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Monday, June 23, 2014


A petroglyph panel in Picture Canyon

Vociferous flocks of waterfowl and warblers are just a few of the more than 150 species of birds that   inhabit the wetlands of Flagstaff's Rio de Flag.  A favorite destination for birdwatchers, Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve is a 477.8-acre, city-owned property along the Rio undergoing habitat restoration, which will return the site to a more natural and sustainable condition.  This section of the Rio--located in Flagstaff's industrial east side--is fed by effluent discharge from the Wildcat Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant. The shallow stream drifts through pine-bolstered riparian greenery before tumbling over the vertical volcanic rock walls of Picture Canyon in a series of cascades that can be viewed from lookout areas along the rim.   Restoration plans include proposed recreational trails to complement the existing state-traversing Arizona Trail and 44-mile city-circumnavigating Flagstaff Loop Trail, both of which cut through the property, adding to the site's potential as a major hiking destination.
Waterfalls in the canyon
In addition to its wildlife habitat and geological significance, petroglyphs (the "pictures") and other evidence of ancient Sinaguan inhabitants are peppered throughout the corridor.
Although the Arizona Trail is signed, most of the other roads and paths within the preserve are not. This makes finding your way around the roughly 6-miles of hike-able dirt roads and paths somewhat of a challenge. To help with navigation, a map kiosk at the trailhead provides an overview of the layout and landmark beacons Mt. Elden and Sheep Hill to the east and Wildcat Hill on the southwest can be used to find your bearings.   Even with miles of trails and wildlife viewing opportunities, it's the "pictures” that most people come to see.  Here's the quickest way to get to them for a 2-mile round trip hike.
From the trailhead, hike on the main road trail and stay straight at the first fork. Go right at a second fork located past the gas plant near a "246" sign  and continue to where the Arizona Trail crosses the road. Turn right here and hike on the AZT to a 4-way junction just before a wooden bridge.  Go left here to reach the rock art gallery.  As with all cultural sites, artifacts should not be disturbed.

Rio de Flag

LENGTH: up to 6 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6630' - 6766'

Flagstaff's only waterfall

From downtown Flagstaff, travel 5 miles east on Old Route 66 (a.k.a. Santa Fe) to El Paso Flagstaff, turn left and continue 1 mile to the trailhead on the right. Roads are 100% paved.  No fees.
Arizona Trail passes through the site

City of Flagstaff
Preserve Facebook page:
Friends of the Rio de Flag:


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