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



First Day of School – A Message from Moran Henn, Executive Director

The first day of a new school year is always an exciting time at Willow Bend. During the summers, in addition to running our summer programs and tours, we also start prepping for the upcoming semester. Reviewing our materials, updating presentations and handouts, adding fun activities to field trips, enhancing in-class programs, and contacting schools to start scheduling visits.

During the last few days of summer you can always feel the anticipation at Willow Bend. We are excited to catch up with all of our teacher friends and we look forward to meeting new teachers and administrators. But we are especially eager to see all the students! One year older, one grade higher, some have switched schools, some might have a younger sibling at school now, and some are new to Flagstaff, Coconino County, or even Arizona. But they all know more, remember more, and want to do more. They always run up to us when they see us walking down the hallway at their school, and they ask with so much enthusiasm “Willow Bend, are you coming into our class today? Are we going on a field trip? Are you coming to teach us…show us something…do an activity…?”.

There is nothing more rewarding than teaching children and guiding them in their journey learning about the natural world. Seeing the wonder in their eyes and the huge smiles on their faces when we show animal tracks, or look through binoculars, or identify macro-invertebrates at the pond, or when they see the petroglyphs at Picture Canyon for the first time. We love the work we do. We love getting students outside. We love supporting teachers by providing hands on outdoor STEM activities and lesson plans. We love seeing families at our center learning and exploring together.

But this first day of school feels a little different. The last few months have been challenging for everyone at Willow Bend as well. However, even though we won’t walk down the hallways today, even though we won’t step into the teacher’s lounge and catch up, we are as excited and ready for the new semester as we ever have been. We are committed to teach students and support teachers by providing environmentally focused materials that are both engaging and informative even though they will be delivered virtually. At first we thought it couldn’t be done. But our staff, board, and volunteers have been working hard these past few months to adjust and modify our programs and we are proud and excited to share these newly finished products.

And today, even though it’s not quite like any other “first day” we have been through before, we are here and as ready as always. We are looking forward to providing high quality standard aligned placed based environmentally focused programs. We created fun and engaging lessons coupled with activities that connect students to the natural world that is right outside their window. We are well prepared to assist teachers who want to incorporate environmentally focused programs into their classes.

We are here to support you – teachers, administrators, students, and families – at every twist, turn, and step of this journey.

Here is to a (challenging, rewarding, exciting, hectic, wonderful) new school year!


With appreciation and service,

Moran Henn, Executive Director


08.04.2020. Meet Sara Wilbur, Willow Bend Garden Intern

Hello! My name is Sara Wilbur and I recently started volunteering at Willow Bend. I am writing content for the new garden signs that are being installed this summer.

I am from Fairbanks, Alaska. Much of my childhood was spent on rivers, on skis, and with a violin in my hands. I left Alaska to pursue undergraduate studies in biology and music at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. A six-year hiatus from academia was spent touring the country with a folk band called Patchy Sanders and playing in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley Symphony. Science eventually called me back, and in 2019 I finished my graduate studies in biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, focusing on arctic ground squirrel hibernation physiology and demographics.

An arctic ground squirrel zooms across the snowy tundra. Photo courtesy of Øivind Tøien.



I now live here in Flagstaff. Although I still love research, one of my greatest passions is science writing and communication. I recently completed NAU’s science communication certificate program and am currently writing for Willow Bend and STEM City. I am also the Social Media Officer for the Canadian non-profit organization Art the Science.


Beyond my science interests, I also invest time into the Flagstaff music community. I play with the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, teach violin to kindergartners at Marshall Elementary, and teach violin through NAU’s Community Music & Dance Academy.

Thank you, Sara, for bringing your many talents to our garden projects at Willow Bend!

July Is Nature Art Month!

July is nature art month at Willow Bend! 

During the month, each day, we will be sharing a different fun nature art idea celebrating our connection with nature and using natural materials. Check out our FB page, instagram, and calendar to download each day’s activities, materials, and pictures. 

iNaturalist Challenge Winners!

During the month of July Willow Bend, in partnership with Coconino County Parks and Rec, and the City of Flagstaff Open Space, held an iNaturalist Nature Challenge. Over 30 participants collected observations and uploaded them to iNaturalist and more than 150 identifiers helped ID plant and animals assisting our county and city gather important ecological data.

As of June 30th we challenge participants made 915 observations and identified 364 species!

Each week we raffled off prizes for challenge participants. Today we are announcing the overall challenge winners! If your username is listed below, please contact us at info@willowbendcenter.org to receive your prize:

Most observations made 1st place: Graysons 
Most observations made runner up: Jeffbalmat 
Most species observed: Graysons 
Most species observed runner up: Migo111
Most identifications made: Steve Jones
Most identifications made runner up: Steve Ganley 
Random drawing winner: Steph150
Random drawing winner: earthlovinggari (Ari)
Random drawing winner: diana97 (Diana Henry)
Random drawing winner: Susan Lamb 

While our official online challenge has ended, we encourage you to join our iNaturalsit Willow Bend Nature Challenge project and keep adding observations! This project will remain open indefinitely.