advertisement

Exploring Red-Rock Country

The Grand Canyon may be Arizona's biggest attraction, but there's actually far more to do in Sedona. If you aren't an active type, there's the obvious option of just sitting down and gazing in awe at the rugged cliffs, needle-like pinnacles, and isolated buttes that rise from the green forest floor at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. Want to see more but don't want to break a sweat? Head out into the red rocks on a jeep tour or soar over them in a biplane. Want to go mano a mano with this wild landscape? Go for a hike, rent a mountain bike, or go horseback riding.

Although Schnebly Hill Road, which climbs into the red rocks east of Sedona, is a rough dirt road, it's a must for superb views. This road is best driven in a high-clearance vehicle. To reach this scenic road, head south out of Sedona on Ariz. 179, turn left after you cross the bridge over Oak Creek (at the Tlaquepaque shopping center), and head up the road, which starts out paved but soon turns to dirt. As this road climbs to the top of the Mogollon Rim, each switchback and cliff-edged curve yields a new and more astonishing view. At the top, the Schnebly Hill overlook offers a view that just begs to be savored over a long picnic. If you don't feel comfortable doing this drive in your own vehicle, you can book a jeep tour that heads up this way.

Just south of Sedona, on the east side of Ariz. 179, you'll see the aptly named Bell Rock. There's a parking area at the foot of this formation, and trails lead up to the top. Adjacent to Bell Rock is Courthouse Butte, and to the west stands Cathedral Rock. From the Chapel of the Holy Cross on Chapel Road, you can see Eagle Head Rock (from the front door of the chapel, look three-quarters of the way up the mountain to see the eagle's head), the Twin Nuns (two pinnacles standing side by side), and Mother and Child Rock (to the left of the Twin Nuns).

If you head west out of Sedona on Ariz. 89A and turn left onto Airport Road, you'll drive up onto Airport Mesa, which commands an unobstructed panorama of Sedona and the red rocks. About halfway up the mesa is a small parking area from which easy trails radiate, and at the top of the mesa is a huge parking area and viewpoint park that attracts large crowds of sunset gazers. The views from here are among the best in the region.

Boynton Canyon, located 8 miles west of the "Y," is a narrow red-rock box canyon and is one of the most beautiful spots in the Sedona area. This canyon is also the site of the deluxe Enchantment Resort, but hundreds of years before there were luxury suites here, there were Sinagua cliff dwellings. Several of these cliff dwellings can still be spotted high on the canyon walls. Boynton Canyon Trail leads 3 miles up into this canyon from a trail head parking area just outside the gates of Enchantment. To get to the trail head, drive west out of Sedona on Ariz. 89A, turn right on Dry Creek Road, take a left at the first T intersection, and a right at the second T.

On the way to Boynton Canyon, look north from Ariz. 89A, and you'll see Coffee Pot Rock, also known as Rooster Rock, rising 1,800 feet above Sedona. Three pinnacles, known as the Three Golden Chiefs by the Yavapai tribe, stand beside Coffee Pot Rock. As you drive up Dry Creek Road, on your right you'll see Capitol Butte, which resembles the U.S. Capitol.

To the west of Boynton Canyon, you can visit the well-preserved Sinagua cliff dwellings at Palatki Heritage Site (tel. 928/282-3854; www.redrockcountry.org). These small ruins, tucked under the red cliffs, are the best place in the area to get a feel for the ancient Native American cultures that once lived in this region. Among the ruins, you'll see numerous pictographs (paintings) created by the past residents of Palatki. Before heading out to these ruins, be sure you make a reservation by calling the number above. To reach the ruins, follow the directions to Boynton Canyon, but instead of turning right at the second T intersection, turn left onto Boynton Pass Road (F.R. 152C), which is one of the most scenic roads in the area. This road is paved for the first couple of miles but then becomes a sometimes rough dirt road. Follow this road to another T intersection and go right onto F.R. 525, then veer right onto F.R. 795, which dead-ends at the ruins. You can also get here by driving west from Sedona on Ariz. 89A to F.R. 525, a gravel road leading north to F.R. 795. To visit Palatki, you'll need a Red Rock Pass; the ruins are usually open daily from 9:30am to 3pm and reservations are recommended due to limited parking spaces. The dirt roads around here become impassable to regular cars when they're wet, so don't try coming out here if the roads are at all muddy.

South of Ariz. 89A and a bit west of the turnoff for Boynton Canyon is Upper Red Rock Loop Road, which leads to Crescent Moon Picnic Area, a national forest recreation area that has become a must-see for visitors to Sedona. Its popularity stems from a beautiful photograph of Oak Creek with Cathedral Rock in the background -- an image that has been reproduced countless times in Sedona promotional literature and on postcards. Hiking trails lead up to Cathedral Rock. Admission is $9 per vehicle. For more information, contact the Coconino National Forest's Red Rock District, 8375 Ariz. 179, Village of Oak Creek (tel. 928/203-2900; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino).

If you continue on Red Rock Loop Road, you will come to Red Rock State Park, 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd. (tel. 928/282-6907; www.azstateparks.com), which flanks Oak Creek. The views here take in many of the rocks listed above, and you have the bonus of being right on the creek (though swimming and wading are prohibited). Park admission is $10 per car. The park offers lots of guided walks and interpretive programs.

South of Sedona, near the junction of I-17 and Ariz. 179, you can visit one of the premier petroglyph sites in Arizona. The rock art at the V Bar V Heritage Site (tel. 928/282-3854; www.redrockcountry.org) covers a small cliff face and includes images of herons and turtles. To get here, take the dirt road that leads east for 2 2/3 miles from the junction of I-17 and Ariz. 179 to the Beaver Creek Campground. The entrance to the petroglyph site is just past the campground. From the parking area, it's about a half-mile walk to the petroglyphs, which are open Friday through Monday from 9:30am to 3pm. To visit this site, you'll need a Red Rock Pass or another valid pass.

The Name Game -- If you're having a hard time remembering which rock is which here in Sedona, you aren't alone. Cathedral Rock was originally named Courthouse Rock, but many years ago it was incorrectly marked on a map and the change stuck.

The High Cost of Red-Rock Views

A quick perusal of any Sedona real-estate magazine will convince you that property values around these parts are as high as the Mogollon Rim. However, red-rock real estate is also expensive for those who want only a glimpse of the rocks. With the land around Sedona split up into several types of National Forest Service day-use sites, state parks, and national monuments, visitors find themselves pulling out their wallets just about every time they turn around to look at another rock. Here's the lowdown on what it's going to cost you to do the red rocks right.

A Red Rock Pass will allow you to visit Palatki Ruins and the V Bar V petroglyph site and park at any national forest trail head parking areas. The cost is $5 for a 1-day pass, $15 for a 7-day pass, and $20 for a 12-month pass (this annual pass is not a good value, and I don't recommend it). Passes are good for everyone in your vehicle. However, be aware that these passes are not valid at Grasshopper Point (a swimming hole), Call of the Canyon (the West Fork Oak Creek trail head), or Crescent Moon (Sedona's top photo-op site), all of which charge $8 to $9 admission per vehicle.

Two state parks are in the area -- Slide Rock ($10-$20 per car) and Red Rock ($10 per car). Admission to the Montezuma Castle or Tuzigoot national monuments will cost you $5 per adult or $8 if you buy a combination pass that lets you visit both national monuments.

If two or more of you are traveling together and you plan on visiting the Grand Canyon and three or four other national parks or monuments, you might want to consider getting an America the Beautiful Pass ($80). This pass is good for a year and will get you into any national park or national monument in the country. If you're 62 or older, definitely get an America the Beautiful Senior Pass ($10), which is good for the rest of your life. Persons with disabilities can get a free lifetime America the Beautiful Access Pass. Any of these three passes can be used in lieu of a Red Rock Pass.

For more information on the Red Rock passes, visit www.redrockcountry.org.

Attractions & Activities Around Town

Sedona's most notable architectural landmark is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, 780 Chapel Rd. (tel. 928/282-4069; www.chapeloftheholycross.com), a small church built right into the red rock on the south side of town. If you're driving up from Phoenix, you can't miss it -- the chapel sits high above the road just off Ariz. 179. With its contemporary styling, it is one of the most architecturally important modern churches in the country. Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a devout Catholic painter, sculptor, and designer, had the inspiration for the chapel in 1932, but it wasn't until 1957 that her dream was finally realized. The chapel's design is dominated by a simple cross forming the wall that faces the street. The cross and the starkly beautiful chapel seem to grow directly from the rock, allowing the natural beauty of the red rock to speak for itself. It's open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 10am to 5pm; admission is free.

The Sedona Arts Center, 15 Art Barn Rd. (tel. 888/954-4442 or 928/282-3809; www.sedonaartscenter.com), near the north end of uptown Sedona on Ariz. 89A, has a gallery that specializes in works by local and regional artists.

To learn a bit about the local history, stop by the Sedona Heritage Museum, 735 Jordan Rd. (tel. 928/282-7038; www.sedonamuseum.org), in Jordan Historical Park. The museum, which is housed in a historic home, is furnished with antiques and contains exhibits on the many movies that have been filmed in the area. The farm was once an apple orchard, and there's still apple-processing equipment in the barn. Hours are daily from 11am to 3pm; admission is $3.

While Sedona isn't yet a resort spa destination on par with Phoenix or Tucson, it does have an ever-growing number of spas that can add just the right bit of pampering to your vacation. Therapy on the Rocks, 676 N. Ariz. 89A (tel. 928/282-3002; www.myofascialrelease.com), with its creekside setting, is a longtime local favorite that offers massage, myofascial release, and great views of the red rocks. A half-day of therapy here will run you $350. For personal attention, try the little Red Rock Healing Arts Center, Creekside Plaza, 251 Ariz. 179 (tel. 888/316-9033; www.redrockhealing.com), which is just up the hill from the Tlaquepaque shopping plaza and offers a variety of massages, wraps, scrubs, and facials. A 60-minute massage or other body treatment is only $80 to $90. In west Sedona, try Sedona's New Day Spa, 1449 W. Ariz. 89A (tel. 928/282-7502; www.sedonanewdayspa.com), a beautiful day spa with a resortlike feeling. A 1-hour treatment will run you between $105 and $155. In the Village of Oak Creek, there's the Hilton Sedona Spa, at the Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa, 90 Ridge Trail Dr. (tel. 928/284-6900; www.hiltonsedonaspa.com), offering a variety of treatments. There are also exercise and yoga classes, a pool, and tennis courts. Most 50-minute treatments cost $125.

It may be a bit premature to start calling Sedona the next Napa Valley, but there are a few wineries in the area. Three of them, located in the community of Page Springs about 20 minutes west of Sedona, are open to the public for tastings. To reach these wineries, drive west from Sedona on Ariz. 89A, and turn south on Page Springs Road. You'll first come to Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery, 1565 N. Page Springs Rd. (tel. 928/649-2681; www.javelinaleapwinery.com), where winemaker and owner Rod Snapp focuses on premium red wines. The winery produces wines made from both estate-grown grapes and grapes from other Arizona vineyards. The tasting room is open daily from 11am to 5pm. The tasting fee is $8. Right next door is Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery, 1555 N. Page Springs Rd. (tel. 928/649-0290; www.oakcreekvineyards.net), which is across the street from the Page Springs Fish Hatchery. The tasting room here is open daily from 10am to 6pm, and the tasting fee is $5. Page Springs Cellars, 1500 N. Page Springs Rd. (tel. 928/639-3004; www.pagespringscellars.com), is the most impressive and reliable of the three wineries. Rhone varietals are the specialty of Page Spring's winemaker/owner Eric Glomski, who is one of the state's top winemakers. The tasting room is open Sunday through Thursday from 11am to 6pm and Friday and Saturday from 11am to 9pm. There is a $10 tasting fee.

If you'd prefer to do your wine tasting with a guide, contact Sedona Wine Country Tours (tel. 928/554-4072; www.sedonawinecountrytours.com), which offers a variety of tours in the area and charges $98 to $150 per person.

Sunset at the Amitabha Stupa -- There's just something about Sedona that brings out people's spirituality, and one of the latest spiritual attractions to find a home among the red rocks is the Amitabha Stupa Park (tel. 928/282-5195; www.stupas.org), a Tibetan Buddhist shrine erected in a residential neighborhood in west Sedona. The 36-foot-tall stupa is up a short path that winds through juniper trees festooned with prayer flags. The stupa is often visited by devout Buddhists, who leave offerings at the base of the stupa, but the public is welcome anytime from dawn to dusk. To find the stupa, drive north from Ariz. 89A on Andante Drive and turn left on Pueblo Drive. Park outside the gate on the right.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.