66 miles NE of Prescott; 116 miles N of Phoenix; 106 miles S of the Grand Canyon

Nowhere in Arizona, or the entire country for that matter, will you find a town or city in a more beautiful setting. On the outskirts of Sedona, red-rock buttes, eroded canyon walls, and mesas rise into cerulean skies. Off in the distance, the Mogollon Rim looms, its forests of juniper and ponderosa pine dark against the rocks. With a wide band of rosy sandstone predominating in this area, Sedona has come to be known as red-rock country, and each evening at sunset, the rocks put on an unforgettable light show that is reason enough for a visit.

All this may sound perfectly idyllic, but if you lower your eyes from the red rocks, you'll see the flip side of Sedona -- a sprawl of housing developments, highways lined with unattractive strip malls, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. However, not even this can mar the beauty of the backdrop.

With national forest surrounding the city (and even fingers of forest extending into what would otherwise be the city limits), Sedona also has some of the best outdoor access of any city in the Southwest. All around town, alongside highways and down side streets in suburban neighborhoods, there are trail heads. Trek down any one of these trails, and you leave the city behind and enter the world of the red rocks. Just don't be surprised if you come around a bend in the trail and find yourself in the middle of a wedding ceremony or a group of 30 people doing tai chi.

Located at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona was first settled by pioneers in 1877 and was named for the first postmaster's wife. Word of Sedona's beauty (the town's not the wife's) did not begin to spread until Hollywood filmmakers began using the region's red rock as backdrop to their Western films. Next came artists, lured by the colorful landscapes and desert light (it was here that the Cowboy Artists of America organization was formed). Although still touted as an artists' community, Sedona's art scene these days is geared more toward tourists than toward collectors of fine art.

More recently, the spectacular views and mild climate were discovered by retirees. Until the crash of the real estate market, Sedona's hills were alive with the sound of construction as ostentatious retirement mansions and celebrity trophy homes sprouted from the dust like desert toads after an August rainstorm. Although the souring of the economy has slowed the building boom considerably, Sedona is still the sort of town that believes, if you come, they will build it. Sedona is also a magnet for New Age believers, who come to experience unseen cosmic energy fields known as vortexes. The vortexes are such a powerful attraction that many New Age types have stayed in the area and have turned Sedona into a hotbed of alternative therapies. You can hardly throw a smudge stick around these parts without hitting a psychic (shouldn't they have seen it coming?). Mountain bikers have also discovered the red rock, and word has spread that the biking here is almost as good as up north in Moab, Utah.

The waters of Oak Creek were what first attracted settlers and Native peoples to this area, and today this stream still lures visitors to Sedona -- especially in summer when the cool shade and even cooler creek waters are a glorious respite from the heat of the desert. Two of Arizona's finest swimming holes are located on Oak Creek only a few miles from Sedona, and one of these, Slide Rock, has been made into a state park.

With its knock-your-hiking-boots-off scenery, dozens of motels, hotels, and inns, and smattering of good restaurants, Sedona makes an excellent base for exploring central Arizona. Several ancient Indian ruins (including an impressive cliff dwelling), the "ghost town" of Jerome, and the scenic Verde Canyon Railroad are all within easy driving distance, and even the Grand Canyon is but a long day trip away.