Sedona is like an island, in more than one way. There’s the red rocks of course – they are limited to the larger Sedona area, and once they come into view, it’s really quite unexpected. First they attracted Hollywood, and then an increasing number of tourists. And while I don’t know when the whole spiritual thing with Sedona’s energy vortices started, it did attract folk and businesses that one would just not expect in an area that otherwise would probably best be described as rural Arizona.
As a result, the little city in Red Rock Country, as it is called, is full of souvenir shops, art galleries, restaurants, jeep tour operators (and their vehicles), and a lot of curious places that offer psychic readings, tattoos, energized crystal gemstones, and other products & services that make me, at the very least, skeptically raise my eyebrows.
We spent a week there, and I’m torn. I found all the bustle in the small town highly unattractive – the crazy amount of traffic that squeezes through it, the new age nonsense of “vortex energy charged” gemstones, and the sheer fact that such a unique area got so developed – exemplified to me by the “iconic” Chapel of the Holy Cross, a concrete eyesore that has been slapped onto the red rock of Twin Buttes. Why? Isn’t this landscape grand enough as a place of worship, if you must?
Luckily, the development as a whole though is more integrated into the landscape in Sedona. Residential areas away from the central streets aren’t as intrusive as in San Diego (where chaparral hillsides are brutally bulldozed and replaced with leveled plateaus, onto which developers cram as many box-like houses as possible, “starting from the low 900s!”). And yet, seeing all these residences, one can’t help but wish that the area had been protected as a National Park long ago, like Yosemite perhaps.
But will we go back? Yes. Because at the same time, Sedona is easy to fall in love with. It’s still a small city, easy to navigate and understand on a map, and once you hit a trail and start to wander, it’s impossible to not be enchanted by the woodlands of this transition zone, with their beautiful mixture of Pinyon Pine, Juniper, Arizona Cedar, Manzanita, Canotia, Yucca, Agave, Sugar Sumac*, Mountain Mahogany… all contributing their own individual hue, to create this striking primary color combination of green trees and shrubs with red rock and blue sky.
There is an incredible network of trails to choose from, many of them interconnected, inviting you to “build your own loop”, and all with fantastic signage and trail markers. Some of these trails lead to incredibly busy hot spots of course, like the natural arch called Devil’s Bridge, or iconic Cathedral Rock. It’s best to start early to avoid the crowds, but it was easy enough to find silence and solitude on some of the less popular trails – and even those always surprised us with their beauty.
Most of the area surrounding the twin-towns of Sedona and Village of Oak Creek is Coconino National Forest. Which means that dogs are allowed on most of the trails (except for some historic sites) – and we brought Toni along with us, of course. The elevation change on many of the trails isn’t that big, and our old puppy (Toni is almost 15 now) happily hiked with us, scrambling and hopping on red rock, sniffing under the manzanitas, and getting resin from trees or pine cones stuck in her fur, somehow. :-)
Then there’s Oak Creek, seamed with Cottonwoods and Sycamores, its waters reflecting the colors of the landscape… a creek, running year round, precious water flowing, carving its canyon deeper, little by little, untamed by dams and reservoirs.
Last not least, the incredible formations of red rock of course! You immediately know that you’ve seen them before, in some old movie most likely (the landscape in over 70 major Hollywood films is Sedona). Sometimes they’re soft round mounds, sometimes they’re sharply rising spires and denying vertical walls. Many of them have names, like Submarine Rock, Courthouse Butte, The Nuns. Depending on the time of day and location, their color may be a soft copper brown, dark red, or purple. When the last direct sunlight of the day illuminates them, they take on an intense red-orange that is simply astonishing – light and rock combine into what one might call a super-alpenglow.
As a result of all this, Sedona is the meeting point for the fancy passengers of urban-tank style SUVs, bare footed hippies who live with their two kids out of a tiny old Chevy Sprint for the duration of their stay, plenty of mountain bikers, hikers, and retired folks who fell in love with the place, maybe for the reasons described above – or perhaps because of the entire mixture.
I was skeptical at first whether we should stay in Sedona for an entire week – but aside from a day-trip to the South Rim of Grand Canyon, we “only” spent our time in and around Sedona, and it was just right to find our bearings – and I can honestly say now that it wasn’t enough. Just as we truly began to get a hang of the place we had to leave, and there are many more trails to explore and sights to see. It was a bit early in the year perhaps too – at an elevation around 1300m (4000 feet), nature wasn’t quite there yet, while we already saw plenty of signs of spring in San Diego. So we’ll have to return. :-)
I’ll add more photos to the gallery below as I slowly go through my photos.
*) Rhus ovata, called Sugarbush here in the chaparral in San Diego.