Most of us know the reason it is so hard to put down roots in Flagstaff.
If you could wave a magic wand and live anywhere, where would that be? For me, that answer took the trip off the tongue every time to Flagstaff.
My first time in Arizona was for the 1995 Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships in Flagstaff. Bozeman was getting a foot of snow as we skated off the runway bound for the meet. Two hours later, I hopped off the plane in Phoenix with the rest of my over-dressed, vitamin D-deprived teammates, into a balmy 78 degrees.
We took a pit stop on the way up the hill in Black Canyon City. I remember walking out into the desert, the saguaro, arms stretched in homage to the sun, the pungent smell of creosote stinging my nose that had encountered nothing in nature but frozen ground for months. I closed my eyes and listened to two doves cooing in the palo verde tree next to me and thought, “This is paradise.”
As the fleet van wound up the freeway, from desert to high plateau, through red rocks and finally to the base of the San Francisco Peaks, I knew I had arrived. This place was heaven on Earth. I vowed I would live here and did. I got a green card for two years; aka, graduate school at Northern Arizona University. Every morning, I would buy the Arizona Daily Sun, walk to Macy’s, do the crossword puzzle and obsess about how I could manage to stay. Of course, all my peers in the English department had the same obsession. Being a mom of two young children, I did the responsible thing and went back home to Minnesota to take my first teaching job, with a good salary, benefits, retirement. The rest is history. Over the next 20 years, I spent nearly every vacation and two sabbatical leaves in Arizona, and each time, I left my spirit by the pond near Aspen Corner meditating until I could return.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the real estate market? Well, I got handed a magic wand a few years ago when I able to move all my courses online. Most of us know the reason it is so hard to put down roots in Flagstaff. The cost of living is high and there are a limited number of jobs where people can afford to stay. Ask yourself, how many people under the age of 40 do you know in town (not native Flagstaffians) who have lived here more than five years? How many have just one job? Enter a worldwide pandemic, lockdowns, people working remotely probably for good, and ABRACADABRA! The Universe is currently having a BLOWOUT SALE on magic wands. Out-of-state wages, meet Arizona sunshine.
This past year, people with resources got clobbered over the head by the epiphany that life should not be squandered in a place, in a career, where they are not feeling fulfilled. Add giga fires and statewide rent control regulations in California to the mix, and Flagstaff is facing an enormous influx of people wanting to buy homes while very few people are wanting to sell them. Because, in Flagstaff, you’re not simply buying a house, you’re gaining the lifestyle you’ve always wanted. You own a house and your roots take hold. Note all the smiling, fit people running, biking, hiking all over town. Get off the FUTS and 10 minutes later, one can be completely alone on a trail snaking its way through the vast ponderosa forest, that is for the most part, all public land. That means, “this land is your land, this land is my land…” You know the next verse.
A friend who works in the biology department at NAU calls Flagstaff “a sky island.” He’s speaking from an ecological standpoint, but it is also a “sky island” metaphorically for those of us who have been blessed to call it home.
Does it seem like a good time to put down our magic wands for a moment and ask a very realistic question? How do we collectively grow, change and still preserve our island, which might just be “the last best place?” FBN
By Katie McGee
Katie McGee is a runner, writer and realtor with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty in Flagstaff.