The hills around Sedona, Arizona, are a magnet for new-age enthusiasts and psychic healers because of their purported vortexes, or psychic-energy sites. But these spiritual seekers don't have this beautiful place to themselves: For nonbelievers as well, Sedona is a welcome oasis sitting beneath massive red-rock cliffs at the mouth of beautiful Oak Creek Canyon. What was once a small farming community is now a major travel destination because of its rock formations and primeval landscapes.
Sedona's main thoroughfare is an official All American Road, which means the highway cuts through an area with significant archaeological and natural treasures that do not exist elsewhere in the U.S. Among the area's most outstanding features are the majestic red-rock mountains that tower over the town. Sedona is tucked into Coconino National Forest and sits at an elevation of 4,300 ft/1,333 m, almost midway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon.
Sedona's Red Rock Country draws people like few other places on earth. Nature lovers, hikers and mountain bikers find adventure on hundreds of miles/kilometers of marked trails through isolated wilderness. Artists, writers and filmmakers soak up inspiration from Sedona's brilliant light and clean, high-desert air. Vacationers relax completely into the slow-flow lifestyle of friendly locals and return year after year to enjoy the world-class restaurants, championship golf courses, one-of-a-kind shops and luxurious spa resorts.
Arizona Highway 179, the All American Road, offshoots from Interstate 17 and leads visitors through the Village of Oak Creek, an unincorporated area that meets Sedona city limits near the often-photographed Chapel of the Holy Cross. A short distance to the north, Highway 179 curves west toward the center of town, where it meets Highway 89A at a traffic circle. These are the only main roads in the 25-sq-mi/65-sq-km town, which is surrounded on all sides by natural red-rock monuments with whimsical names, such as Coffee Pot, Snoopy and Merry-Go-Round.
Paved secondary roads branch off the highways into residential neighborhoods, but most of Sedona's businesses are on north-south Highway 179 or east-west Highway 89A, so it is almost impossible to get lost. Locals tend to give directions based on distance from the meeting of the highways, which has been called The Y for as long as most people can remember. A traffic circle has replaced the stoplight at the crossroad, and the intersection has become an O, but residents still refer to it as The Y.
West of The Y is West Sedona. To the east is Uptown. Although West Sedona lacks distinctive character, Uptown features Main Street, a pedestrian-friendly stretch of shops and restaurants with individual personalities. The Village of Oak Creek, located 5 mi/8 km south of Uptown, has absorbed Sedona's suburban growth, with plenty of shopping and dining opportunities, in addition to less congested roadways.
The spectacular red-rock formations that surround Sedona were formed throughout millions of years. About 300 million years ago, the area alternated between being the bottom of the ocean and coastal plains. Between 65 and 20 million years ago, a complex process of uplifting and down faulting that created the Mogollon Rim at the south end of the huge 150,000-sq-mi/388,500-sq-km Colorado Plateau. Then, about 3 million years ago, the plateau uplifted. The erosion of the landscape since then is what has created the red rock formations we know as Sedona.
About 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers, sometimes called "Paleo Indians," moved into caves that pitted the rocks. The next migration into the area brought the Anasazi, followed by the Hohokam between the years 500 and 700 and the Sinaqua between 900 and 1000. Evidence of these first civilizations is found in 1,000-year-old ruins near Sedona, at places such as Tuzigoot National Monument and Montezuma Castle National Monument. By 1400 AD the builders of the pueblos had moved on, but the Yavapai and Apache began migrating into the area around that time.
The first European settlers were Spaniards who arrived in the Sedona area in 1583 looking for silver and gold. Since there was no gold, most of the early explorers quickly moved on, although they left behind some descendants and traces of Spanish Colonial architecture. The area was under Spanish rule until Mexico declared its independence in 1821. After the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, Arizona became part of the United States in 1848. The first Caucasian settler was John James Thompson, who was lucky enough to find an abandoned Yavapai area still growing crops in 1876. He claimed squatters' rights in Oak Creek Canyon on the land that is now occupied by Indian Gardens Store.
During the next three decades, other settlers joined Thompson, mostly to work in the copper mines of nearby Jerome. Soon, the little community needed mail service. In 1902, Theodore Carlton Schnebly opened the first post office and named it Sedona after his wife, Sedona Arabella Miller. A scenic road named after Schnebly, and suitable for driving only in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, connects Sedona to the interstate on the southern outskirts of Flagstaff.
Peaches and apples were the area's first commercial crops, started by Frank L. Pendley. His original homestead is now Slide Rock State Park, where the apples are still grown and sold to cover administrative costs for the park.
Although Sedona has been featured in films since the 1920s, it wasn't until the 1950s that its unique landscape and desert formations attracted Hollywood filmmakers. Since then it has been featured in more than 70 films, attracting tourists from around the world. Today, tourism is still Sedona's primary industry.
Sedona is a vacation town that caters to visitors, so there are dozens of attractions. The mild climate makes outdoor activities the high point for most tourists year-round, but there are also many significant historical sites worth a visit, and dozens of art galleries and unique shops to explore. A visit to the Sedona Heritage Museum brings to life the town's intriguing past.
One of the best ways to get an overview of the entire area is by helicopter or biplane, and an off-road Jeep tour is a must for any first-timer. The Sedona Trolley runs two narrated tours that together hit all the high spots around town, including the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an architectural wonder; Tlaquepaque, a Mexican-style arts-and-crafts village; and the Seven Canyons, a scenic wilderness area on the western outskirts of the city.
Artists and photographers will want to spend long stretches of time strolling through picturesque areas with frequent stops to sketch, paint or photograph the monumental beauty. Sedona also has some of the world's most lavish spas, and visitors can schedule classes and services with a vast assortment of highly skilled professionals.
Sedona has many areas, called vortexes, where people claim to have felt intense energy or power. Spiritual medium Page Bryant coined the term "vortex" in 1980 and said that such places had concentrated magnetic or electric power. There are 15-20 such vortexes in the area. Among the best-known and most easily accessible are Bell Rock off Highway 179 and Airport Mesa off Highway 89A.
Red Rock State Park has shaded picnic areas, several hiking trails and amazing wilderness areas in a 286-acre/116-hectare site on Oak Creek. A little more than 30 minutes away, the Out of Africa Wildlife Park offers a remarkable safari-type excursion through rugged countryside inhabited by a variety of wild animals, including lions, tigers and giraffes.
Jerome, a one-time mining town turned artist colony, and Flagstaff, known for alpine scenery and winter sports at the Snowbowl, are both short drives away. Of course, the Grand Canyon makes the perfect day trip, and the South Rim can be reached in about two hours by car. Visitors with more time may want to take the Grand Canyon Railroad tour from Williams, which can include a two- or three-night stay.
Music, like art, flourishes in Sedona, and talented local musicians perform often at restaurants and bars. Pick up a copy of Kudos
to find out who's playing where, or simply follow the music to a jammed parking lot and join the crowd around the bar. If sports are more appealing than music, drop into the Spoke and Wheel Tavern at Los Abrigados Resort to watch live events, including horse races, on the big-screen TVs, or shoot a few rounds of pool in the billiards room.
Cliff Castle Casino is a short drive south of town on Interstate 17, where some type of Vegas-style entertainment is often scheduled and the slots never close.
Sedona is home to several award-winning chefs and world-class restaurants, as well as a nice selection of casual cafes and ethnic eateries. Some of the better meals are found at restaurants inside resorts, including Los Abrigados, L'Auberge, Enchantment, Amara and Sedona Rouge. Dress is always casual, especially at lunch, even in the most classy establishments. However, many patrons change into resort-casual wear for dinner.
A few fast-food chains exist, but most visitors opt for the southwestern fare and international dishes served at unique restaurants. First-rate chefs oversee the kitchens, and menus change often. Meals tend toward the pricey side, since restaurants cater to tourists and not locals. Locations with a view are in high demand, so reserve early for a choice table. Ask about patio seating, even in cool or hot weather, since most outdoor areas are equipped with portable propane heaters for chilly nights and mist machines for hot afternoons.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, excluding drinks, tax and tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$30; $$$ = US$31-$50; $$$$ = more than US$50.
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