By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
The splendor of monumental buttes, soaring cliffs, towering spires, and rugged canyons lure visitors to Arizona’s Red Rock country, near Flagstaff. There you can see in form and color how the natural world appeared millions of years ago. Vast sweeps of greenery refresh and inspire our spirit and fill us with anticipation. Unless you like crowds, try to avoid visiting in the summer, when it’s bursting at the seams with tourists. Although there is no guarantee you’ll have terrific weather, we were comfortable in sweaters when we arrived last January. Wildflowers make spring enchanting, as do the colorful leaves in the fall.
1. Start in Prescott
Having previously arrived in Red Rock country from the two most heavily used access routes (southwest from Flagstaff on Alternate State Route 89 and west from Interstate 17), we were thunderstruck by the beauty as we took State Route 89 north into Prescott. Don’t cruise through town without stopping, though. Take a break long enough to relish Prescott’s forest setting and its history as Arizona’s first territorial capital. Relax with a stroll through the center of the old town. Enjoy the Yavapai County Courthouse and other venerable structures, lovingly restored and maintained. Then hop back into the motorhome and head northeast.
2. Red rocks all around
Alternate State Route 89 (Prescott to Flagstaff) is a winding but perfectly safe road that takes you through the forest and then eases into the Prescott and Verde valleys. You first glimpse the rocks through a narrow cut in the trees, then a bit larger view, and finally the full spread of red rocks is laid out before you. Drivers must promise to keep their eyes on the road. It’s very easy to be distracted by the red sandstone spires, cliffs, and bluffs left behind by an inland sea and carved by millions of years of wind and water.
The first time we drove through Jerome many years ago, it was truly a ghost town; it isn’t any longer. The old buildings left behind when the mines closed down have been renovated and are used to house arts and tourist activities. The 1916 mansion of mine owner James Douglas now serves as the center of Jerome State Historic Park. A visit to the mansion reveals what it was like to work and live in the largest mining town in America. A video presentation shows dozens of old photos in the context of their time, and a first-class museum fills in many of the gaps. It’s well worth a visit.
4. Tuzigoot National Monument
Tuzigoot Pueblo, a remnant of a Sinaguan village, stands atop a long ridge rising above the Verde Valley. Construction of the building began around A.D. 1000 and continued until approximately 1400. The original pueblo was two stories high in places and had 77 ground-floor rooms. Access wasn’t as easy as walking through a door, however. First, residents had to climb to the roof of the dwelling and then descend through a hole. When they pulled the ladder in behind them, it made it nearly impossible for enemies to enter. If you have the time, consider a drive to Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well, excellent archaeological sites that are located southeast of Red Rock State Park along Interstate 17.
5. Verde Canyon Railroad
Make sure to save four hours in your travel schedule for a train ride along the Verde River and back with the Verde Canyon Railroad. You can enjoy Arizona’s longest-running nature show from comfortable seating inside. If the weather is pleasant (and if you don’t tend toward motion sickness), you can take a break outside in an open-air car. Reservations are required; call (800) 293-7245 or (928) 639-0010 up to a week in advance. Then, arrive early and try for a seat on the right side of the aisle (when facing forward). It provides the best view. In addition to the river scenery, we saw Indian ruins, a bald eagle, and a herd of peccaries.
6. Getting around
While we’re on the subject of touring in vehicles other than the motorhome, you may find several more possibilities exciting. Krazy Kyote (877-444-8044) offers tours of the Red Rock country by horseback, helicopter, hot air balloon, and jeep. A woman who had just finished the jeep trip warned us she felt sure the bouncing had jolted her teeth right out of their sockets. You’ll want to consider what mode of transportation is right for you.
7. Sedona, at last
If you thought Jerome was a center for interesting art, great shopping, and plenty to do, Sedona dwarfs it by comparison. Luckily, the town has three visitors centers located near the three main entrances to town. Arriving from Jerome on State Route 89-A, turn left on Culture Park Place; when coming from the opposite direction, you’ll find another visitors center near the intersection of State Route 89-A and State Route 179; a third is located 15 miles from Sedona on State Route 179. Stop in for brochures, advice, and maps of town.
8. Shop “˜til you drop
Whatever you enjoy in the way of fine art, crafts, jewelry, and collectibles, you’ll certainly find them in Sedona. There are, however, a couple of places we particularly enjoyed. The Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village has been around since the 1970s. It took us several hours to stroll down the streets, look at the window displays, and step into several shops that intrigued us the most. This is one tourist town where the welcome mat is always out, and the employees at the stores are delightful. Our choice for the finest art spot in town is the Exposures International Gallery of Fine Art. Paintings, sculptures, and everything else there are beautiful beyond belief.
9. Sedona restaurants
The Sedona directory lists at least 75 places where you can enjoy a “dining experience.” Of the restaurants we visited, we recommend them all. Joey’s Bistro, which serves five-star Italian meals for four-star prices, delighted our taste buds as well as our budget. Far less expensive are the Red Planet Diner (an outer space theme diner that serves sandwiches to die for, if the aliens don’t zap you first), and the Café & Salad Company (so good we ate lunch there three out of four days).
10. Back to nature
More than 4 million visitors are drawn each year to the Sedona area, which is surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. With such an influx of people, the demand for outdoor recreation has increased dramatically. To help improve and protect the land around Sedona, the national forest has developed the Red Rock Pass. This pass must be displayed on all vehicles that park on national forest property, including federal, state, or county roads that pass through the national forest. Red Rock Passes aren’t expensive: $5 for one day, $15 for a week, and $20 for one year. The money collected goes toward preserving the natural beauty of the area. The pass isn’t required should you simply stop to take some photos from your motorhome or towed vehicle, or use the rest rooms.
Several state and National Forest Service campgrounds are located within a short drive of Sedona. Most campsites and all picnic sites are available on a first-come, first served basis, but campground reservations are accepted at some locations. Sedona also has several private campgrounds. We’re particularly fond of Dead Horse Ranch State Park, near Cottonwood.
12. Oak Creek Canyon
The 25-mile drive through Oak Creek Canyon from Sedona to Flagstaff should not be missed. Spring and fall are, of course, the most beautiful seasons. In winter, when we were there most recently, it began snowing during our drive through the canyon to Flagstaff. As the snow began to collect on the highway, we turned around and returned to Sedona. Only later did we learn that snowplows keep the road open year-round.
Many come to Sedona wanting to see, feel, and experience a vortex “” but what is it? The answer depends upon whom you ask. Believers claim the vortex energy in Sedona is similar to that found in Stonehenge in England, at the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and at Machu Picchu in Peru. Nonbelievers do not consider it a science, but rather a “psychological and emotional experience.” You can pick up a flyer about the phenomenon at one of Sedona’s visitors centers, check out one or more of the five vortexes in Sedona, and decide for yourself.