SEDONA, Ariz. — Driving along Highway 89A, my wife and I exchanged casual conversation as we took in the scenery. Then, suddenly, as if on cue, the car went quiet.
We could scarcely speak a word. We were awe-struck by the sweeping vista in front of us.
Before our trip Arizona, we were told Sedona was a must-see destination on any visit to the Grand Canyon state. But, that nary prepared us for the true beauty this town located in the northern Valley Verde region of Arizona, roughly 120 miles north of Phoenix holds.
It sounds cliché, but it’s hard to aptly capture in words the true essence of Sedona. At sunrise and sunset, the famous red rocks that encircle the city glow in brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red.
It’s no wonder USA Today once named Sedona the most beautiful place in the country or why more than four million tourists visit here every year. Others simply say the vibe of Sedona is out of this world.
The city of 10,000 residents is surrounded by dozens of buttes bearing names both majestic and whimsical, such as “Cathedral Rock,” “Courthouse Butte” and “Coffee Pot Rock.” It takes little imagination to see how the region has earned its nickname, “Red Rock Country.”
Interestingly, the color of Sedona’s red rocks is one of the official team colors of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Humans have inhabited this area on and off for the last 13,000 years. But, it wasn’t until 1876 that the first Ango settlement was established, the same year the natives were pushed out of the area.
Over the past 135 years, Sedona has seemingly marched at its own pace. It wasn’t until 1902 the city saw its first post office. And, it wasn’t until the 1960s the entire city was electrified.
From the 1920s until the early 1970s, the city was the backdrop of more than 60 Hollywood films, ranging from 1923’s “The Call of the Canyon” to 1950s “Broken Arrow” to the original 1957 version of “3:10 to Yuma.” That roughly 50-year run earned the town the nickname of “Arizona’s Little Hollywood.”
While the town’s cinematic career slowed after the early 1970s, over the past two decades, since the “Harmonic Convergence” held here in 1987 attracted 10,000 so-called New Agers, Sedona has attracted a new group: new age tourists looking to connect with the many spiritual vortexes said to be centered on the city.
As a result, and for those interested, the city is home to dozens of psychics, palms readers, healers and massage therapists.
A number of tour companies offer off road trips of the region surrounding Sedona. As an alternative, just jump in a car and head in any direction; the view is magnificent – and frankly hard to fathom – in every direction.
To really experience nature to the extreme, take a hike at one of the town’s sprawling parks. It’s easy to walk for hours, marveling at the scenery as any worries fade away.
While Mother Nature needs little help in providing breathtaking vistas, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude sought to offer some help, when she designed and oversaw the construction of The Chapel of the Holy Cross. Staude needed the assistance of then U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater to secure a special use permit to be built on land within the Coconino National Forest.
The chapel, completed in 18 months at a cost of $300,000 won an Award of Honor from the American Institute of Architects in 1957 and has drawn spiritual visitors ever since opening. In 2010, The Arizona Republic named the chapel one of the seven man-made wonders of Arizona, residing alongside the Hoover Dam, the Lowell Observatory (where the once and former planet of Pluto was discovered) and the ancient ruins of Canyon de Chelly.
For breakfast, hit the Coffee Pot Restaurant, “Home of the Famous 101 Omelets.” This greasy spoon is frequented by locals and features filling grub before a long day out and about. For dinner, try The Mesa Grill at the Sedona Airport, but only after watching the sunset from Airport Mesa, perched 500 feet above the city.