About 2 years back when I got to know I was being transferred to Phoenix I was overjoyed. I still didn’t know all the adventures and marvels I would find in Arizona and how it would change me but I knew I would be less than 2 hours from magical Sedona. That was enough to pack all I needed to live into my Camry and drive 36 hours from Pittsburgh to Phoenix.
The magic of Sedona is in its eerie red glow engulfing the town during sunrises and sunsets. Its in dipping your feet in the babbling Oak Creek and sliding down the smooth slick rock in slide rock state park. Add a great food and reasonably good wine & beer scene and a good mix of quirky people and international tourists and ambient weather - and what more do you need??
And yet the Sedona is deceptive in its size. It has an abnormally high number of attractions liberally sprinkled all around the edge of the city. There are numerous hiking trails, picnic spots, scenic cafes and one of the most beautiful drives in the country. As many times as I have been up there I haven’t seen all of it. Hardly seen half of it. Yet if you have a day or two to spend there, I would recommend some more than the others. Mix and match!
And yes, I don’t really subscribe to the concept of vortex - at least not to the commercialized version of it. But I will admit this be it in some peaks in Sedona or in Zion or Arches or Grand Canyon - if you pause and just sit down and lay down your camera and phone and keep staring into the abyss, for sure the abyss stares back at you.
Also you will be sharing the stares with hundreds of other people. I feel its charming to think people from all over the world, from different walks of life congregate together to see something that is just beautiful. There is no monetary reward in it. It won’t help you get promoted at work. People flock there because it is beautiful. And that gives me hope that empty materialism hasn’t taken over our lives completely. And if it hasn’t till now, maybe it never will.
Anyway the best hikes for me would be:
The hangover trail - a hilly 7 mile loop that goes over a mitten-looking rock formation overlooking a good chunk of the verde valley. Its gorgeous and moderately difficult and also a relatively new trail and so not all know about it. You find a semblance of solitude in this trail in overcrowded Sedona.There are a few places where there is a bit of sketchy exposure and lets say if you are drunk or high or scared of heights you shouldn’t walk across those ledges. But otherwise a general care and common sense should be enough for most parts.
As you go higher up you come across and skirt around a huge over-hanging rock and hence the name hangover trail. A silly name if you ask me that is needlessly confusing people. A group of hikers actually had thought doing this trail would cure hangovers. Sedona!!
Its $5 to park your car but if you have a national park pass - stop by the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center on Highway 179 just before Sedona and pick up another pass for free and save those five bucks for a beer later. There are no rest rooms or water on the trail. Plan ahead!
West Fork - A stark contrast to the Hangover trail - this trail follows a small creek to its source. It is an in & out trail up-to the source of the creek - I haven’t made it all the way up but have heard it just gushes out of the rocks. But the trail is like a smaller cousin to the Zion narrows if you can’t make it out there. Its a small, narrow, shallow creek that has cut through towering red rocks and the experience of walking on the creek bed through the red rock alleys is otherworldly. But it can get crowded - very crowded. I have seen marriages being hosted in there with the bridge fording the creek in the wedding dress and water shoes. Seemed romantic.
Parking is $10 - and they take only cash or checks. Who the hell goes for a hike with a checkbook!!! But the elderly guy manning the gates did accept my sincere apologies instead of either. So…
Another hike I would recommend is the Devil’s bridge. It is what it sounds like. A high natural bridge that you get to after a 1 or a 3 mile hike depending on how much you are willing to drive on a bad dirt road and if you get parking or not. Its a pretty cool destination to perched on a natural arch in the middle of nowhere.
If you want a more leisurely and fun and social activity than hiking - stop by the slide rock state park. Get in line to slide down the slippery rocks and slide down in the cold water. It is a lot of fun!!! And do it again and again until you are tired. Then sit by the natural pools and crack open a cold one and people watch. The atmosphere there reminds me of a huge pool party. They also have shaded Ramada to have a picnic. $20 to get in but its $20 well spent.
If you don’t care for hiking or nature - I mayn’t be of too much help here. At least not in Sedona. But park anywhere on the main drag and walk it - dart in and out of the numerous stores there. If you like shopping, you will find shops. If you like food, you will find the best food. If you like beer - hold on. Its for after sunset.
The town of Sedona was built for sunsets. Who ever the fuck built it. Every rock and every crevice bursts out in hues of orange & red flames and you will for sure have one of the best sunset of your life no matter where you are. Well sucks if its cloudy :(
But if you do want to see the best among the best sunsets - there are two choices neither of which need much hiking:
Airport Mesa - The first time I went there was for a sunrise rather than a sunset and it made every minute spent there stretch out into an eternity. In front of your eyes, the crimson rocks, the vibrant green vegetation, the flaming skies all blend and separate and blend again into a million different combinations. People ask what is so special about an Arizona sunset and so did I before I moved here. And the answer is the rather cloudless skies. And fine dust in the upper atmosphere. These together cause the intense sun beams to be diffracted wonderfully and in a different way every single time. And in Sedona you got the red rocks to catch those rays and reflect back. But while you are in the airport mesa - you have to work hard to find a place to see it unfold amongst throngs of tourists like yourself. It can be almost impossible to find a good undisturbed spot in the main viewing area. But if wander off to the light forested edges of the mesa you can still find some solitude. It won’t matter too much since you will be bewitched by the beauty in front of you.
But if you are willing to pay $10 and walk for 10 mins - head over to the the Crescent Moon Ranch a bit further down the road. Its a beautiful and relatively secluded spot. You wont see the sun go down there but you will see the massive natural structure brilliantly glow up in the golden hour. And I don’t know if it is always but everytime I have been there I have seen the moon rise up behind it. And you are next to the Oak Creek and countless picturesque rock cairns. All in all a picture perfect postcard sunset.
You can’t go wrong with dinner in Sedona but there are two places I would ask to try out:
Tamaliza - This is a cute small tamale shop couple of minutes from the Airport mesa whose owner/cook takes special care to make everything as organic and natural as possible. I would recommend everything but every now and then they have Oaxacan style tamales which are wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn leaves. Imparts a fruitier flavor. But they tend to close early like many of the small shops. So you need to go there right after the sunset or better stop by for lunch when its really sunny outside.
Another place to try something gimmicky is the Cowboy Club Grille & Spirits. Its your average American restaurant with some interesting twists. You can eat fried rattlesnake and buffalo and elk meat. If you have a craving for out of the ordinary meat. Buffalo and Elk are excellent meat though obviously gamey. Rattlesnake like alligator tastes like chicken. And they batter and fry the shit out of it. But hey how many can claim to have tasted rattlesnake!!!
Finally to end the night you can’t go wrong with Oak Creek Brewing. The brewery is hidden off a bit from the main road but when you step inside you know you are gonna have a good time. Filled with locals and performers they usually have live music every night. Try flights to find what you like most because they don’t have a bad beer. A couple may seem too light or too heavy but there isn’t one bad beer there. And as the music dies out head out to the back patio with with your beer. They have a huge fireplace where all the patrons congregate and just chat away into the wee hours of the night.
And so shall you...thinking about when can you come to Sedona next.