Between the bustling desert city of Phoenix, Arizona and the wondrous Grand Canyon lies a not-so-hidden jewel called Sedona. Ancient red rocks, a temperate climate, and an inviting small-town feel characterize the city, which has a population just over 10,000. Accordingly, thousands visitors from around the U.S. and the globe flock here each year.
The history of Sedona includes a broad cast of characters. There’s evidence that around 3000 B.C., nomads wandered the region in search of food, but the first true civilization didn’t pop up until circa 1200 B.C. with the Ancient Pueblo Peoples, the Anasazi. Nearby, their counterparts, the Sinagua, built cliff dwellings that remain to this day and can be explored. And after their mysterious disappearance, the Apache and Yavapai emerged, inhabiting the region until the U.S. Army took control of the region in the late 19th century.
Today, Sedona lives in the wake of this mixed heritage, with both Native American and European American elements permeating the city culture. With breathtaking natural attractions and plenty of historical landmarks to explore, it makes for a great diversion from the normal daily routine.
Come to Sedona, and you’re bound to see one of the most amazing parts of the country. Though it is famous primarily for its sky-high red rocks and mystical vortexes, Sedona is much, much more. It boasts some of the Southwest’s richest history, best weather, and most unique shopping opportunities, as well as an array of outdoor attractions that will keep you coming back for more.
Located in the northern Verde Valley, Sedona takes her name from Mrs. Sedona Schnebly, the wife of the city’s first postmaster. But even though the city was technically founded in 1902, its history runs much, much deeper. Hunter-gatherers dubbed “Paleo-Indians” populated the area from 9,000 B.C. until about 300 A.D. A few hundred years later, the Sinagua (literally, “without water”) followed them into the region and left a lasting impact. During your trip to Sedona, you can head just outside of the city to walk in the steps of these ancient peoples with trips to the surprisingly advanced cliff dwellings they built and left behind. The most famous are located at Montezuma Well, but you can find others at Honanki, Palatki, and Tuzigoot.
Sedona’s European history began afterward in 1583, when Spanish explorers led by Antonio de Espejo arrived in their search for gold and silver. But it really wasn’t until the 19th century that the area was first settled—this time by American homesteader John J. Thompson, who in 1876 moved into Oak Creek Canyon, where he began an orchard business. If you go to Oak Creek Canyon today, however, you probably won’t be there to find orchards; indeed, they’ve been converted into the famous Slide Rock State Park. There, you can ride a natural 30-ft. water slide while soaking up the sights and sounds around you. Its 65-degree waters are as invigorating as they are fresh!
In fact, if you come to Sedona, you’re going to want to spend a lot of time outside. Why is that? Because the region features some of the very best weather in the Southwest. In spite of its desert locale, Sedona manages to stay relatively cool in the summers thanks to its northern latitude; unlike Phoenix to the south, Sedona rarely breaks 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And during the winters, the city is temperate, with average highs in the mid-50’s. That makes it the perfect place to go exploring, whether by four-wheeler or foot, on a bike or on horseback.
Visitors to Sedona will spend a lot of time outside among its famous red sandstone formations. The plentiful supply of rocks are jaw-dropping in appearance, for their rust-like colors are rarely beheld in other parts of the country. One of the most unforgettable sights is that of Bell Rock, which is located just off of Highway 179. This 550-ft. mesa pierces the blue skies surrounding Sedona, and features a memorable bell-like shape. Here also you can find a few of Sedona’s famous “vortexes,” claimed by mystic spiritualists to be able to energize the soul, heal the body, and impart psychic powers. Yet another famous sandstone site is Cathedral Rock, sometimes called Court House Rock, which offers a distinctive series of red rock spires up to a summit height of 4,921 ft. above sea level.
There are, of course, many other things to do among this distinctively hued land. One thing you can’t miss, however, is a professional tour. You can hop on a Jeep for either a mild or an extreme off-road experience, during which you’ll rumble and bumble over dirt, hills, rocks, and boulders. If you’re open to putting a little work in, then you can leave the Jeep behind and pick up a mountain bike. And, obviously, you have the option to stay on your own two feet during a professionally guided hiking tour. These excursions can last from as little as one hour, to upwards of three, depending on your physical condition, time constraints, and personal preferences. They are also fully narrated, which means that you won’t be merely seeing Sedona, but also, learning about its history, the many cultures that have called it home, and the geological phenomena that have come to define it.
If you’re into sightseeing, then you’ve got several opportunities awaiting you in Sedona. A hot air balloon or plane ride is an excellent way to cover a lot of land in a short amount of time. During your flight, you can capture unparalleled views of the Verde Valley, the Mogollon Rim, Mingus Mountain, and of course, a section of the Colorado Plateau, which spans large swaths of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah! Alternatively, you can stay on ground-level and take a train ride through the region. There are a variety of offerings here, from the local Verde Canyon Railroad, which will take you 38 miles from Clarkdale to Perkinsville, to the Grand Canyon Railroad, which will take you all the way out to the world-famous formation by the same name. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to see the Grand Canyon, don’t think that you’re restricted to rail. For example, you can drive there yourself, or take one of several ground or air tours to that legendary “hole” in the ground.
During your sightseeing travels, two final sites you won’t want to miss are the Chapel of the Holy Cross and the Sedona Heritage Museum. The first is an architectural wonder that consists in a Catholic church built atop twin 250-ft. mesas. Due to its magnificence, the chapel has been drawing thousands of visitors annually since the 1950’s. And while the walk up to the chapel is steep and challenging, the views you’ll get up there are worth it! Beyond that, if you’re interested in learning more about the region’s history, check out the Sedona Heritage Museum, which is housed in the old farm cabin of the Jordan family. The home is fully restored and tells the story of the pioneers and cowboys who settled Sedona.
All in all, Sedona is a city that offers something for everyone. With a temperate climate, unforgettable views, loads of prehistoric and modern history, and plenty of outdoor activities, it’s a vacationer’s delight