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Cuckoo for Coconino

Northern Arizona offers tall pines, cold beer and maybe even a UFO or two.

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Sure, sure you love the heat. It's why you live here. You can't get enough of the scorching sun, the blistering beat, the relentless roast.

But there comes a point, somewhere around the end of July, when you start seriously considering spending the weekend circling Albertson's frozen food aisle while browsing a copy of Cosmo.

When that feeling hits, consider a road trip to the tall pines of northern Arizona. If you dodge the traffic in Phoenix, it's just a four-hour drive to Flagstaff, located right along Route 66 at 7,000 feet at the base of the San Francisco Peaks. With an average high of 79 degrees in August, the town offers a restoring respite from the Sonoran Desert's dog days.

The surrounding forest offers plenty of nearby camping spots, although the state's tinderbox status is closing down a bunch of them this summer. The town itself is loaded with hotels and motels: Hipster-doofus types will want to check into downtown's Hotel Monte Vista (100 N. San Francisco, 800-545-3068) or the Weatherford Hotel (23 N. Leroux St., 928-774-2731); if you're towing along the young'uns, consider the Little America (2515 E Butler Ave., 928-779-7900).

The charming sidewalks of downtown feature a mix of shops and cafés (although we miss McGaugh's Newsstand, which closed its door last summer). Kathy's Café (7 N. San Francisco St.) serves a solid plate o' eggs or pancakes, while the hipper Macy's European Coffeehouse and Bakery (14 S. Beaver St.) offers an eclectic menu of pastries, sandwiches, salads and pastas, along with many other breakfast, lunch and dinner specials.

Right across the street from Macy's is the Beaver Street Brewery (11 S. Beaver St.), a rehabbed grocery store where fresh beers are lovingly nurtured in jumbo tanks behind the bar. Besides the homebrew, the tavern serves great pizzas, burgers and sandwiches.

Get acquainted with the Colorado Plateau at the Museum of Northern Arizona (3101 N. Fort Valley Road). On the museum's campus, you can stroll a nature trail along the Rio de Flag, study the geology of the Grand Canyon or travel back in time 12,000 years to learn how ancient people settled the land. There's even a replica of the skeleton of Dilophosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur who once called the area home.

This summer's visiting shows include Hollywood's Indians: Stereotypes and Prejudices, which examines how film has shaped the perception of Native Americans, as well as exhibits of Hopi and Navajo art. The museum also hosts field trips and weekend demonstrations by Native American artisans. Be sure to check out the Lockett Fine Arts Gallery for an extraordinary collection of regional art. (Learn more at www.musnaz.org.)

The nearby Pioneer Museum (2340 N. Fort Valley Road) has a special show through November: Down & Dirty: Cleaning Up in Flagstaff, "an exhibit detailing the development of cleaning technology, including washing machines, carpet sweepers, vacuum cleaners, flat irons, and soap powder."

If you're feeling homesick, Bob Bookman has a branch at 1520 S. Riordan Ranch Road, and he even accepts your Tucson trade credit. You can browse your new paperbacks next door at Buster's Restaurant and Bar (1800 S Milton Road), a cousin of Tucson's popular Buddy's Grill.

Flagstaff makes a great base of operations for Northern Arizona road trips. You can reach Grand Canyon National Park in less than 90 minutes. (Watch for the Flintstones Bedrock City along the way.) Drop in for cocktails or make dinner reservations at the South Rim's El Tovar Hotel, the historic lodge nearing its 100th birthday.

If you've already done the canyon, drive east for a hike through the fascinating Indian ruins built into the walls of Walnut Canyon some eight centuries ago. Also nearby: the lava fields of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, as well as the gaping gash of Meteor Crater, where a mighty big rock hit the planet about 50,000 years ago.

If you need to spend some time atop a mystic vortex, head south through Oak Creek Canyon to the red rocks of Sedona. Fair warning: your chi may be severely tested by the weekend traffic. If you're down there past sunset, keep your eyes peeled for lights in the sky. It's rumored around town that any number of visitors drop by regularly.

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