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Few travelers slow down long enough to explore Flagstaff, a city of 72,000 known locally as "Flag"; most stop only to spend the night at one of the town's many motels before making the last leg of the trip to the Grand Canyon, 80 miles north. Flag makes a good base for day trips to ancient Native American sites and the Navajo and Hopi reservations, as well as to Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert, but the city is a worthwhile destination in its own right. Set against a lovely backdrop of pine forests and the snowcapped San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff is a laid-back college town with a frontier flavor.

In summer Phoenix residents head here seeking relief from the desert heat, because at any time of the year temperatures in Flagstaff are about 20°F cooler than in Phoenix. They also come to Flagstaff in winter to ski at the Arizona Snowbowl, about 15 miles northeast of town among the San Francisco Peaks.

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Fodor's Essential Southwest: The Best of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah

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