Come Catch ‘Red Rock Fever’
by Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin
“Red Rock Fever” sounds suspiciously like a serious malady.
The name certainly doesn’t conjure up a comforting image, until you arrive in Sedona in Northern Arizona. Only after you glimpse the beautiful sandstone formations against a backdrop of the Arizona blue azure sky, can you begin to understand why locals associate this phrase with visitors. “Red Rock Fever” is a rather dizzying, almost mystical feeling. When a visitor to Sedona gets the Fever, it is said that they either end up staying or returning often.
Arriving in Sedona for the first time actually took our breath away. The town was literally surrounded by striking formations of eroded red and orange sandstone. The outcroppings names represent their forms, including Snoopy Rock, Camel Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, Merry-Go-Round Rock, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Court House Butte. Looming high above the highway, Bell Rock is the first red rock formation you see when driving to Sedona from Phoenix.
In addition to the beautiful red rocks, we also came to Sedona to experience the magnetic energy that is purported to be at seven vortex sites in and around town. Since 1987, when a “Harmonic Convergence” event was organized in Sedona, visitors flock to Sedona to feel the naturally occurring energy within a vortex. Some visitors feel euphoria, while others seem to be energized by the vortex. A significant New Age tourist industry has grown up in Sedona around the mysticism of the vortexes. Crystal shops, psychics, and tarot card experts abound.
Touring the Red Rocks and Vortexes
Sedona’s landscape varies substantially in elevation and vegetation, making it a haven for outdoor adventurers. Hiking trails and often unpaved roads lead to the pinnacles of the sandstone formations, to difficult-to-reach vortexes, and to ancient rock wall drawings. Trailhead elevations range from 3,600 to 6,400 feet above the valley floor. Hiking trails range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Our timeshare neighbors who frequently visit from Texas planned ten hikes for the week. As this trip was our first experience to Sedona, we opted for organized tours in jeeps to bring us to points-of-interest.
Sedona has a thriving local guided tour industry. Two companies, Pink Jeep Tours and A Day in the West, have been operating in the town for over 50 years. Most Sedona tour companies use 4×4 vehicles to take visitors on Sedona-style wildlife safaris and off-road excursions to early Native American ruins and petroglyphs, panoramic vistas of the red rock formations, and vortexes. After riding on some of the unpaved and rocky roads, we were grateful that we didn’t try to take our rental car – we could have easily damaged the oil pan or gas tank, or even blown a tire or two. Some companies provide horseback riding tours, as well as offer day-long trips to the Grand Canyon. (For company and tour descriptions and prices, go online to www.visitsedona.com, or simply search on “jeep tour Sedona.”)
‘Stepping Back into Ancient History’ Tour
The 40-minute drive that included unpaved, gravel roads, and then an extra ten-minute walk, brought us to the base of a long ridge. Our Pink Jeep Tours driver and guide, Jerry, pointed to the Sinaguan Honanki stone ruins under a rocky overhang. The Sinaguan people, considered ancestors of the Hopi Indians, had no written history, thus eliciting only educated guesses by scientists as to the true nature of the ruins and the meanings of the ancient paintings on the ridge walls, called petroglyphs. The petroglyphs are believed to date sometime between 1150 and 1400 CE. As we walked past the ruins of what is thought to be a three-story, multi-family stone home, Jerry described the speculated society of the ancient Indian cultures that lived along these mountains and in the valley of the Sedona-Verde Valley.
‘Finding Energy in a Vortex’ Tour
The late afternoon tour to a few vortexes turned into an unexpected metaphysical experience that was quite entertaining, whether or not we believed in the energy. Jered, our driver and guide from Arizona Safari Jeep Tours (www.safarijeeptours.com, 928-282-3012), drove the jeep through Oak Creek Canyon and painted a rich picture of Sedona’s early days. The story was halted many times to call out a name of a particular formation, or when he needed to carefully maneuver over the very rough, uneven and unpaved road. He talked about how Sedona got its name, and why we saw the “Schnebly” name all over town – we won’t give away the story, but let’s just say that Sedona is a far prettier name for the town than Schnebly.
Jered parked the jeep at the base of the Merry-go-round Rock formation where we were to experience the first Vortex of our tour. We walked the rest of the way to the top layers of the formation, and passed a twisted juniper that showed signs of the energy in this area. We scrambled up the formation and sat down on the side that overlooked Oak Creek Canyon. It was a beautiful, warm, cloudless afternoon, but there was a strong breeze while we took in the breathtaking, bird’s eye view of the canyon floor and Sedona, over 1000 feet below. We felt that if we stood up, we would fall over into the canyon. Without regard to his own safety, Jered stood facing us on the edge of the formation, literally with his heels over the edge. He reassured us that he did this often, and it was all about accepting your own mortality – moving past the fear of falling and dying — right!
Before we left the first Vortex, we stood up and placed both hands against the rock to feel the energy. Regretfully, none of us felt anything, unless you count the energy of connecting with the world as we looked out across the canyon.
We drove back down the hill, cut across town, and drove up the paved, winding road to another Vortex near the small, regional Sedona airport. Some of our tour members placed quartz crystals on a platform within the vortex area to “energize” them. We were told that the crystals will focus the energy. We moved our hands over the crystals, and felt an almost electrifying pulse coming from or through the crystals. This was our first experience with the “energy” of a Sedona vortex, so were we told.
‘A Grand, Grand Canyon’ Tour
During breakfast, Marty reminisced about his first and last trip to the Grand Canyon while on a cross-country teen tour when he was 14 years old. Surprisingly, all but Marty on our Pink Jeep Tours 10-passenger touring bus were “Grand Canyon Virgins” (sweetly coined by Laurie).
The ten-hour, Grand Canyon South Rim tour included the two hour ride between Sedona and the South Rim, stops at a number of observation points, and a break for lunch at Grand Canyon Village. There were plenty of opportunities on the tour to see one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
We drove on the 27-mile long winding highway between Sedona and Flagstaff. This highway has been touted as one of the most scenic drives in North America. We drove through Oak Creek Canyon and up into the Ponderosa Pine Forest of Flagstaff. We passed the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks, and on to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. From the tour bus, we spotted large mule deer and a solitary coyote walking along the highway.
Once we were in Grand Canyon National Park, our guide drove us to a number of the South Rim overlook points. The overlooks provided us with awesome Canyon vistas. We could see the Colorado River running lazily along the bottom of the canyon more than one mile below us. Many of the overlook stops also had trails that take visitors down into the Canyons. We stopped at Grand Canyon Village for lunch. The Village lies along the Southern Rim, and consists of gift shops, lodges, hotels, and restaurants.
The South Rim mule rides start out from Grand Canyon Village and descend along Bright Angel Trail. A two-day trip includes an overnight stay on the canyon floor at Phantom Ranch. A one day ride goes halfway into the gorge, with lunch at Indian Garden. The South Rim Mule trips are offered year round, and may be booked 13 months in advance through Xanterra Parks & Resorts at 888-297-2757. (For current pricing and rider restrictions, visit their web site at www.grandcanyonlodges.com.)
Village shuttle buses provide free transportation to the South Rim canyon overlooks and to other points-of-interest within the Park. All buses are equipped with bicycle racks to allow visitors the opportunity to bicycle part of the way around the park. Pets are not allowed on the buses.
If you expect to visit both the South and North Rims, plan on staying overnight – the North Rim is another 215 miles from the South Rim.
The Grand Canyon is home to California Condors — the largest and rarest scavenger birds in North America. Fossils discovered in the Park show that condors have lived in this region for thousands of years. By the 1980s, hunting of the Condors and collection of their eggs, as well as the birds’ inability to adapt to the modern world, placed the California Condor onto the endangered species list, with only 22 birds found in the wild. In the last 13 years, the National Park Service and other Federal wildlife agencies have successfully reestablished the California Condor population in Arizona and California. Regretfully, we did not get a chance to see at least one of these rare birds soaring across the canyon, or spot a nest in the craggy walls of the Grand Canyon. (For more information about the California Condors, visit the web site www.peregrinefund.org.)
Shopping in Uptown and Lower Sedona turned out to be an interesting experience. Retail items ranged from Southwestern and Native American gifts and clothes to eclectic galleries and crystal shops. Commercial buildings had a “Territorial” or “Western” style architecture of rough-hewn timbers, red rock, and shake roofs. The Sedona RoadRunner is a free shuttle service that stops at shopping and gallery points along the main streets. The Roadrunner is handicap accessible, and runs daily from 9am to 6:15pm, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Just south of Uptown is the beautiful Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village (www.tlaq.com). We felt like we walked into a Mexican village with Tlaquepaque’s verandas, wrought iron railings, masonry walls, cobblestone flooring, cast iron benches, and fountains. We strolled through arches lined with colorful, hand-painted ceramic tiles and into open-air courtyards shaded by sycamores and cottonwood trees. A quaint Chapel and indoor/outdoor banquet spaces are used for wedding celebrations. The chapel evokes images of an old Mexican church, with its stained glass windows, white-washed walls, and hand-carved leather pews. The 40 distinctive galleries, shops, and restaurants in the Village are open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Six thousand luminaries (little candle lanterns made from paper) will be lit in the courtyards and along the walkways for the “Festival of Lights” event on Dec. 12.
The most historic and unique restaurant in town is the Cowboy Club (cowboyclub.com, 928-282-4200). It was originally the Oak Creek Canyon Tavern, which served Sedona as a meeting place, pool hall, grocery store and saloon. Sedona became a favorite cowboy movie-making destination (43 movies were filmed in Sedona from 1931 – 1985). By the mid-1950s, the tavern became a hangout for Western movies’ best known actors — John Wayne, Gene Autry, Burt Lancaster, Jane Wyman, and Joan Crawford, to name just a few. Western fine art hangs in the current day Cowboy Club restaurant. The artists are Joe Beeler, Charlie Dye, and John Hampton, the Cowboy Artists of America founders who had regular meetings in the tavern.
The Club’s variety of tasty Western delicacies is described as “High Desert Cuisine.” The menu listed cactus fries, snake brochettes, and low-fat buffalo in various forms, such as brochette, chili, meatloaf, and tenderloin. In addition to buffalo, the restaurant offers a wide variety of other entrees from $10.99 – $44.50, including chicken, fish, burgers, pasta, steak, and ribs. We strongly recommend the Appetizer Sampler, which included cactus fries, buffalo brochettes, snake brochettes, warm flatbread, and house-made dipping sauces. The cactus fries were so good, we put in another order with our entrees.
We stopped in a number of times at the Black Cow Caf� in Upper Sedona for some homemade prickly pear ice cream. Proprietors Carrie and Lane Buck make the ice cream as well as bake and roll the waffle cones. Also try their signature menu item — steamed hot dog stuffed into a warm, French baguette.
Farewells to Sedona’s Red Rock
It was our fifth and final day in Sedona. We woke up and looked out for the last time from our bedroom balcony onto the red sandstone formations. We could see the large Snoopy Rock formation looming high above Sedona, as if guarding the town. While eating breakfast on our timeshare patio, we reminisced about what a perfect vacation we had, and discussed when we should return. We even pondered if we should retire here. We spent a few more hours walking lazily in and out of the uptown shops, making sure we looked up frequently at the beautiful landscape. We were loathe to leave the red and yellow formations against the crystal clear, blue sky. As we drove back to Phoenix, we realized that in less than a week, we had contracted “Red Rock Fever,” after all.
Tucson, Arizona Attractions
Tuesday, 20 October, 2009
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