Passing through Flagstaff recently, Ruth & I had time for one attraction. “One of the Great Regional Museums of Our World” it trumpeted, so we tried the Museum of Northern Arizona. It deserved no more than a 4 Compass designation.
North of town and across Highway 180 from the H.S. Colton Research Center, which was off-limits to casual visitors like us, MONA consisted of 6 permanent galleries surrounding a seasonally opened courtyard. Colton was this Museum’s founder in 1928. There was another gallery specializing in temporary exhibits and a second large courtyard. Four of the permanent galleries featured native American crafts–Navajo rugs, jewelry from 3 cultures, etc. Many individual pieces were certainly attention-getting like the spiny oyster shell necklace pictured, but the old-style displays needed refreshing. In the Ethnology, Native Cultures room, for example, there were many native baskets. Too many. Instead of offering some representative examples of the weavers’ craft, so many baskets were out that individual appreciation dimmed. It was like going into a store with so many choices of ice cream that you leave without buying any.
Other galleries dealt with Archeology, especially the results of research on pueblo cultures, and the Geology of the Colorado Plateau. This museum’s focus on the 130,000 square mile Four Corner area above 5,000 feet made it regional. The reception desk lady told us that this was the main difference between MONA and the far more eclectic, 5 Compass Heard Museum down in Phoenix.
While I looked at some info about the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, scene of many classic Western movies, Ruth went to the gift and book stores. While Monument Valley has many mesas and buttes, I learned, it really isn’t a valley. “How are they?” I asked when Ruth walked by empty-handed. “Expensive,” she summarized.
On the way out, we learned about the Museum of Northern Arizona’s most compelling feature, its Ventures Program. Spring through autumn 1 to 5 day Colorado Plateau excursions occur with names like Exploring Escalante and Wupatki/Sunset Crater Plant Hike. Venture leaders are writers, geologists, etc. who tend to be on the staff, board trustees, or noted specialists with close times to either the Museum of Northern Arizona or the Colton Research Center. Online registration is possible.