12.27.2020 Holiday Adventure Series: The Grand Canyon

I love exploring the Grand Canyon this time of year, the weather is perfect. The Canyon never ceases to amaze me and I am always humbled by its vastness and beauty. There is a special energy in the canyon that always brings peace to my soul and perspective to my mind.  I feel very grateful to have this wondrous place in our backyard. Everyone can enjoy the canyon whether that be a pleasant stroll along the rim trail or a more adventurous hike further deep down inside the canyon.
A trail that I only discovered recently is the Grandview trail.  You can do a 11 mile lollipop. Its steep at the top but once you get through that first mile then there are lots of smooth sections down to the horseshoe mesa. It gives such delightful views that are different from the mainstream Bright Angel and South Kaibab.  You can then continue past the Horseshoe Mesa and down switchbacks to the Tonto Trail (about 4.5 miles from the top down to the Tonto). Last time I was there I saw a Big Horn Sheep family!  Once at the Tonto, turn left and go Westward for about half mile until you see Cottonwood Creek and a campsite.  Follow the trail back up to Horeshoe Mesa and then back up the Grandview Trail.
Here is a map of the trail. Enjoy

12.26.2020 Holiday Adventure Series: Fun Visitors in Picture Canyon

I have been hiking with llamas and camels in Picture Canyon for over 20 years. Its amazing to think that camels came through Flagstaff in 1853 with Lieutenant Edward Beale building the first federal highway in the Southwest. Between 1857 to 1860 Lieutenant Beale, a crew of 100 men, and 22 camels cleared a 10-foot wide track and pushed the rocks to the side to allow wagons to travel on the track. Beale’s “Wagon Trail” came through the Flagstaff area.

Camels are very effective at walking in rugged terrain, carrying heavy loads, and of course adjusting to dry conditions. However, they were not positively accepted by locals as they scared horses and mules, and looked odd to those who were not used to working with these animals.

On December 26th my two camels and I, along with Willow Bend Director Moran Henn and her two horse, will try trace a small section of Lieutenant Beale’s trail. We will judge, if indeed they navigate easily through this terrain, and what effect they have on horses.

Join us at Picture Canyon on the morning after Christmas and judge for yourselves how these beasts do in the Southwestern landscape. We will be attempting to cross the bridge across the Rio de Flag late morning. Exact time will depend on the cooperation of all involved, especially the furry ones. We are hoping for 11am-12pm timeframe. Snap a picture, post on social media and tag Willow Bend (or email it to moran@willowbendcenter.org), and enter to win a fun gift for participating in our Holiday Adventure Series.



Directions to Trailhead: From downtown Flagstaff, travel west on Route 66 toward the Flagstaff Mall. Turn right on Route 66 and left on El Paso Flagstaff Road. The trailhead is approximately ½ mile down the road on the right side. Once at the trailhead, hike approximately 1.5 miles along the Don Weaver trail till you get to the bridge. For more information about Picture Canyon and to download the hiking guide visit the City’s website. 

Post written by board member Eric Souders and Executive Director Moran Henn

12.25.2020 Holiday Adventure Series: Birding in Northern Arizona

Birding in Flagstaff, during the winter, can be challenging.  Many bird species have moved south, and those that tough it out tend to be quiet and reclusive. So where do you go to find birds?  Where there’s water!  Especially this year due to the past years being so dry.

You will see more birds on a sunny day without much wind (or in a spot out of the wind).  In winter I find the birds seem to be most active in the morning, once the sun has been out for a while.  Flagstaff has a number of places with year-round water that are frequented by our resident birds, such as Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted, Red-breasted & Pigmy Nuthatches and a variety of Woodpeckers, to name just a few.

Try visiting any of our local springs.

Little Elden Springs: My personal favorite is Little Elden Spring. The reason I love this area so much is the incredible diversity of trees along the AZ Trail here – I haven’t seen so many different kinds of trees, all in one place, anywhere else in Flagstaff.  There are Oaks, Junipers, Ponderosa, Aspens, Spruce and others I haven’t identified. It’s also the only place I’ve encountered Elderberry bushes growing wild.  The rocks along the trail are fun too! Many have vugs of crystals in them. Take Hwy 89 to Elden Springs road, at the junction of FR 556A there’s a parking area. Walk across the road and up a short trail to the spring. More info and directions here.

Kachina Wetlands Preserve: When the water isn’t frozen, you can find a variety of ducks, eagles, hawks and perching birds – even, if you’re lucky, a Roadrunner – there is a pair residing in the area and I was lucky to get a photo of one on my last visit. Directions and more information here.
But for the best winter birding you need to make like a bird and migrate to a warmer climate.  Fortunately for us, that is a simple day trip to the Verde Valley.
Red Tank Draw: Driving south on I-17, take State Rt 179 (Sedona) exit and go east (away from Sedona).
You will see a small sign, and once across the bridge, pull over and park on the right. You’ll see a trail that leads down to the stream bed, walk a short distance south, and even as dry as it is right now, you’ll find small pools of water, perfect for perching birds to drink and bathe in.  Find a comfy rock to sit on and wait 5 to 10 minutes for the birds to return. I found lots of Robins, a few warblers, several phoebes, a sapsucker and numerous ruby-crowned kinglets enjoying this area. The geology here is wonderous, as is the peace and quiet, if you hike a bit further down the streambed and away from the road.
Beaver Creek Picnic Area: Just down 179 a bit further is the perfect spot for a picnic.This is my niece’s favorite picnic spot – we take a short walk down the trail and hop onto the large rocks in the water, relax and wait for the birds to fill the trees along the waters’ edge. Directions and more information here. 

Bubbling Ponds at the Page Springs Fish Hatchery: Bubbling Ponds hosts numerous species of birds due to the fish hatchery ponds where AZ Game & Fish raise many of the species of endangered Arizona fish, as well as having Oak Creek in close proximity. Here you can see a variety of ducks, herons, eagles and hawks – including the Common Black Hawk, which is only found near water and is not common, as its name implies. There may only be 250 pairs in the entire U.S.  They do migrate, and are not typically found at Bubbling Ponds in the winter – however, one seems to have decided to stay this year and can frequently be seen high in a Cottonwood tree between the road and the ponds.  Another bird that is fun to spot here is the Belted Kingfisher who frequents the stretch of Oak Creek next to Bubbling Ponds.  Numerous other bird species frequent this area, making it an amazing place to visit any time of year. Directions and more information here.






Other good birding spots in Flagstaff include: Griffith Springs, Picture Canyon, Francis Short Pond, I-40 Wetlands , Elden Springs (& the Elden Homestead site), Sinclair Wash below Willow Bend

Other good birding spots in the Verde Valley include: Montezuma’s Well, Verde River & Ponds at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, West Fork of Oak Creek, in Oak Creek Canyon, West Clear Creek Campground and Day Use Area

Another source of good, local birding information is Jay’s Bird Barn (who graciously donate both the feeders and birdseed at Willow Bend). As is Northern Arizona Audubon

Post written by Willow Bend member, volunteer and avid birder Kathleen Satterfield.


12.24.2020 Holiday Adventure Series: Sourdough Muffins

I want to share my grandmother’s sourdough English muffin recipe, since there is an overnight step, its a perfect activity for the holidays.


1/2 cup of sourdough starter, 2 cups of flour plus 1 Tbsp. 1 cup of milk, 1 Tblsp. Honey, 1/2 Tbsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 cup of corn meal.

Here it is step by step:

First, you’ll need to get some sourdough starter. There are many instructions on-line about starting your own or possibly source from a friend. This starter was from my grandmother and is about 45 years old. It has been maintained and passed around in my family.




The night before you want to serve the muffins (best when fresh), mix 2 cups flour, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup starter and one Tblsp. Honey (Note: I used local honey from Willow Bend’s very own Melissa Eckstrom!)




Mix everything together





Cover the dough bowl with tea towel and set in a warm place overnight.





In the morning, dough should have grown and have small bubbles. Add 1/2 Tbsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, and just enough flour (~Tbsp) so it’s not sticky.




Gently mix, just enough to incorporate the salt, soda, and flour.





Roll out on a floured surface approx. 5/8 inch thick.





Use a cookie cutter or glass to cut approx. 2 inch rounds. Spread corn meal on a cookie sheet and gently set the rounds leaving some space for expansion. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours. Pictured here muffins have already risen.



Heat a griddle or cast iron skillet on medium heat. Sprinkle corn meal on the griddle and cook rounds. Rotate periodically for even cooking. If the corn meal starts getting brown, turn down heat.




When lightly browned, flip and cook the other side.





Finish in a warm oven at 220 for about 10 minutes. This will help stabilize the doughy center.





Fork split and toast or broil until golden brown.





Final product, fork split and toasted. Enjoy with a little butter and or your favorite preserve.





If you make a donation $50 and over on December 24th or 25th on our website Ariel will deliver some of her grandmother’s 45 year old sourdough* starter as a token of our appreciation (email moran@willowbendcenter.org with a screen shot of your donation, your address, and contact information if you want a sourdough delivery).

Recipe and pictures shared by Willow Bend President Ariel Leonard.


(while supplies last, first come first serve)

12.23.2020 Holiday Adventure Series: Brookbank Trail

The first time I ventured into the Dry Lake Hills, my encounter with Brookbank Meadow was typical:  bluebird sky, persistent sun, a grassy meadow surrounded by ponderosa pine. I am grateful for giving it a second chance in a season less traveled. Winter can give nature a facelift – all you have to do is wait for weather.

On my second foray, the gray sky released a mist onto the Pipeline Trail and thickened into a steady pelt on the Oldham Trail. The fallen water was hardening to ice on the uphill climb up to the meadow. Brookbank Meadow itself was a cloud; icy ponds lay scattered across the hidden landscape. I found shelter for the night under a Douglas fir, its boughs fashioned to hold more snow than those of pine.

The next morning that same persistent sun from the warmer months was trying to break up the lingering meadow-cloud. I snapped this single photo, which is now my mind’s eye’s default memory when Brookbank Meadow comes to mind.

Brookbank Trail, starts on Elden Lookout Road about three miles past the junction with Schultz Pass Road. More information and directions on the USFS website.

Post written by board member Jeff Balmat.

12.22.2020 Holiday Adventure Series: Lamar Haines Trail

One of my favorite hikes is the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Hike located at a gate about 3 miles up Snowbowl Hill Road.
Not only does the 1 mile hike wander through beautiful aspens and claim lots of wildlife, it has some Flagstaff history.  The trail leads to what it left of a sheep herder cabin that had been built in 1892.  The trail is named for Lamar Haines, who was an educator in the Flagstaff Public Schools and a preservationist.  I knew Lamar Haines from my career in the Flagstaff Public Schools and can always picture him when I walk this trail.   Pictographs on rocks, two springs and a small meadow, elk, deer and a variety of birds can be discovered hiking this trail.
The hike is a cool get away in the summer, a colorful leaf viewing trail in the fall and a snow shoeing destination in the winter.
The trail is kid friendly and parking is on the right as you head up Snowbowl road.  It’s a hike that is close to town and also an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the San Francisco Peaks.
For directions and more information visit the Arizona Watchable Wildlife Website.
Post written by Board Member Mary Mckell. Pics courtesy of David McKell.

12.21.20 Holiday Adventure Series: Keyhole Sink

Working as archaeologist on the Kaibab National Forest for more than three decades, an important part of my job was to interpret the Forest’s history for the public. One of my favorite places to do so was at the Keyhole Sink Interpretive Petroglyph site. The trailhead is about a 25 minute drive from Flagstaff west to the Oak Hill Parking lot nestled between the communities of Pittman Valley and Parks. Once at the trail head it is only a 0.6 mile hike to visit the keyhole-shaped lava flow where the ancestors of many of our tribal neighbors left their stories etched in lava flow’s walls.








While it is often difficult to understand the meaning of the petroglyphs, one seems to depict a hunting scene where about a dozen zoomorphic figures (animals) heading towards the keyhole shaped natural trap. Other petroglyphs designs of lizards, bear paws, deer, a garter snake, and an Arizona tree frog seem to tell the story of the animals that still live at and visit Keyhole Sink today. If you hike there in the early spring, you may even see a thunderous waterfall created by snowmelt from Sitgreaves Mountain.

If you visit Keyhole Sink, make sure you pick up an interpretive brochure just inside the trailhead gate. As you hike, see if you can find the five numbered stations where you can learn about how the trail’s densely wooded Forest was once a grassland 100 years ago, and what is being done to restore its ecosystem. Visit the Kaibab National Forest’s Keyhole Sink web page for more details and directions.

Remember, when out in the forest, take only pictures and leave only footprints. The petroglyphs at Keyhole Sink are fragile traces of the past and are protected by several federal laws. If you encounter artifacts such as fragments of pottery or stone tools, please leave them in place and only take pictures. We want future visitors to enjoy the thrill of discovery in this magical outdoor classroom.

Post written and shared by Board Member Neil Weintraub


12.12.2020 – Sustainable Holiday Gift Making

Visit this page between 12/12-12/20 for sustainable holiday tips, alternative gift wrapping videos, and nature/recycled holiday crafts! Tag your creations #willowbendholidaycrafts and #creativeflagstaff we will share your creations.

These programs were made possible thanks to support from the City of flagstaff BBB Revenues and the Arts Council Science and Arts grant and Covid Relief grants.

How to Make a Magazine Bow

Magazine bows are fun and easy to make. You can also use scrap paper to make these gift bows.

Alternatives to Gift Wrap: Old Map

Holiday Collage Cards

Make a Bottle Cap Snow Friend

Wood Cookie Ornaments

Sustainable Gift Wrapping

Pine Cone Ornaments

Magazine Bead Garland

The Kindness Rocks Garden at Willow Bend  

We just “seeded” a new little garden at Willow Bend, a Kindness Rocks garden. This garden is part of “The Kindness Rocks Project” TM, created by Megan Murphy. The Kindness Rocks Project, encourages people to leave rocks painted with inspiring messages along the path of life. Our mission, is “One message at just the right moment can change someone’s entire day, outlook, or life”.  Our purpose is simple, to cultivate connections within communities and lift others up through simple acts of kindness.

Please visit this addition to our gardens and…

Take One, for Inspiration

Share One, for Motivation

Leave One, to help our Kindness Garden Grow

There is a small bucket of clean, ready-to-paint, rocks on the edge of this garden, feel free to take a couple home to paint and plant in our Kindness Rocks garden.  We have a Facebook page “Kindness Rocks Flagstaff” and we’d love for you to post photos of your painted rocks, (or any that you find), on our page tagged #kindnessrockswillowbend.  Feel free to also share any inspiring stories of kindness rocks or other simple acts of kindness.

You can buy rocks to paint at the Landscape Connection, a 5-gal bucketful runs about $3, bring your own bucket and choose your river rock. Regular craft paint works well with a clear, waterproof top coat.

Thank you for sharing kindness!

Year End Appeal

Dear Friends,

This year has been challenging for so many and in so many ways. Willow Bend is no exception. But we feel very fortunate to have received generous support from the community which enabled our amazing team to quickly adapt to the new reality and convert many of our programs to a virtual format or adjust to socially distanced delivery. We were able to continue providing engaging and interactive experiences and environmental education to our local schools and the community.

These efforts were hugely successful and even given the challenges we were able to reach over 15,000 students, teachers, community members, and visitors through school programs, teacher support, virtual presentations, and volunteer events. Through our partnerships, we were also able to take on a few big projects: installing an ADA accessible wildlife viewing platform, creating an interactive outdoor classroom, and making significant enhancements to the gardens and the Center.

With everyone’s health and safety in mind, last spring, we decided to cancel most of our in-person activities including the Annual Celebration. The celebration is typically our biggest fundraising event and membership drive and is critical to covering operating costs and program support.

Therefore, this year’s appeal is even more important. We know for some, even a small contribution is too big of an ask at this time. However, if you are able, please consider helping Willow Bend give the gift of environmental education and continue supporting teachers and families especially during this time when our services are most needed. You can make a donation on our website, send a check to 703 E Sawmill Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or contact moran@willowbendcenter.org.

Please renew or upgrade your annual membership or make a one-time holiday gift to help us reach our Year-End Appeal fundraising goal of $5,000*.

We are committed to continue developing, improving and making our programs accessible to everyone. We encourage you to take care of yourselves and each other and we hope to see more of you, in-person or virtually, in 2021.

On behalf of the Willow Bend Board of Directors and staff,

Moran Henn, Executive Director                                                                 Ariel Leonard, President of the Board