a walking group, tai chi classes, wellness programs, support groups and a congregate noon meal (for people age 62+) are a few of the offerings. The Flagstaff YMCA also has senior exercise classes (and is a great place to volunteer). The Civic Service Institute at the University's RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) places volunteers in the community, and nearby Sedona's Yavapai College (20 miles) has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Classes include everything from astrology and politics to gardening and philosophy. As with all OLLI programs, there are no papers, tests or grades.
Medical care is provided by Flagstaff Medical Center. It is a Level II Adult Trauma Center and is award-winning for patient safety and spine surgery. It accepts Medicare patients and is accredited by the Joint Commission.
This is an environmentally-friendly and bicycle-friendly town, but for non-bicyclers, Flagstaff Public Transit's Mountain Line provides public bus service. All buses are wheelchair accessible, and some can "kneel" for easier access. Amtrak offers service to Los Angeles, California and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The local airport is small but has flights to Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport, 125 miles away.
Flagstaff is an Arizona anomaly when it comes to the weather. Summers are cool with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, and evenings can get very chilly. Monsoon rains come in July and August. Winter temperatures are in the teens, 20s, 30s and low 40s. From November through April, the city receives an average of 82 inches of snow.
It is worth noting that the poverty rate is above the national average. Part of this is due to the large student population, but part of it is also because some demographic groups do not flourish as well as others. Class and racial lines are evident. Prices are often inflated thanks to the the number of tourists. Some people say the city has a transitory feeling about it.
Recommended as a Retirement Spot? Yes | Is Arizona Tax-Friendly at Retirement? Yes
Flagstaff has definite drawbacks, but it also has a lot of offer, including beautiful scenery, outstanding outdoor recreation, a busy cultural community, good senior programs and an award-winning hospital. It should be considered as a retirement spot.
The Grand Canyon State was originally part of New Mexico. After the land was ceded to the U.S. in 1848, it became a separate territory. It did not enter the union until February 14, 1912. Copper was discovered in the area in 1848, and metals mining continues to be an important part of the economy. Cattle and tourism are two of the states other vital industries.
Although Arizona can be one of the hottest states in the union, air conditioning continues to bring more and more people to the urban areas. The Colorado Plateau spreads through Arizona from the north and is interspersed with remnants of the Rocky Mountains. The land flattens into desert near Phoenix. The Colorado River forms the state's western borders and snakes through the Grand Canyon.
Arizona is home to places with names like Nothing, a ghost town in western Arizona, and the Horspitality Resort.
The state is stubborn when it comes to time. It observes Mountain Standard Time on a year round basis.
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