An Oktoberfest Friday: Flagstaff Called- Part I, the Fort Valley Museums

I lived a somewhat carefree life in Flagstaff, in 1980-81.  I was in a mildly demanding graduate program, was in and out of a relationship with the woman who became my wife, and barely worked at a couple of jobs.  Mostly, though, I was content to hang out in the historic downtown, reading a couple of papers, or studying, at Middle Earth Coffee House, (which became Macy’s European), going on hikes with the Full Speed Ahead trailblazers of NAU Hiking Club, enjoying the foliage of the Inner Basin and scarfing down all-you-can eat pizza at Caparelli’s (now long gone) or Alpine (still there).

There are several places around the country which resemble Flag- Boulder, Bend, Santa Cruz, Missoula, Burlington.  In truth, though, each place has its specialness.  Though each of the above has the common threads of youth, university, a thriving arts scene, lots of coffee and chai, and at least one artisan pizza house, I could not substitute Bend for Flagstaff, or vice versa.

Flag would struggle, were it not for the university and the energy it generates, but it would thrive, in the end, like a supersized Silverton, Taos or Butte.  Native arts are prominent at the Museum of Northern Arizona, which in turn, with the North Country Pioneer Museum and Riordan Mansion, tells the area’s story in stellar detail.

I enjoyed tracing the area’s geologic history, with its attendant changes in animal life.  It was good to get a refresher in the development of  indigenous cultures, from the proto-Puebloans, through the Sinagua and Ancestral Pueblo Peoples (formerly called Anasazi, or “ancient enemies”), to today’s Hopi, Zuni, Rio Grande Puebloans, Pai (Havasupai, Hualapai and Yavapai) and Athapascans (Navajo and Apache).  Simply put, as the wanderers found a place in which they wanted to put down roots, their baskets got more firmly woven, their designs became more complex and their dwellings sturdier.  Thus, we have Basketmakers I, II, and III , followed by the Sinagua, then by Pueblos I, II, III and IV. This last features the Hopis, Zunis and Rio Grande peoples.

I can think of nowhere I have felt more at home, than among the Hopi and Dine (Navajo).  Of course, I will always be Bahaana/Bilagaana (White one), and the trust that was upset when we left for the city, in 1999, would not easily be re-established; but the sheer honesty, connectedness and essential decency of my Native friends cannot be shed from my heart’s memory.  I felt it when I returned to Burntwater in July and again when I was in Glenwood Springs and Towaoc, a couple of weeks ago.

I digress, somewhat.  The Museum also featured, until today, the works of  Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, a painter who, with her zoologist husband, Harold, founded the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1928.  The blend of art and zoology is reflected in the museum’s current special exhibits: Mary-Russell’s extensive gallery is accented by the wealth of Native American art and counterpointed by an exhibit on the Mountain Lion- its habitat, life challenges, behaviour and prognosis.

Capping an hour or two on the inside of the facility is a walk along the Rio de Flag Nature Path.  This rivulet flows from the San Francisco Peaks, through Fort Valley (where the Museum is found), and   downtown Flagstaff, then heads east through Picture Canyon and on to the Little Colorado River.  When I lived there, the Rio was often compared to the Los Angeles River, as a budding urban waste dump.  Citizens got together and have largely reversed the situation, so the Rio is a pleasant spot by which to sit and sip a cup.(I’m told the situation is improving for the Los Angeles River, as well.)  The Rio was barely flowing here, and you can’t see it, for the brush.  It did snow and rain here yesterday, so help is on the way.

The second museum in the Fort Valley area is the Pioneer Museum, a northern extension of Tucson’s Arizona Historical Society.  This museum is photo friendly, so I was able to capture some of its inside features.  Many will remind my faithful readers of other pioneer venues, like Fort Worth’s Log Cabin Village, Old Town Burlington, CO or Lincoln’s New Salem, near Springfield, IL.  Flagstaff’s early Caucasian settlers were mostly concerned with logging and the railroad, rather than displacing Native peoples, though some conflict has occurred over water rights and over the use of the San Francisco Peaks, sacred to at least four nations.

Some homes were comfortably-sized; others, only someone like me could feel okay with them.  This is the cabin of the Doney family, who settled in an area east of Flagstaff which now bears their name:  Doney Park.

The Lockett Cabin was platted in an area of  the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks that is now called Lockett Meadow.

The main exhibits, arranged by decade from 1880- 1970, are on the second floor of the Main Building of the museum.  It was originally Coconino County Hospital.  Thus, we have logger’s tools, like this saw blade. Then, there are quilts and other logger’s tools, from the 1890’s. The nurses lived in the Hospital, in the early 20th Century.  Here is a nurse’s bedroom.In the next post, we move on to the campus of Northern Arizona University, the adjacent  grounds of Riordan Mansion and an Oktoberfest Friday night in downtown Flagstaff.

4 thoughts on “An Oktoberfest Friday: Flagstaff Called- Part I, the Fort Valley Museums

  1. It’s a beautiful area. Hearing you talk about your younger days puts a smile on my face. Interesting to hear of your relationship with your Native American friends, and the importance that trust plays. I always enjoy the history that comes with your travels.


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