"Red rock fever” is how visitors of Sedona, Ariz., describe their attitude toward returning to this high desert town, which has an elevation of 4,423 feet, a population of 10,000, and lies just two hours north of Phoenix. The inference is that a return visit to the spectacular red rock formations surrounding the community is the only remedy. In my case, an annual journey back for 12 straight years hasn’t cured me yet.
I go in winter. Like the instinctual nature of birds escaping the cold by flying to warmer climates, Sedona pulls me back to the desert. A sunny, cloudless sky, daily winter temperatures of about 60 degrees, and single digit humidity complement the scenery.
The redness of the stunning array of monoliths is from deposits of iron in the rock. Saturated by water 250 million years ago when the area was under the sea, the iron “rusted.” At that time, the area was the west coast of an emerging continent. Then, as the sea retreated, water and wind erosion sculpted the sandstone formations into the unusual shapes seen today.
Each year, more than three million visitors come to hike, mountain bike, take a jeep tour into the wilderness, golf among the red rocks, or go for a biplane or hot air balloon adventure. For less active tourists, short paved trails lead to Native American ruins, scenic overlooks, and several National Monuments. Here are just a few of my favorite things to do in Sedona.
Take a Hike
For me, spectacular hiking in perfect weather is the allure. A favorite is the Fey Canyon trail. Covered by a canopy of cottonwood trees, the route meanders along a dry creek bed between red, hoodoo-lined canyon walls. It leads to several ruins perched high above the valley and tucked into an overhang that doubles as an arch. Native American petroglyphs decorate the walls in a panoramic view, and the trailhead only is about 20 minutes outside Sedona.
Another is Sacred Mountain, an unimpressive white mound rising alone from the desert floor without the slightest shade. Arriving at the top there seems to be nothing of interest. But after studying the mesquite and cactus covered plateau, the remains of a Native American village emerges before your eyes as if it were a brain teaser. Soon the outline of several rows of adobe dwellings and a u-shaped central courtyard can be discerned which were once a village of several hundred primitive people.
When the Sun Goes Down
Each evening, every hue of cloud from pink to intense red is likely to appear in the sky, but the nightly spectacle also encompasses the ground. As the sun nears the horizon, the rocks turn vacillating shades of even deeper reds and oranges than they already are. A formation in shadow one moment may be brilliantly illuminated the next until the sun finally disappears. Then, the colors on the mountains slowly go dark as if hot embers in a dying fire.
Dawning of a New Age
A different form of red rock fever lures New Age spiritualists, a subculture that strongly believes in the healing powers of meditation, holistic medicine, and psychic experience. Followers are attracted to Sedona’s many mystical vortexes, areas they feel are centers of concentrated magnetic energy that enhance feelings of spirituality and an appreciation of life.
For thousands of years, Native Americans also have believed the area to have mystical qualities. “There is evidence they only ventured here for ceremonial reasons,” says Pete Sanders Jr., a Sedona resident and expert of spirituality. Most retail businesses sell guidebooks that explain the phenomenon and contain maps to the most popular vortexes.
Spiritualist or not, the grandeur of the red rock scenery never fails to create a sense of awe in anyone who visits. In fact, the name of Sedona’s five-star luxury resort and spa summarizes the experience best: Enchantment.
When You Go
WHERE TO STAY:
The Inn on Oak Creek
This AAA 4-Diamond inn is within a five-minute walk of Sedona’s best art galleries, shops, restaurants, and the Mexican-themed shopping village of Tlaquepaque. 928-282-7896 • www.innonoakcreek.com
The resort and health club (Mii Amo) consistently ranks among the best places to stay in the United States. 928-282-2900 • www.enchantmentresort.com
WHERE TO EAT:
928-282-0785 • www.heartlinecafe.com
928-282-0519 • www.apizzaheavenaz.com
Tii Gavo (at the Enchantment Resort)
928-282-2900 • www.enchantmentresort.com
Flagstaff, Ariz.: 45 minutes
Prescott, Ariz.: one hour
Phoenix, Ariz.: two hours
Grand Canyon National Park: 2 1/2 hours