Its a Wash!





This lesson introduces students to map skills, as well as the geography of northern Arizona. Rivers, washes and floods are specific topics in addition to discussions about flood and river safety.




      To identify major water areas of northern Arizona.

      To recognize landmarks and identify cardinal directions in the city of Flagstaff.

      To explain the difference between a river and a wash.

      To be cognizant of flash flood safety.


Grade Level/Subject Area


      1 5






Northern Arizona maps, Flagstaff city map, NAU Special Collections and Archives Photographs on on-line oral histories.


Oral Histories Online:


      Interview with Richard and Beatrice Riordan: Flooding , 1915 Orpheum roof caves in, floating sidewalks

      Interview with Elsie Pyland

      Interview with Mrs. Mary Greenlaw Draine : Rio de Flag flood, 1906-1907

      Interview with Ethel Compton Leamon




Flooded Waterways:


      Flood of Rainwater: One Minute Before!

      Flood of Rainwater: One Minute After!

      Flood In Moenkopi Wash

      Upper End of Mormon Lake Flood

      Lake Mary Spillway Flood of 1918

      Lake Mary 2004-2005

      Upper Lake Mary 2004-2005

      Grand Falls


City of Flagstaff (without floods)


      San Francisco and Cherry Street, Flagstaff, Arizona, ca. 1900

      Looking west on Aspen Street, Flagstaff, Arizona, towards Mars Hill (Lowell Observatory), ca. 1915


City of Flagstaff (during floods)


      Flagstaff: Aspen Street, flooded; Emerson School in background @ 1900

      Flooding: downtown Flagstaff @ 1906


Blank maps of the city of Flagstaff, Coconino County and Northern Arizona


      Blank map of Arizona

      Labeled Map Printout of Arizona

      Label Me! Arizona State Map


Instructional Strategies:


1.      Show the class photographs from the floods

2.      Activate prior knowledge asking students about places, landmarks, what they know about water and floods in northern Arizona. Note historical changes in the pictures: for example, the "floating" wooden sidewalks in the flooded Flagstaff photos.

3.      Listen to sample oral histories.

4.      Have students discuss the pictures and the oral history interviews lead the discussion towards lesson objectives. Write the student answers on the board.


Questions: What places in Flagstaff do you recognize from the photographs? Do you live near the Rio de Flag? What is the difference between a river and a wash? Is there a wash or a river near your house? What happens when a wash fills with water?


Discuss: Flood safety. Make sure students know not to play in washes, especially when it is raining. They should not walk or ride their bicycles in flooded areas and ask their parents not to drive their cars through flooded areas.

5.      Venn Diagram:


Remind students of topics during your discussion of rivers and

washes. Have them fill in each side of the diagram. Note the similarities between each in the middle.

6.      Map Skills:


Provide a blank map of Northern Arizona.

For younger students, provide a model map on an overhead or chalkboard.

Direct students to label (and / or draw in) significant water landmarks:


      Rio de Flag

      Mormon Lake

      Sinclair Wash

      Lake Mary

      Grand Falls


Additional criteria for grades 4 and 5:

a.       Maps should include compass rose, symbols, key

b.      Find and Label the elevation for each : San Francisco Mountains

(Humphreys, Agassiz, Fremont and Aubineau)

c.       Label local elevation changes in mountains, valley, and desert

(ex: elevation of Flagstaff, elevation of Wupatki)



7.      Flagstaff City map: Label rivers, washes and streets that were impacted by the early Rio de Flag floods.


      Rio de Flag

      Sinclair Wash

      Aspen Street

      Route 66/Sante Fe

      San Francisco Street

      Location of your school

      Location of your house




Ask students to review their maps. Is the school near a wash or river? Is their house near a wash or river? What should they do if a flash flood happens? Trade maps with a friend and answer the same questions. Review flood safety.



At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:


  1. Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast rivers and washes.
  2. Complete maps and correctly place local landmarks and locations.




This lesson correlates to the following Arizona Social Studies Standards:

Grades 1 3


3SS-F1. Construct and interpret maps and other geographic tools, including the use of map elements to organize information about people, places, and environments, with emphasis on:


PO 1. identifying the characteristics and purposes of maps, globes, and other geographic tools


PO 5. using a globe and an atlas to locate a students city and state


PO 7. labeling the continents, oceans, and major mountain ranges on a map


SS-F2. Identify natural and human characteristics of places and how people interact with and modify their environment, with emphasis on:


PO 4. how people depend on the physical environment and its natural resources to satisfy their basic needs


Physical Geography:


6SC-F5. Identify major features of natural processes and forces that shape the Earths surface, including weathering and volcanic activity.


Grades 4-5


FOCUS: Arizona


3SS-E1. Demonstrate understanding of the physical and human features that define places and regions in Arizona, including the use of geographic tools to collect, analyze,

and interpret data, with emphasis on:


PO 1. identifying Arizona as part of the Southwestern region of the United States


PO 2. explaining and using map titles, symbols, scale, cardinal and intermediate directions, and elevation on maps of Arizona


PO 3. locating and comparing the three landform regions of Arizona--the plateau, mountain, and desert regions--according to their physical features, plants, and animals