A Natural Wonder
Sedona is a place of mystical lore, a geographical vortex for healing energy, a haven for self-care and alternative medicine, a mecca for wine lovers, and a hub for artists.
It is located between Flagstaff and Phoenix, just about an hour from Flagstaff and two hours from Phoenix. Within a reasonable driving distance there are two National Parks, seven State Parks, six National Monuments, seven wilderness area, a National Recreation Area, and several Native American heritage sites.
To the east is Oak Creek Canyon and Coconino National Forest, and to the north is the Devil’s Bridge and Sliding Rock State Park.
Sedona is surrounded to the south and west by the beautiful Verde Valley with the towns of Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Camp Verde, the Yavapai-Apache Nation Reservation, and an awesome old Ghost Town named Jerome that is full of wicked surprises.
Famous Red Rock Features
Sedona proper takes up a little over 19 square miles with its iconic red rocks, formed by a layer of rock known as the Schnebly Hill Formation that can only be found there.
These red rock features, plus its proximity to Red Rock State Park and the Red Rock Scenic Bypass, are why Sedona is known as Red Rock County.
Sedona has the most striking appearance; a combination of unique red rock formations, abundant succulent and evergreen plants, and endless bright blue sky. This particular red-orange is allegedly one of the most neurologically stimulatory hues.
Some of the most famous formations in Sedona are Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Oak Creek Canyon, and the Airport Mesa.
We stopped at Bell Rock first. The Bell Rock Trail is a moderate mile-long trail with a little more than 600 feet in elevation gain.
The Bell Rock Pathway and the Bell Rock/Courthouse Butte Loop Trail, which winds around the base of both Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, are both either longer or more difficult.
Check out this All Trails listing to view more updated info about additional trails.
Courthouse Butte is the giant formation nearest to Bell Rock, and the two share many trails. In the photo above, Bell Rock is to the left and Courthouse Butte is on the right.
The Airport Mesa below, like Bell Rock, is also a vortex. It sits in the center of a massive looping route, yet somehow feels like it is surrounding you the entire time.
It creates an unbelievably dreamy backdrop that we just kept staring at in awe, sometimes even pulling over just to admire it.
Other beautiful formations include Cathedral Rock, Submarine Rock, and Coffeepot Rock. I am fairly confident I saw Cathedral Rock in the distance at one point, but I did not know exactly what it was at the time.
We learned that the differences between a mesa and a butte are primarily size and shape.
Mesas are larger, wide, and everything is connected like a rock wall or chain of formations. Buttes are usually tall and narrow, more like a monument or statue instead of a mountain range. Compare the Courthouse Butte to the Airport Mesa, for a better visual.
Hiking, biking, mountain biking, climbing, fishing, golf, ATVs, horseback riding, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking are popular in Sedona. Check out this guide to various trails with ratings, a map of Sedona’s best bike trails, and a list of free bike repair stations.
Be prepared to buy a weekly or annual Red Rock Pass/America the Beautiful Pass before you park and start hiking at any specified locations, or you may face some fines or other consequences.
Prices vary between $5-$79 depending on how long you will be visiting included parks and which ones you visit. You can buy one in advance or at an onsite kiosk, if you set out for a spontaneous adventure.
I have learned to appreciate the benefits of buying passes for outdoor excursions and signing into guest logs. In the event you go missing, get lost, or worse, someone is more likely to come looking when they know you are there.
Sedona is world renowned as a place for enlightenment and healing, and one of the main reasons is that it is home to four powerful energetic vortexes. Each vortex also contains its own type of energy that is either feminine, masculine, or a combination of the two.
The Airport Mesa Vortex is said to be masculine, and the Cathedral Rock, feminine. The Boynton Canyon Vortex is known for a balance of both masculine and feminine energies. The Bell Rock Vortex is even more unique as it contains energetic elements of all three of the other vortexes.
Visiting a vortex is said to uplift and energize a person, and help them feel inspired or healed or changed in some way. For non-believers, the view alone will lift your mood.
Two more special energetic spiritual sites in Sedona are the Chapel of the Holy Cross and the Amitabha Stupa Buddhist Peace Park.
Alternative Healing & The Metaphysical
You can visit countless practitioners and teachers at facilities all over the city.
They offer everything from spiritual guidance, meditation and yoga, mental and physical health events, metaphysical classes, aura photography and paintings, psychic readings, spa treatments, therapeutic massage, and various retreats.
Many of the providers are Native American or incorporate Native American healing arts into their practices, so you can partake in centuries old traditions that have supported the overall well-being of people in the region.
Visit the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce Affinity Group to learn more about Sedona’s healers and to find the right one for you.
Native Americans & Early History
Speaking of Native people, there are nearly two dozen living Native American tribes and multiple historic Native American heritage sites near Sedona.
The largest Native American reservation in the country the Navajo Nation, north of Sedona, and the Yavapai-Apache Nation is southwest of Sedona in the Verde Valley.
Sinagua people lived in Verde Valley first from about 600-1400 AD and were highly skilled farmers, astrologers, artists, and pueblo builders. They left the area right around 1400 as Yavapai, Apache, and other tribes moved in.
In the 1800s, Native Americans were forced out as waves of Gold Rush hopefuls moved in and took over.
A visit to the Tuzigoot National Monument (below) will tell you all about their history and culture as you wander through the remains of a 100+ room pueblo and settlement.
Oak Creek Canyon
The first white people moved into the Sedona in the late 1890s, and settled the area known as Oak Creek Canyon. One of the first families, Mr. & Mrs. Theodore Schnebly, registered as town postmaster and named it after Mrs. Sedona Schnebly.
You can read more about Sedona’s early settlement here.
Oak Creek Canyon was boasted as one of America’s top eight most scenic drives by Rand McNally publications, and the road through it was the first designated scenic highway in Arizona.
If you plan to visit the Grand Canyon from Sedona, this will be the first breathtaking segment of your journey.
Arizona’s Verde Valley is comprised of the communities/towns of Sedona, Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, and the Yavapai-Apache Nation.
The Verde River that flows through it is one of Arizona’s few federally designated Wild & Scenic Rivers. Popular outdoor destinations include Oak Creek Canyon, Dead Horse State Ranch, Verde River Greenway State Natural Area, the Verde River Paddle Trail, and the Prescott National Forest.
Click here to read my Verde Valley blog.
Coconino National Forest
Coconino National Forest is one of six national forests in Arizona and spans nearly TWO MILLION ACRES. The forest is east of Sedona and you will drive through it if you are on your way north to Flagstaff or heading further east.
The Petrified Forest National Park, Verde River Greenway State Natural Area, Fort Verde State Historic Park, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Tonto National Monument, Honaki Heritage Site, and Palatki Heritage Site are must-sees when in Sedona.
Wilderness areas like Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness, Fossil Springs Wilderness, plus the National Recreation Areas of Glenn Canyon, Lake Powell, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, and Horseshoe Bend are also worthy destinations to see during your visit.
My list for the return visit is already enormous, and I am sure that is not even half of it.
From Phoenix we drove north to Sedona, briefly through Camp Verde in the Verde Valley, and past Montezuma Castle National Monument and Montezuma Well.
We made a left on Hwy 179 and drove the Red Rock Scenic Byway through the village of Oak Creek.
Then we found this place.
Son Silver West Gallery
Imagine an exotic garden center full of local and Native American-made art, all kinds of genuine Wild West décor and relics, water fountains, a bookshop, various rabbit trails leading to jewelry caves and crystals, smoking fire pits, larger than life statues, authentic clothing and home goods, all surrounded by a beautiful red rock wall in the distance.
Welcome to Son Silver West.
We fell in love with it immediately, and it felt more like we were wandering around an open-air art gallery than shopping.
Many of their pieces are hand-carved and crafted by people who live nearby, supporting various causes, and you can learn about the artists while you browse.
My favourite part, aside from the garden of course, was this display of dried chili strands. I learned that these chili ristras are used to decorate homes and territories as a symbol of protection, good health and good luck, in addition to being used for culinary purposes.
Tlaquepaque is an arts & crafts village with whimsical gardens, a diverse selection of galleries, wineries, and decadent food.
It takes its name, meaning “the best of everything,” after a city in Mexico and was designed to look just like it.
Arched doorways, stucco walls, vines growing up the sides of buildings, desert hues, shady nooks, brightly coloured pottery, clay bricks, and massive bronze sculptures fill the entire village.
It began in the 1970s as a place for artists to leave the rest of the world behind and focus on their work, but soon it attracted buyers, and was eventually built out to accommodate tourists.
Just like at Son Silver West, it feels like you a walking around an open air gallery, in a small city of its own, instead of grazing around a shopping mall.
Both of these places were outstanding.
It is common to see live bands, weddings, community festivals, cultural dances, and street performers making their rounds at Tlaquepaque.
Also, it’s “Ti-LA-kay-PAH-kay” if you are curious.
Art is such a huge part of Sedona. The city has almost 100 art galleries and hosts a variety of festivals throughout the year. You can check out the Sedona Art Walk maps for more locations.
The village garden is full of statues, metal art, and the bronze sculptures I mentioned above.
One random fact I learned while visiting was that Max Ernst, a surrealist painter/sculptor of the Dada Movement that I admire, lived in Sedona with his wife, the painter Dorothea Tanning, in the 1940s before it was developed. They fell in love with its beauty and were inspired to create works of art within its bounds.
I really get bored and dissociate when shopping, y’all know this about me, but I was entertained the whole time in Sedona. Outside of Son Silver West and Tlaquepaque, there are a few interconnecting shopping/entertainment/restaurant complexes lining the highway through town.
I enjoyed the variety of each place in a landscape that is so different from anything else I have seen before.
We fawned over how a lot of businesses in Sedona are built into the rock bases and how they retain the red rock vibe even at street level.
We also love that you can see ancient rock features towering in the background, everywhere you look
Creekside American Bistro
Ridiculous anecdote time. I had always wanted to visit Sedona anyways, and we had it on our agenda for a day a bit further into our Arizona trip.
When we landed in Phoenix, my best friend got several texts from her pal that we HAD to try the special soup at Creekside American Bistro.
So we quickly reprioritized, hopped in our rental car, and drove to Sedona, turning a two-hour drive into a fully-packed day. Finally, we found ourselves seated at a table on the back deck of Creekside.
And they were out of soup.
I may have sobbed a couple times as I told the waiter how we had just driven hours, reading more and more about this soup and psyching ourselves up beyond reason, and felt the “Oh, Elizabeth!” heartache, but thanks anyways, we understand, and yes okay, let’s see the menu.
This blessed man went into the kitchen and talked to the chef and scrounged up just enough for us to try. I could have died with gratitude.
Their special soup is similar to a Normandy soup, a chicken stock and heavy cream soup with veggies and black truffles. Whewwww. We would have driven another two hours for more.
I had been on a two-week long Reuben obsession so I had their version for my actual meal, and it was so decadent.
My best friend ordered the ahi burger.
We were super impressed with their fresh sangria bar, the view from the deck, and the fact that they have a special dog menu (swoon!), so we did our best to shower them with thanks for the soup.
The views in Sedona are gorgeous in the day time, but another wonderful part of Sedona is that it is an International Dark Sky Community. I would have loved to stay overnight and spend hours stargazing.
Follow Hwy 89A through Sedona to see the rest of Verde Valley.
In the area for a while? Follow us to the Amitabha Stupa Buddhist Peace Park, Verde Valley, Jerome, Desert Botanical Gardens, Scottsdale, Phoenix, and a hot air balloon ride!
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