Zuni Village RV Park logo

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Flagstaff’s Picture Canyon

zuni rv park picture canyon

If archaeology is your jam, get ready to get your Indiana Jones on at Flagstaff’s Picture Canyon where the pictures say a thousand words. Flagstaff’s Picture Canyon is an important archaeological site, not just for scientists, but for visitors, too. Visitors to the site can view the numerous petroglyphs etched by the Northern Sinagua people. The petroglyphs, or pictures, offer some insight into the history of these ancient peoples. You can also explore the ruins of the pithouses constructed many centuries ago along with other important archaeological artifacts. An easy day drive from Kingman, Arizona and the Zuni Village and RV Campground, you can “dial” in the fun like Dr. Jones and spend an educational and exciting day with history. You’re “destined” for an interesting day at Flagstaff’s Picture Canyon! 


Over 1300 years ago, the hunter-gatherer Northern Sinagua people inhabited the arid climes of central and northern Arizona. In fact, the word sinagua translates to “no water.” The Sinagua people settled in the area now known as Flagstaff and produced over one hundred and fifty petroglyphs on the rocky walls of the canyon. The pictures depict many scenes from the daily life of the Sinagua and include images of hunting parties and common animals of the time, like elk, bighorn sheep, and even deer. For all intents and purposes, it seems as though the Sinagua led an idyllic life.

However, a certain air of mystery surrounds the fate of the Sinagua people from this region. At some point, the Sinuagua deserted the area, and archaeologists have not pinpointed the exact reasons why. Some theorize the tribe may have had altercations with neighboring tribes. Others suggest that resources may have depleted, forcing the Sinagua to find another, more hospitable habitat. Whatever their motivation for leaving, the Northern Sinagua people left behind a pictorial record that weaves a tale of what life was like for them in the dry, Arizona desert.

Preserving the Pictures

Like so many important archaeological sites, Flagstaff’s Picture Canyon fell victim to time and tomb raiders over the years. In the early 1900s, development threatened the area as timber companies and railroads constructed thoroughfares and Flagstaff’s growth began to boom. There was promise the site would be recognized and preserved as an important historic area when archaeologist Harold S. Colton stumbled upon the ruins. Sadly, his efforts resulted in little more than tomb raiding as the graves he discovered were looted. As industry marched on, most archaeological efforts were abandoned and the site succumbed to more destruction and neglect. 

Fortunately, the hidden gem of Picture Canyon was discovered by conscientious citizens in the Flagstaff area. Efforts began to clean the canyon of the discarded mattresses, rusted vehicles, and other junk obscuring the historic beauty of the canyon. Visitors to the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve can now explore a network of trails and important archaeological sites that depict the life of the Northern Sinagua people over a thousand years ago. 

A Little Hiking with Your History

Beyond its historical significance, Picture Canyon provides excellent opportunities for hiking. You can find a printable map of the trails throughout the preserve at the City of Flagstaff’s website, as well as detailed information for a self-guided tour. Hike past Flagstaff’s only waterfall, or enjoy the unique flora and fauna that live in the preserve. A designated Arizona Watchable Wildlife Experience, the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve trails wind through stands of Ponderosa pine and oak where visitors can spy species like the flycatcher, the Lewis’ Woodpecker, elk, mule deer, butterflies, and more!  

Traveling with the whole family? The preserve frequently offers family-oriented special events to help you get the most from your visit. This August, the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center conducts a guided hike with families in mind. This two-hour, family-friendly event takes place August 20, 2023, starting at 10:00 AM. Find out more at https://willowbendcenter.org/picture-canyon/.

Getting There

The Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve is most easily accessible from I-40. From Kingman, take exit 201 and turn left on Country Club Boulevard. Once you arrive at the intersection at US 180, take another left. Turn left again onto Route 66 and travel approximately two miles, turning left onto El Paso Flagstaff Road. Look for the Wildcat Water Treatment Plant sign and follow the road as it curves right. You’ll find parking on the right at the terminus. The address for the preserve is 3920 N El Paso Flagstaff Rd, Flagstaff, Arizona.

So, if you’ve always felt that Indy itch, and love to explore places of historic and cultural significance, grab your bullwhip and swing on over to Flagstaff’s Picture Canyon. Just over two hours from Kingman and Zuni Village and RV Campground, the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve offers something for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike. One thing’s for certain—be sure to bring your cameras because a visit to Picture Canyon is worth way more than a thousand words!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *