An Awe-Inspiring Red-Rock Wonderland in North-Central Arizona
Spectacular! That’s the word my wife, Gayle, and I use to describe our visit to the 140,000-acre area known as Red Rock Country, surrounding the town of Sedona, Arizona, in the Coconino National Forest. During our decades of travel by motorhome, we have rarely encountered a place that offers as many unusual points of scenic and photographic interest, coupled with such a highly developed infrastructure for accessing them. Along the well-maintained highways, there are many vista points, with displays that include substantial interpretive information about each location. There is also an elaborate system of more than 100 well-maintained trails, affording close encounters of a good kind with virtually every attraction. Self-guided travel through this national treasure can be accomplished by motorhome, on foot, bicycle, or horseback. Guided tours and excursions are available via train, balloon, ATV, helicopter, raft or Segway.
Sedona, situated at an elevation of 4,500 feet, has a mild four-season climate, which is good news for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you have an interest in history, geology, archaeology, art, photography, camping, hiking, biking, or just being surrounded by nature in a place with wonderfully unique scenery, you will find plenty of things to see and do here. In fact, USA Weekend named Sedona one of the “Most Beautiful Places in America.”
This is indeed red-rock country. Huge, awe-inspiring formations with names like Cathedral, Bell, Coffee Pot and Courthouse, stand tall against the skyline. Of course there are impressive chasms as well, including the very impressive Oak Creek and Sycamore canyons. Rising above Sedona is the Mogollon Rim, which is a 2,000-foot wall of limestone, mudstone and sandstone, from when the area was on the west coast of an emerging continent. The largest and best-preserved display of prehistoric rock art in the entire area is at the V-Bar-V Heritage Site. Sinagua Indians created the images between A.D. 900-1400. The visitor center is only about 100 yards from the parking area, and then it’s a ½-mile walk to the art site.
In addition to all of the natural wonders to be found in the area, the town of Sedona is home to a variety of art and cultural events: The Sedona Arts Festival (Oct. 11-12), Festival of Lights (Dec. 13), The International Film Festival (Feb. 21-March 1, 2015) and Sedona JazzFest (April 17-19, 2015) are just some examples. There are more than 80 galleries, metaphysical shops, specialty stores, antiques and even a large outlet-shopping district. Sedona has world-class art galleries featuring paintings and photography of course, but also jewelry, sculpture, and a wide variety of Native American art. It also offers wonderful dining options, including French, Italian, Asian, Mexican and Southwestern. Unique fare like jams and margaritas made from the prickly pear cactus, tangy cactus fries, and unusual wines, tempt the palate. Nearby Page Springs and the Verde Valley are developing a reputation for some unique wines, so wine tasting is another experience to be had.
Whenever planning extensive sightseeing in an unfamiliar area, especially where hiking or biking is included, we like to set up a home base nearby and make day trips with our dinghy; that way we don’t have to break and remake camp each day. We did see plenty of RVers touring Red Rock Country in their motorhomes, but except for those with very small rigs, options for parking and exploring seemed limited. There are many campgrounds and RV resorts in the area to choose from. Our itinerary included diverse areas of interest within a large map circle, so we chose to stay at Verde Valley RV Resort, near Cottonwood. It has plenty of amenities and is within easy driving distance of Sedona. The resort, a 300-acre oasis in the high desert, is situated adjacent to the Verde River and has 265 full-hookup sites, many of which are pull-through.
We recommend making your first stop at one of the visitor centers in the area. A lot of information can be obtained from the Chamber of Commerce in Sedona, as well as from centers operated by the U.S. Forest Service and Arizona State Parks, but the best overall source of information, brochures, and permits (including the Red Rock Pass required for visits to the many important viewing sites), is the Red Rock Visitor Center located along State Route 179, between Sedona and the junction with Interstate 17. It’s a modern facility with an impressive inventory of literature, but perhaps more importantly has knowledgeable personnel who can save you time, expense and potential mistakes. One of the volunteers at the center gave us recommendations — based on his substantial personal experience — about which scenic routes and trails to take to get the most out of the time we had allotted. He broke it all down into segments that could be accomplished in two hours, a half day or a full day. He was also able to provide detailed information about the difficulty level of the hiking trails we were interested in.
For those who plan a self-guided tour, it should be pointed out that not all of the trails are open to mountain bikes. Likewise, only certain trails are accessible by equestrians. Further, since May 1, 2012, there are new rules limiting where a motor vehicle may be driven within the Coconino National Forest. Asking a few questions ahead of time can save an embarrassing and perhaps expensive mistake.
We have one final recommendation for visitors: Follow the signs in Sedona to the airport, which is located high atop a mesa, at least three hours before sunset. There is a very large parking lot across the road from a viewing area that overlooks much of Sedona and Red Rock Country. If you get there early, you won’t have a problem finding parking, even for a large motorhome. Then walk to the nearby Mesa Grill for an outstanding dinner. After dinner, walk to the viewing area and be there at least 20 minutes before sunset. Access to the viewing area is free, but a $1 donation per person is requested. There you will find several telescopes, and sometimes hundreds of other people gathered for the same experience. Take your camera and binoculars. Conditions permitting, you’ll experience one of the most impressive sunsets of a lifetime.
Whatever amount of time you can allot for exploring this national treasure — whether hours or weeks — should prove to be a significant life experience filled with wonderful memories. Gayle and I are already making plans to return to Sedona next year.
For More Information
Sedona Chamber of Commerce
800-288-7336 | www.visitsedona.com
Verde Valley RV Resort
877-570-2267 | www.rvonthego.com