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Sedona Spotlight

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By: Elissa Richard

iStock InternationalSedona boasts the kind of beauty that stirs the senses and moves the soul

When every passing sunray transforms the color and character of Sedona’s red-rock formations, it’s easy to see why visitors are awed by its grandeur. Sedona boasts the kind of beauty that stirs the senses and moves the soul: radiant red rocks carved out by canyons and creeks; green forests and desert vegetation blanketing hills; and brilliant blue skies juxtaposed against one of Mother Nature’s most magnificent geological creations. It’s really no wonder that spiritualists flock here – if beauty indeed awakens the spirit, Sedona is the alarm clock for the world.

But long before the tourists came, Sedona was home to the ancient Sinagua tribe and the setting for some of the most sacred of regional Native American ceremonies – a culture that still permeates the area today. Though established as a small town in 1902, Sedona remained relatively unknown as a tourist destination for much of the 20th century, although Hollywood discovered its allure as early as the 1920s and starred the town’s Wild West landscapes in a series of westerns. Artist collectives soon followed, lured by the surreal desert scenery and ample natural light, and, in the early 1980s, Sedona was put on the map as a New Age mecca after mystics determined the area to be pulsating with “vortexes” – energy fields with the power to energize, enlighten, and even heal those who encounter them.

Today’s Sedona is a town of just over 11,000 residents – a hodgepodge of artists, mystics, token celebrities (Al Pacino keeps a residence here, and it’s Michelle Branch’s hometown), outdoorsmen, and well-off retirees – that attracts some four million visitors a year. They come for the resorts, eclectic shops, and fine dining; for spiritual enrichment; for its gateway to some of the United States’ most remote and untouched settings (think the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon) – and, ultimately, for the inspiring landscapes that promise incredible vistas and adventures in this greatest of great outdoors.

We recommend staying here for at least three nights and spending the bulk of your time on the area’s numerous trails, whether on foot, horseback, or wheels – indeed, don’t miss an off-road jeep or Hummer tour. Spoil yourself with a spa treatment, pop into local art galleries, and spend some time shopping in Uptown Sedona or in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. Also set aside time to drive through scenic Oak Creek Canyon and spend an afternoon hiking its phenomenal West Fork Trail. Five days is more ideal, and will allow you to tack on a hot-air balloon ride or bi-plane tour over Red Rock Country; to visit a couple of the small museums in the Uptown area; to spend an afternoon fishing, golfing, or mountain biking; and to go for a swim at Slide Rock State Park. You might also take some time to explore Sedona’s (and your own) spiritual side by experiencing a psychic reading, a Reiki treatment, or some simple meditation on a professed vortex site. You’ll also be able to visit neighboring attractions like the ghost town-cum-artists’ enclave of Jerome or to head out along historic Route 66. A week is better still, allowing for further excursions into northern Arizona, including the nearby Navajo and Hopi reservations, as well as the Grand Canyon. If you’re looking for a sublime sensory experience and are a lover of the great outdoors, Mother Nature has blessed you with Sedona, Arizona.

Attractions

Located 120 miles north of Phoenix and 30 miles south of Flagstaff, the city of Sedona is situated in Arizona’s high desert and centered on a main Y-shaped intersection known simply as the “Y.” A quick familiarization with this junction and a car are all you’ll need to grasp the lay of the land. Head northeast on Highway 89A to hit Uptown Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, Slide Rock State Park, and Flagstaff; head west on Highway 89A for West Sedona and the neighboring town of Jerome; travel south on Highway 179 for the Village of Oak Creek and ultimately, Phoenix.

Several organized tours can orient you to Sedona as well, especially so the Sedona Trolley (Uptown Trolley Depot; seasonal schedules; 928/282-4211; $10; www.sedonatrolley.com), which offers two 55 minute overview tours (featuring different itineraries). Set aside some time for a guided jeep tour for access to otherwise inaccessible dirt roads – try Pink Jeep Tours (204 N. Hwy. 89A; 928/282-5000 or 800/873-3662; $45+; www.pinkjeep.com), for outings in search of rock art, ancient ruins, coyote canyons, and more; we also like Earth Wisdom Jeep Tours (293 N. Hwy. 89A; 928/282-4714 or 800/482-4714; $49+; www.earthwisdomjeeptours.com), which features specialty vortex and “medicine wheel” jeep tours, complete with an informed guide. For a bird’s eye view, take to the skies in a hot-air balloon: Northern Light Balloon Expedition (928/282-2274 or 800/230-6222; $190; www.northernlightballoon.com) offers sunrise flights and a champagne picnic landing, while Red Rock Biplane Tours’ (928/204-5939 or 888/866-7433; $49+; www.sedonaairtours.com) breath-taking open cockpit excursions promise a real kick of adrenaline.

The visitor center (331 Forest Rd. & Hwy. 89A; Mon-Sat 8.30am-5pm, Sun 9am-3pm; 928/282-7722 or 800/288-7336; www.visitsedona.com) distributes area maps, brochures, trail information, and the Red Rock Pass ($5/day, $15/weekly) you’ll need to park in National Forest areas (which can also be purchased at select area hotels and self-service machines at numerous trailheads).

Outdoor pursuits
Without a doubt, it’s Sedona’s geography that reigns supreme. The higher you get, the more amazing the vistas become, with lush greenery and striking red rocks, many of them named for their resemblance to objects – namely, Bell, Coffee Pot, and even Snoopy – stretch as far as the eye can see. Much of this land is protected by the 1.8-million-acre Coconino National Forest (www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino) that practically engulfs the city, and offers more than a hundred unique trails.

If there’s one rock you must pay homage to, it’s soaring Cathedral Rock. Majestically overlooking the land, and revered by Native Americans as a home of the gods and the birthplace of the first man and woman, it’s also one of several areas in Sedona believed to be a vortex site. Whether or not you subscribe to the mysticism surrounding the area (see Spiritual Sedona, below), it’s undoubtedly a place of incredible beauty. A great vantage point from which to view the rock is Red Rock Crossing (south of Hwy. 89A off Upper Red Rock Loop Rd.; daily 8am–8pm in summer, 8am-dusk other months; $7/vehicle), where its reflection in Oak Creek verges on iconic (it’s certainly popular on Sedona postcards). Try to coordinate a sunset visit, when Cathedral Rock seems to glow from within, and plan to picnic at the site’s Crescent Moon Picnic Area (see Where to Shop for local supplies). If you want to hike Cathedral Rock, the 1.5-mile Cathedral Rock Trail (access from Hwy. 179 north of the Village of Oak Creek, on Back O’Beyond Rd.; Red Rock Pass required) follows some steep slickrock slopes before rewarding you with stellar views of Sedona’s spectacular countryside.

Red Rock State Park (Lower Red Rock Loop Rd., about seven miles south of Hwy. 89A; hours vary seasonably; 928/282-6907; $6/vehicle; www.azparks.gov), meanwhile, is centered on a picturesque, wooded curve of Oak Creek (note that swimming and even wading are prohibited) that makes for nice hiking alongside interesting native flora and fauna. The ten trails here range from easy to difficult.

If you head instead to the north side of Highway 89A in West Sedona, follow Dry Creek Road past Capitol Butte into beautiful Boynton Canyon (Red Rock Pass required), a narrow red-rock gorge said to be another vortex spot. You can reach it by one of two ways: either the 1.5-mile Boynton Canyon Vista Trail, a short, easy hike to a red-rock saddle with views over the canyon and the luxury Enchantment Resort property (see Where to Stay), or by the longer 5-mile Boynton Canyon Trail #47, which brings you deeper into the canyon.

A closer hike (and another purported vortex site) to the Uptown area is Airport Mesa Trail (south of Hwy. 89A off Airport Rd.; Red Rock Pass required), a moderate 3.5-mile loop that offers stunning 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding countryside.

Another popular trailhead is the 7-mile Bell Rock Pathway (off Hwy. 179, just north of the Village of Oak Creek; Red Rock Pass required), a wide, easy trail that links Sedona with the Village of Oak Creek and affords fantastic views of Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock along the way; it’s also the site of yet another vortex point.

For a swim on a sunny summer day, follow the crowds to Slide Rock State Park (6871 Hwy. 89A; hours vary seasonably; 928/282-3034; $8-$10/vehicle; www.azparks.gov), just seven miles north of Sedona in the heart of Oak Creek Canyon. Smooth red sandstone chutes plunge into the creek here to create a natural waterslide; pack a picnic lunch (see Where to Shop) and make a day of it. The surrounding 16-mile gorge is cooled by Oak Creek’s various streams and waterfalls and surrounded by mammoth red-rock walls, making it a popular spot for hikers, fishermen, and campers. The 6-mile West Fork Trail (10 miles north of Sedona on Hwy. 89A at Call O’ the Canyon Day Area; $7/vehicle state park fee) here is one of the most popular hikes in the Sedona area, thanks to a scenic streamside trail (plan on getting your feet wet) hugged by towering 100-plus-feet cliffs and laced with chasms, some of of which are just a dozen or so feet wide.

Sedona’s reputation as a mountain biking mecca is also gaining ground but, for the moment at least, the area’s trails still remain relatively uncrowded. Popular spots include the Bell Rock Pathway (see access info above) and the Jim Thompson Trail (north of Hwy. 89A, follow Jordan Rd. to Park Ridge Rd.; Red Rock Pass required), a historic wagon trail just north of Uptown Sedona. Bike rentals are available from Bike & Bean (6020 Hwy. 179; 928/284-0210; www.bike-bean.com) and Mountain Bike Heaven (1695 W. Hwy. 89A; 928/282-1312; www.mountainbikeheaven.com); rates average $35 to $50 a day and guided tours are also available.

If you prefer to saddle up just like in the days of the Old West, several trails do accommodate horses, and guided rides can be organized through Trail Horse Adventures (85 Five J Lane; 928/282-7252 or 800/723-3538; www.trailhorseadventures.com) or Sedona Red Rock Jeep Tours (270 Hwy. 89A;. 928/282-6826 or 800/848-7728; www.redrockjeep.com). Trails range from 1-hour outings ($63+) to several-hour excursions with creek crossings and outdoor dining ($100+).

Fishing and fly-fishing are popular on Oak Creek, a bountiful trout stream, particularly in summertime. For supplies, advice, and even guided outings try Sedona Sports (251 N. Hwy. 179; 928/282-1317 or 866/204-2377; www.sedonasports.com).

Sedona has a couple of top-notch 18-hole golf courses where the views are so superb you’ll be distracted from your swing. Our favorite 18-hole course is the Sedona Golf Resort (35 Ridge Trail Dr.; 928/284-9355 or 877/733-9885; $59+; www.sedonagolfresort.com) but a leisurely 9-hole course can be played at Canyon Mesa Country Club (500 Jacks Canyon Rd.; 928/284-0036; $20).

Catching one of Sedona’s sensational sunsets is a local rite of passage and a heavenly way to wrap up an invigorating day of roughing it out on the rocks; two of the best spots are Airport Mesa and Red Rock Crossing. Tip: We also like to admire the amazing red rocks with a margarita in hand at Uptown’s Vista Cantina & Restaurant (320 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-0002; www.vistacantina.com) or at Oaxaca Restaurant & Rooftop Cantina (321 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-4179; www.oaxacarestaurant.com), which features a scenic rooftop cantina and over 50 choices of tequila.

Sedona attractions
Compact and walkable Uptown Sedona, just north of the “Y,” is not only the busiest part of town, but also its historic center. It’s a pleasant place to stroll, with large sculpture installations and a good selection of shops and eateries; you’ll also find it’s good base for setting up tours or getting local information from the visitor center.

Noteworthy attractions include the Motion Picture Museum (271 N. Hwy 89A; 928/282-0597; free) where you can watch footage of movies shot in the area. Since the film adaptation of Zane Grey’s Call of the Canyon in the early ’20s, actors like John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Elvis Presley, and Robert DeNiro have all starred in films here; Billy the Kid and Apache rank among the most famous. Art enthusiasts will also want to stop at the Sedona Arts Center (15 Art Barn Rd. at Hwy. 89A; 10am-5pm; www.sedonaartscenter.com), which serves as a local art gallery and occasional host of live theater and music.

History buffs will enjoy the Sedona Heritage Museum (735 Jordan Rd.; 11am-3pm; $3; www.sedonamuseum.org), just north of Uptown Sedona in Jordan Historical Park. Set in a historic home from 1930 (cited on the National Register of Historic Places), the museum’s exhibits include locally-shot films, histories of area pioneers, and various antiques.

Both spiritualists and architecture buffs will appreciate the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Holy Cross (Hwy. 179 to 780 Chapel Rd.; Mon-Sat 9am-5pm; 928/282-4069; free; www.chapeloftheholycross.com), tucked high among towering red rocks on the south side of town. The narrow, concrete chapel was completed in 1956 and features a 90-foot-high cross on its facade as well as lovely stained-glass work inside; its contemporary design is credited to a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Scenic drives
Though it would be a shame to miss out on trekking Sedona’s trails on foot, three outstanding scenic drives make a strong argument for getting into your car. Among them, the 13-mile Schnebly Hill Road (off Hwy. 179) meanders through the hills of eastern Sedona for more than 2,000 feet, traversing cacti-filled landscapes and offering fantastic town and countryside views en-route. Tip: Portions of the dirt road are rough to navigate at times, so if you don’t have an SUV or high-clearance vehicle, book a jeep tour instead (try Pink Jeep’s “Scenic Rim” tour; see above for company contact details).

Another picturesque stretch, the 14.5-mile section of Highway 89A that connects Sedona to Flagstaff through Oak Creek Canyon, is bordered by crimson cliff walls and cottonwood, ponderosa pine, and sycamore trees and a series of parks, overlooks, and picnic areas lie off the route.

A final breathtaking drive, a 7.5-mile sliver of Highway 179 dubbed the Red Rock Scenic Byway, heads south from Sedona and winds through the Village of Oak Creek and past many of Sedona’s most striking red rocks like Bell, Courthouse, and Castle.

Spiritual Sedona
If you’ve never heard of crystal therapy, reiki, and aura photos, prepare yourself, as your mind will be teeming with those terms before you leave. Sedona is synonymous with the New Age movement, with much of the buzz centered on the area’s professed vortexes, a phenomenon whose modern-day popularity stems back to the early ’80s when New Age author and psychic Page Bryant determined (through channeling) that several vortex fields, or high energy power centers, were found here. Some of the most widely recognized vortex sites fall around Sedona’s dramatic geological sites including Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Airport Mesa, and Boynton Canyon. Skeptics may scoff, but vortex lore is here to stay, with tours, maps, books, and even lectures, like those offered at the Institute of Ecotourism (91 Portal Lane; 928/282-2720; $5+; www.ioet.org), available to further elucidate you on the concept.

Sedona’s status as a sacred healing spot has attracted a community of alternative practitioners dedicated to metaphysical, holistic, and spiritual approaches to the body/mind/spirit and partaking in a tarot or psychic reading or reiki session could be the most interesting part of your trip. Otherwise, pick up some crystals or books in Sedona’s ubiquitous spiritual bookstores and shops, or try meditating amidst the red-rock temples of the land. The Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association (www.sedonaspiritual.com) is a respected resource for learning more about the area’s spiritual and metaphysical side; they’ll also put you in touch with reputed local practitioners.

Native American sites
Sedona has a rich Native American heritage. To explore the legacy of the area’s original inhabitants, you can either venture out on your own or hook up with a tour company. For the latter, we recommend Earth Wisdom Jeep’s “Medicine Wheel” tour (3.5 hours; $78; see contact info above), which takes in several sacred Native American sites and culminates in a medicine wheel ceremony, and Way of the Ancients (928/204-9243 or 866/204-9243; $69+; www.wayoftheancients.com), which specializes in day trips to neighboring Navajo and Hopi reservations, as well as Montezuma’s Castle (see below). If you prefer to go at it on your own, several sites full of impressive cliff dwellings and petroglyphs lie either in the Sedona vicinity or just outside.

West of Boynton Canyon. Palatki Heritage Site (Hwy. 89A to Forest Rd. 525; visitor center 9.30am-3.30pm; 928/282-3854; advance reservations required; Red Rock Pass required) is run by the Forest Service and hosts two easy trails, both of which are under a mile long: Palatki Ruins Trail leads to preserved Sinagua cliff dwellings dating from about 1150 AD, while the slightly shorter Rock Art Trail highlights a large collection of rocky alcoves with petroglyphs dating back up to 6,000 years.

Another area worth seeing is V-Bar-V Ranch Petroglyphs, in the Coconino National Forest (and once part of a historic ranch) just south of Sedona (3 miles east of the junction of I-17 and Hwy. 179; Fri-Mon 9.30am-3.30pm; Red Rock Pass required). The rock art here – etched images of snakes, turtles, and antelope – was created between 1150 and 1400 AD and covers a cliff face along the banks of Beaver Creek.; the drawings are also recognized as being some of the best-preserved petroglyphs in Arizona.

Outside of Sedona, check out the stone-walled hilltop pueblo of Tuzigoot National Monument (24 miles southwest of Sedona; just outside of Clarkdale on Hwy. 89A; daily 8am-5pm, 6pm in summer; $5; www.nps.gov/tuzi), built by the Sinagua some 1000 years ago just south of the Verde River. Heading south towards Phoenix on the I-17 is the Montezuma Castle National Monument (26 miles south of Sedona, Exit 289 off I-17; daily 8am–5pm, 6pm in summer; $5; www.nps.gov/moca) just north of Camp Verde, where some of Arizona’s more accessible cliff dwellings can be seen. Although the site isn’t actually a castle, nor was the Aztec ruler whose namesake it bears ever here, the ruins of the Sinagua tribe who used these dwelling in the 1300s are quite remarkable all the same. You can also organize day tours through companies in Sedona (see above) or head out on your own to explore the Hopi (www.hopi.nsn.us) and Navajo (www.navajo.org) reservations, a two-to-three hour drive north.

The Arts
Sedona is also heralded as a arts center, thanks to the scores of artists historically lured here by the superb desert light and distinctive landscapes; among the more famous cultural figures are the German surrealist Max Ernst, who lived and worked here in the 1940s, and the Cowboy Artists of America, an organization dedicated to depicting cowboy and America West lifestyles that was formed here in 1965. The Sedona Arts Center (see Sedona attractions above) hosts regular exhibits from regional artists as well as artists’ workshops; over 40 more local art galleries showcase Western and Native American art, as well as more contemporary works.

Besides the galleries clustered in Uptown Sedona, there are several other art-centric places worth a visit: Tlaquepaque Arts And Crafts Village (see Sedona attractions above), Hillside Sedona (Hwy. 179, .5-mile south of the “Y”; www.hillsidesedona.net), and Hozho Distinctive Shops & Galleries (431 Hwy. 179, near Oak Creek Bridge; 928/204-2257). If you happen to be in town on the first Friday of the month, take the free First Friday Gallery Tour (928/282-6865; 5-8pm), offered by the Sedona Gallery Association (www.sedonagalleryassociation.com).

Hotels

Sedona offers over 100 lodging options, ranging from luxury resorts and quaint bed and breakfasts to simple log cabins and campsites. Keep in mind that, unless you’re staying Uptown near the “Y” intersection, you’ll need a car to get around for any evening activities.

What truly sets Sedona apart from most rugged outdoorsy vacation destinations is that, after spending a day out in the dirt and on the rocks, it’s quite possible to come back to world-class accommodations. The Enchantment Resort (525 Boynton Canyon Rd.; 928/282-2900; www.enchantmentresort.com) is the ultimate lodging choice for those seeking a luxurious getaway in the midst of Sedona’s red-rock bliss; situated at the mouth of the Boynton Canyon, it offers individual pueblo-style casitas, fine on-site restaurants, and access to the world-class 24,000-square-foot Mii amo Destination Spa (www.miiamo.com). The recently opened Sedona Rouge (2250 West Hwy. 89A; 928/203-4111; www.sedonarouge.com) in West Sedona is another fine upscale option, boasting decadent Andalusia decor, patios or balconies adjoined to most rooms, a full-service spa, and in-room touches like flat-screen TVs and luxury linens.

Among mid-range options, one good value is the Amara Creekside Resort (310 N. Hwy. 89A; 928/282-4828; www.amararesort.com) with terrific views of red-rock country and nearby Oak Creek from guestroom balconies and terraces; the boutique hotel attracts a hip clientele, drawn by its modern and artsy interior, astounding views, and prime Uptown location. Another fine mid-range choice is secluded, two-acre The Lodge at Sedona (125 Kallof Place; 800/619-4467; www.thelodgeatsedona.com), a distinctive mission-style, luxury B&B in West Sedona equipped with 14 rooms, spectacular views, trickling fountains, a meditative labyrinth, and on-site massage therapy. We also like the romantic L’Auberge de Sedona (301 L’Auberge Lane; 800/905-5745; www.lauberge.com), within walking distance of Uptown Sedona with rustic cottages and a main lodge reminiscent of French countryside lodgings; there’s also an award-winning French restaurant on the grounds.

Budget travelers should consider a stay at the comfortable Matterhorn Inn (230 Apple Ave.; 928/282-7176; www.matterhornlodge.com), offering panoramic views and a convenient location near Uptown Sedona shops and restaurants. Also noteworthy is the charming Forest Houses Resort (9275 N. Hwy. 89A; 928/282-2999; www.foresthousesresort.com) built along the banks of Oak Creek, ten miles north of Sedona; hunker down in one of its artistically designed cabins and enjoy peace and quiet (there are no phones or TVs here), along with canyon views. True outdoorsmen will find ample camping opportunities in Oak Creek Canyon; its four developed campgrounds – Manzanita, Bootlegger, Cave Springs, and Pine Flats – all have access to picnic tables, firepits, and restrooms (although only Cave Springs and Pine Flats have showers). Forest Service campground fees are $18/night and some accept advance reservations (877/444-6777; www.reserveusa.com). Good lodging deals can also be had in nearby, less-touristed towns like Jerome, Cottonwood, and Camp Verde.

Restaurants

Not surprisingly, Sedona’s cuisine is strong on Southwestern and classic American dishes, but you’ll also find international choices among the dozens of restaurant options. Dinner tabs tend to run on the expensive side, but several informal ethnic eateries and sandwich shops allow you to grab a quick bite for less. Local specialties worth trying include prickly pear cactus drinks, rattlesnake, cactus fries, and even “vortex veggie sandwiches.”

The Silver Saddle Room at the Cowboy Club (241 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-4200; www.cowboyclub.com) is the quintessential Sedona dining experience, serving up Southwestern cuisine in one of the city’s most historic buildings (the one where the Cowboy Artists of America was formed); local specialties like rattlesnake skewers, fried cactus strips, and buffalo steaks are served in a casual, elegant setting (a more toned-down, kid-friendly vibe is available at the adjacent Cowboy Club Grille & Spirits). Another fine choice for those with haute-cuisine tastes is the formal Yavapai Restaurant at the memorable Enchantment Resort (525 Boynton Canyon Rd.; 928/204-6000; reservations required; www.enchantmentresort.com/dining), with 180-degree views of stunning Boynton Canyon and an American and Southwestern menu that changes frequently and is based on seasonal ingredients (expect plenty of fresh meat and fish, beans, and chili); there’s also a popular jazz brunch here on Sundays.

For moderate prices, nab an outdoor table at El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano (336 Hwy. 179; 928/282-4648; www.elrinconrestaurant.com) while browsing the shops of Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village (see Where to Shop) and tuck into authentic Mexican and Navajo-influenced dishes and delicious margaritas. The charming Fournos Restaurant (3000 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-3331; reservations recommended; www.fournosrestaurant.com) offers a pleasant break from the area’s pronounced Southwestern cuisine, with delectable Greek plates and savory Santorini wines on the menu; the same goes for Dahl & DiLuca (2321 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-5219; reservations recommended; www.dahl-diluca.com), which dishes up excellent Italian food in a cozy Tuscany-themed dining room.

For quick budget eats, the down-home Coffee Pot Restaurant (2050 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-6626) is a popular local hangout that’s a great spot for breakfast – or standard burger and Mexican fare later in the day. For big, tasty sandwiches, try Uptown’s Sedona Memories (321 Jordan Rd.; 928/282-0032), or make your own with ingredients from the all-natural New Frontiers Natural Foods (1420 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-6311).

Shopping

There are five major shopping areas in Sedona including the bustling tourist center of compact Uptown Sedona. Other good areas to lighten your wallet include West Sedona along Highway 89A (called the “real town” by locals) where you can find everyday services and goods; the Highway 179 corridor featuring the art, shop, and dining complexes of Hillside Sedona (671 Hwy. 179; 928/282-4500; www.hillsidesedona.net) and Hozho Distinctive Shops & Galleries (431 Hwy. 179; 928/204-2257); and the Village of Oak Creek.

If you’re the type that gets excited by the smell of burning incense and the glimmer of quartz crystal, you’ll have a (vortex) field day at Sedona’s eclectic array of shops catering to New Age and esoteric merchandise. Two shops to watch for include the Center for the New Age (341 Hwy. 179; 928/282-2085; www.sedonanewagecenter.com) and Crystal Magic (2978 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-1622; www.crystalmagicsedona.com).

Our favorite area to shop is Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, a replica of a Mexican pueblo built in Spanish Colonial style and filled with dozens of shops, restaurants, and galleries adjoined by quaint courtyards and cobbled streets. If you’re in the market for art, this complex offers a good selection of Western and Native American art as well as more contemporary works, most of them by local artists.

For Southwest and Native American goods including jewelry, Navajo rugs, pottery, weaved baskets, and kachina dolls, try Garland’s Indian Jewelry (3953 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-6632; www.garlandsjewelry.com). Garland’s Navajo Rugs (411 Hwy. 179; 928/282-4070; www.garlandsrugs.com), as its name suggests, specializes in rugs. We also like Ninibah’s (336 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-4256) for its selection of pottery, Navajo sand paintings, and jewelry.

For national brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Nine West at discounted prices, drop by The Oak Creek Factory Outlets (6601 Hwy. 179; 928/284-2150) in the Village of Oak Creek. Alternatively, to pack your own picnic lunches, stock up on all-natural supplies at New Frontiers Natural Foods (1420 Hwy. 89A; 928/282-6311), a grocery store with a full-service deli.

Day Trips

Sedona is an excellent base for exploring the diverse attractions of Northern Arizona, highlights of which include the artist enclave of Jerome and several Native American ruins and reserves. Many sights are just a short drive away, while the majestic Grand Canyon lies 110 miles to the north.

The fascinating mining-town-turned-artist-haven of Jerome (28 miles southwest of Sedona via Hwy. 89A; 928/634-2900; www.jeromechamber.com) is precariously perched on a series of cliff-top promontories overlooking Sedona’s red-rock country. This onetime mining center had deteriorated to a mere ghost town before being lovingly restored by local craftspeople and artists who were so enchanted by the views and ambiance (not to mention turned off by rising rent prices in nearby Sedona), that they decided to move in and set up shop. The town’s varying elevations are accessed by tiered streets linked by charming, narrow stairwells; exploring these is reason enough alone to visit, but the town’s funky art galleries, shops, historic buildings, and breathtaking views of Sedona are just as enticing.

Another outing altogether awaits in nearby Clarkdale, where the Verde Canyon Railroad (24 miles southwest of Sedona; 300 N. Broadway; schedules vary by season; 928/639-0010 or 800/320-0718; $54.95; www.verdecanyonrr.com) provides a scenic 4-hour train tour of local rock formations and ancient ruins that are otherwise inaccessible by car; keep an eye out for wildlife, particularly bald eagles. Another great ride awaits on the vintage steam and diesel locomotives operated by the Grand Canyon Railway (Grand Canyon Railway Depot, 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.; schedules vary by season; 928/773-1976 or 800/843-8724; $60-$155; www.thetrain.com) from the town of Williams (60 miles northwest of Sedona); their full-day excursions will take you to the majestic Grand Canyon (110 miles north of Sedona; $25 car fee; www.nps.gov/grca), though you can also easily make the 2.5-hour drive to the national park’s South Rim yourself. If you do make it to Williams, don’t miss a drive along the town’s main Route 66 drag, once part of the historic “Mother Road” highway. Today, this little slice of Americana still offers glimpses of honky-tonk motels and shops (which now mostly push kitschy souvenirs). Other parts of Route 66 can also be accessed from the former railroad town of Flagstaff (29 miles north of Sedona; 928/774-9541 or 800/842-7293; www.flagstaffarizona.org). For Native American heritage sites outside of Sedona, see the Native American sites section, above.

When To Go

Sedona has four temperate seasons and abundant sunshine – summer days usually linger in the low 90s, winters rarely dip below 55 degrees, and fall and spring lay claim to ideal temperatures somewhere in between. As such, spring and fall are considered Sedona’s high season, when you can expect the area’s highest hotel rates and densest crowds. Of the two, and year-round for that matter, our favorite time to visit is spring when the forest and desert plants are in full bloom. Winter, while still mild, is Sedona’s low season, and the best time to score good deals on lodging in the area. However, keep in mind that some years have even seen snow in Sedona, which might be a good thing if you’re looking to hit the slopes in Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks just north of the city, but could put a real wrench in your plans if you were hoping to spend most of your time hiking the trails. You’ll find the best bang for your buck in summer – while temperatures can occasionally be quite hot, Sedona’s high desert elevation of 4,500 feet makes the climate considerably cooler than in low desert areas like Phoenix and Tucson; you’ll find better deals on lodging and have lots of warm, sunny days with low humidity for your outdoor activities. At all time of years, as is typical of desert climate, you can expect fluctuations averaging about 30 degrees between high daytime temperatures and nighttime lows.

Special events
Sedona is also host to more than a dozen annual festivals of interest: Highlights include the Sedona International Film Festival (late February through early March; www.sedonafilmfestival.com), which showcases features and documentaries from around the world; the three-day Sedona Art & Sculpture Walk (late April to early May; www.sedonasculpturewalk.com) featuring sculptures from across the U.S.; and Sedona Jazz on the Rocks (late September; www.sedonajazz.com) which brings top-rate jazz to the city’s red rocks.

High-season
March–June; September–November

Low-season
December-February

Best bang for your buck
July-August

Getting There

Although Sedona does have a small airport, it’s only open to charter and private planes. Instead, fly into Phoenix (120 miles south of Sedona) and travel via ground transportation from there or opt to continue on with a 55 minute connecting flight on US Airways/America West (www.usairways.com) into Flagstaff’s smaller Pulliam Airport (928/556-1234), situated 30 miles north of Sedona. Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport (www.phoenix.gov/aviation) is served by most major airlines with American (www.aa.com), Continental (www.continental.com), Delta (www.delta.com), and smaller, budget airlines such as Southwest (www.southwest.com), and JetBlue (www.jetblue.com) among them and is easily accessible from across the U.S. with non-stop routes operated from more than one hundred cities. Flight time is 5 hours from New York; 1.5 hours from Los Angeles; 3.5 hours from Chicago; and about 4 hours from Atlanta.

Alternatively, Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) offers train service into Flagstaff, while Greyhound (www.greyhound.com) buses make stops in both Flagstaff and Phoenix.

Package providers
Booking air and hotel together (and other trip essentials such as airport transfers, car rentals, and even tours and activities) can save a bundle of cash – online travel discounters such as Orbitz (www.orbitz.com), Expedia (www.expedia.com), and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) are a good place to start your search.

Getting into Sedona
Car rentals are available from major agencies in Flagstaff and Phoenix including Avis (www.avis.com), Budget (www.budget.com), Hertz (www.hertz.com), and National (www.nationalcar.com), among others. Be sure to book well in advance and shop around to lock in the best rates. From Phoenix, you can zip through the 120 miles to Sedona in less than two hours via I-17 (north). Take the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon exit (exit 298) to Highway 179 (west), which runs for 14 miles through the Village of Oak Creek before hitting Sedona. From Flagstaff, the 30-mile drive to Sedona can be made via I-17 (south), but we recommend taking the incredibly scenic Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon instead. If you decide to hold off on renting a vehicle until your arrival in Sedona, ground transportation from Phoenix’s airport is available by bus on the Sedona-Phoenix Shuttle (928/282-2066 or 800/448-7988; $45 one-way, $85 round-trip; reservations required; www.sedona-phoenix-shuttle.com), which has scheduled departures eight times a day.

Getting around
We highly recommend renting a car during your stay, as there is little in the way of public transportation, save for the free Sedona RoadRunner trolley (www.sedonaroadrunner.com) that was initiated in fall 2006 – it runs every 10 minutes (during daytime hours) between the Hillside shopping center on Highway 179 and the north end of Uptown Sedona. While much of the compact Uptown area is easy enough to navigate on foot, you’ll need wheels to get out to the trailheads and scenic backcountry – also keep in mind that four-wheel drive can come in handy for some of the area’s unpaved side streets. Local car and jeep rental companies include Enterprise (www.enterprise.com); Avis (www.avis.com); Sedona Car Rental (www.sedonacarrental.com); BTW Sedona Rent-A-Car (www.sedona-rent-a-car.com); and Farabee Jeep Rentals (www.farabeejeeprentals.com). Thrill seekers can even opt to rent Harley-Davidson motorcycles or ATVs from EagleRider of Sedona (www.sedonamotorcyclerentals.com).

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