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Picture Canyon - Flagstaff, AZ

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Guide 17 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Flagstaff NE
3.2 of 5 by 10
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 0.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Loop 1 mile
Trailhead Elevation 6,476 feet
Elevation Gain 30 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1 hour
Kokopelli Seeds 1.15
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Ruins, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack No
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
2  2019-02-23 toddak
4  2018-10-23 MountainMatt
4  2018-02-03 azbackpackr
27  2017-05-13 SteveHall
3  2017-04-26 chumley
6  2017-04-09 benbacome
5  2016-12-25 MountainMatt
3  2016-08-18 MountainMatt
Page 1,  2
Author fotogirl53
author avatar Guides 5
Routes 0
Photos 1,229
Trips 181 map ( 570 miles )
Age Female Gender
Location Flagstaff, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, May, Apr, Sep
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:14am - 6:23pm
0 Alternative
Geology Nearby
Culture Nearby
Flagstaff's only waterfall
by fotogirl53

Likely In-Season!
Picture Canyon, once a well-kept secret known to only a few in Flagstaff, was dedicated as a National Historic Site on April 29, 2008. Because it has been in the local newspaper and on local TV news, I think it is time to announce this archaeological gem to HAZ. Picture Canyon is technically inside Flagstaff city limits, but it is a part of state trust land. Despite it's location near cinder mining, a water treatment plant and a very noisy El Paso natural gas compression station, the prehistoric significance of this place is amAZing.

Over 150 petroglyphs of archers, turtles, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, water birds and geometric designs were made by the northern Sinagua who farmed and lived here between 1,000 and 1,200 A.D. There are pit houses, cave dwellings, agave roasting pits and pottery sherds.

Noted archeologist, Dr. Harold Colton, studied the area in 1928-29 and included it in his publication, "A Survey of Prehistoric Sites in the Region of Flagstaff, Arizona", published in 1931. He wrote of the series of small Pueblo III houses that lined the canyon rim and others under the canyon rim. They were later destroyed by vandals prior to the publication of the book. He excavated a number of graves, recovering artifacts. Maybe they are still housed at The Museum of Northern Arizona. The El Paso gas line that borders the canyon changed the topography and probably destroyed many artifacts.

The canyon's recent history included being a dumping ground for old cars, mattresses, and other types of garbage. It is State Trust Land, but a group of dedicated Flagstaff residents took it upon themselves to clean out the trash and get it placed on the National Historic Register in an attempt to save it from development. Cranes were used to remove 6 old cars and chunks of concrete. Hundreds of volunteer hours have cleaned up most of the area. In 2007, paintballers left their mark, but volunteers were able to safely clean up most of the damage. You can find pictures of the clean up if you search the web for "Picture Canyon Flagstaff".

The canyon carries the Rio de Flag, Flagstaff's only natural watercourse. Today, however, the water from the Rio de Flag is captured, and what feeds Picture Canyon is reclaimed wastewater, graded A+. In the winter months, the flow is steady and high; in the summer, it is diverted to supply Flagstaff with water for landscaping needs--parks, soccer fields, etc. The water leaves the Wildcat Hill Water Treatment Plant smelling like chlorine (like a hot tub), and foamy. The local wildlife (birds, elk, deer, coyote, rabbits, etc.) just think it is a rare riparian area. The water is chemically clean, but humans are advised not to drink it.

Just yards from the treatment plant, follow the Rio de Flag until it drops down the lava at the beginning of the canyon in Flagstaff's only waterfall. No formal trail system exists for this area, but people/game trails make their way northeast downcanyon. You can also enter the canyon from further downstream--just keep walking on the road on top (north side) to the crest of the hill, then find a trail down. Now the fun begins. Check the cliff face for petroglyphs, but don't forget to check the huge boulders, too. Some of the largest panels are on top of these boulders! Plan to spend a fair amount of time looking all around. Some bouldering will be needed as you explore the entire canyon and be prepared to navigate over/under fallen timber. Beware of the New Mexico Locust thorns and yucca plants. A large cave, once a Sinagua dwelling, has a rubble wall in front. Pot sherds can also be found here.

Another downside to the canyon is the problem with non-native plants, including Scotch Thistle and Bull Thistle. New Mexico Locust is taking hold here. Volunteers regularly try to eradicate, but so far it is a losing battle.

Despite its shortcomings, Picture Canyon is a great place to explore for Sinagua petroglyphs of people, animals, and geometric forms. Birdwatchers have noted many species, including hawks, ravens, thrushes, mountain bluebirds, buntings, and ducks.

Check out the Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2009-03-08 fotogirl53
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    A nice stroll with my family. Sure is warm for February 3rd. I wore a t-shirt and a skort. Enjoyed seeing the surprising waterfall and the petroglyphs, although we didn't find the pit house. The others said the water at the falls smelled bad, so perhaps it's just as well that I have a very poor sense of smell. I did catch a whiff of the nearby sewage treatment facility, but that was only near the parking area.
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    This was such a disappointment!

    I was expecting the cool spot that Matt and azwater have posted, only to learn this place is like Papago Park. Incredible geology destroyed by crappy people visiting it.

    It smelled like piss and there was a tire in the canyon. What is this, the rez? ](*,)

    Visitation is a problem (myself included, obviously) with people making trails all over, climbing up and down into the canyon and destroying the vegetation. Without proper management (is it already too late?) this place will be destroyed.
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    In Flagstaff for work this weekend. Melody and I hiked down to the reclaimed water creek generated by Wildcat WWTP on the east side of town. The A+ effluent creates perennial flow in Rio de Flag through picture canyon, and it is beautiful. The first time I came here was in 2013. I did not want to follow the trail on the southern side of the canyon, and instead bushwhacked along the north side and dropped down to boulder hop along the "creek." This time I followed the trail and quickly discovered that there are a vast amount of user-created trails crisscrossing the designated track.

    Picture Canyon is of course named for they petroglyphs, but this was my first time actually getting close enough to the southern rock wall to find any. I have posted a couple pictures from what looked to be glyphs, but I need my HAZ community to authenticate them. I know very little about petroglyphs, but I would love to learn more. Living in AZ now has provided that opportunity!

    The monsoon came down hard on Monday and the rain lasted six hours. But when the clouds broke at sunset, we got some magnificent views from Snowbowl, looking west.

    In conclusion, Rio de Flag in Picture Canyon is a really special place and the perfect quick stop to tack on to any trip to Flag. It's also really quiet and secluded, even on a summer weekend. I did enjoy being here in the winter more, but only because all of the vegetation had died down, and it was much easier to bolder hop/explore along the creek!
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    This is a GREAT area that we have never explored until this trip. @ezpixels told me about it. Yucky area with the water treatment, etc. But so awesome that Flagstaff citizens saved this treasure. Only waterfall in Flag. Tons of petroglyphs. Awesome area for birds - little riparian area with creek.

    Signs are pretty good going counter clockwise until you intersect with AZT. Then the signs overlap - then after you cross the bridge - it's a mess of signs - we got totally off route - went in circles for a bit. We should have stayed close to creek after the bridge. Ended up on a power line service road - then used Mapquest to parking area to find our way back. Kind of a mess and we missed seeing the petroglyphs on the opposite side of the waterfall.

    Will definitely be coming back to this area again!
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    A nice mellow hike/walk. Saw the famous petroglyphs, and they are abundant. The area has undergone some major ecological restoration, which is evident, mainly riparian work. You can feel the community stewardship. Did some birding as well and noted a turkey vulture perched on a snag. A little gem tucked away within the city.
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    Wendi found this hike and was part 3 of 3 adventures she had put together as a gift to celebrate my birthday. It took advantage of ASLD permit I got back in December. We spotted many of the petroglyphs after some searching in the canyon which is itself a little gem. Wendi was disappointed to have spotted a tiny baby coral(?) snake moving from one pencil sized hole into another. I of course was happy that she did. It was fun to watch the little stripes pass by until finally the tail passed by and into the hole. We never got see the head.
    It was the end of a very full day and a lot of sun so decided to cut our trip here short to return another time when our perceptions won't be skewed by the heat stress and it's obligatory headaches. We were in shorts(zip-offs) today and the flora and evermore so the agave are pretty unfriendly in spots. Regretfully we didn't find the cave but I am happy to leave that for our next visit, perhaps in cooler temps when wearing long pants won't be a disadvantage.
    The beginning of the hike may have change a tiny bit from the description provided on HAZ . The described signage stating "No unauthorized parking" is no longer there, or was misstated as "No motorized vehicles". There is also no south bound "dirt" road to follow but maybe currently paved. But the directions got us there and we just trusted our instincts to get us head east down a dirt path that brought us to ASLD signage and the Picture Canyon monument sign.
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    After hitting the Keyhole Sink, I decided to go out to Rain Valley past the cinder pits and the wastewater treatment plant. I parked off of Rain Valley Road where it intersects the Arizona Trail on the left. I had no idea where I was going but that's how I usually like it. Saw a lot of Stellar's Jays and a few Red-Tail Hawks along the way, plus a horde of Lewis's Woodpeckers going back and forth from a clump of oaks to a big ponderosa snag. After crossing under the power lines the AZ Trail intersects a dirt road (probably truck access for the cinder pit or the water plant). I decided to go left and take the dirt road. After a few minutes I found myself on the rim above Picture Canyon. I boulder-hopped down to the canyon floor, spotting petroglyphs along the way. I didn't realize how many panels were down there in the canyon, absolutely incredible! I hiked upstream towards the waterfall, snapped some pictures, and then headed downstream on the opposite side. The Rio de Flag continues down about a half a mile until it is crossed by the Arizona Trail and a relatively new looking bridge. Spotted many more birds in the weeds near the creek but they were fast and small so I couldn't make any good ID's. Took the AZ Trail back to my car. Got lots of pictures, of this hike and of Keyhole Sink, so I'll be posting those soon! Wonderful area to explore and so close to town!
    Picture Canyon - Flagstaff
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    Can't believe I've lived here for 26 years and not KNOWN about this hike!!! (Special thanks to fotogirl for the description)

    My 8 year old son and I ventured out not really knowing what to expect. What we saw was some pretty amazing rock art, some smelly, foamy waterfalls and we even rustled up a fox who did his best to stay away from us. The water seemed to be really running out of the treatment plant at quite a pace and the sound of rushing water was omnipresent.

    We crossed the treatment plant and took the south trail which had AWESOME views of this "man made" waterfall. A few hundred yards later, we quickly went down into the canyon as safety permitted...saw a few petrogylphs on that side then crossed the stream to the other side. We didn't see much to start and started to get discouraged, but eventually found a LARGE cave and then many more petroglyphs just west. (Was really wondering what was further DOWN the canyon, perhaps even more???)

    Weather was perfect and we had a nice time together. This brief little 1 miler should be on your list if you haven't experienced it yet.

    Permit $$
    AZ State Land Recreational Permits are available for an individual ($15.00), or a family limited to two adults and children under the age of 18 ($20.00).

    Land Parcel Map

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Tucson/Phoenix/all points south of Flagstaff: I-17 to eastbound I-40 in Flagstaff. Take exit 201 (Country Club), turn left onto Country Club Blvd. At the intersection with Hwy 89N, turn Right. At the second signal, turn Right onto Marketplace and travel about 1 mile to the T intersection with Test Place. Turn right, and at the next stop sign, turn left onto old Route 66. Drive 1/2 mile and turn left onto ElPasoFlagstaff. You will see a sign for the Wildcat Water Treatment Pland. Stay on this road, which curves to the right around the water treatment plant property. Park at the intersection where you see the "No Unauthorized Vehicles" sign. (note on WilliamnWendi's triplog) Walk down the dirt road (south), until you see the Picture Canyon/National Historic Site sign/rock. You can see the Rio de Flag from here. Either follow the dirt road east to enter the canyon from below, walking about 1/3 mile to the top of the hill, or follow the Rio's bank until it drops down into the canyon. Find trails and explore!
    page created by fotogirl53 on Mar 08 2009 9:54 pm
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