We’d wanted to visit Sedona, Arizona for a long time. We’d seen pictures of the beautiful Red Rocks Country and had read and heard about the numerous terrific hiking trails in the area. We knew Sedona was noted for its artwork and crafts, and I was curious to see why Sedona is famed as a New Age spiritual center. So when we had an opportunity to meet with up friends David and Nancy, who were spending a week in a Sedona condo with other family members as part of an extended southwest vacation, we jumped at the chance to join them and also explore Sedona and the nearby Verde Valley for over two weeks in April.
We quickly learned that April is one of the busiest times of the year to visit Sedona. The weather is typically sunny and comfortably warm, the high desert foliage is leafing out and blooming, many families spend their spring breaks (occurring throughout the entire this year due to Easter falling so late) at one of Sedona’s many hotels or resorts, and many international tourists visit at this time. We also learned it is difficult to get a RV site in the area at this time without reservations made far in advance (which we had not done). The one park in Sedona itself, Rancho Sedona RV Park, books up far in advance and because of its popularity is relatively expensive for an extended stay during what is their high season. (I say “relatively expensive” when comparing it to other RV parks in the general vicinity, but in comparison to hotels or condos in town going for $300+ per night Rancho Sedona is a bargain for that locale as long as you have an RV to stay in.) Other parks in the nearby Verde Valley, which are a 20 to 40 minute drive to Sedona, were also quite full. So, we were thrilled when were able to take advantage of a cancellation and start our area explorations with a four-night stay at the very-popular Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood. Subsequently, we moved to Verde River RV Resort in adjacent Camp Verde for ten nights, and then went back to Dead Horse Ranch SP for a final four nights (getting in on another cancellation).
Hiking around Sedona
If you are avid hikers like we are then Sedona is definitely a hiking mecca. Hiking trails radiate out from within and from the town’s outskirts in all directions, many on the west side going into the over-55,000 acre Secret Mountain Wilderness (where mountain bikers are not allowed to share the trail). I think nearly all of the hikes in this area feature awe-inspiring views of the varied red rock formations. There are hikes with topography ranging from difficult (i.e., steep and/or scrambling required) to nearly flat and easy. And, in April there were many people competing for trailhead parking spaces for several of the hikes we did, often completely filling the parking areas and spilling onto the shoulders of the nearby roads. There is no doubt that hiking is extremely popular in Sedona.
We hiked the following trails around Sedona (in addition to the Lime Kiln and Verde River trails near Dead Horse Ranch SP):
Long Canyon loop
Brins Mesa loop
Fay Canyon and Fay Canyon Arch
Boynton Canyon and Boynton Vista
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Touring the Nearby National Monuments
The Verde Valley has two wonderful National Monuments displaying fascinating ruins and artifacts from the Sinagua people (Sinagua means “without water”). These people lived in the area from approximately 600 to 1400 AD, beginning in pit houses dug into the ground and eventually living in rustic cliff dwellings before they inexplicably abandoned the area around 1400 AD. Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well are two sites 11 miles apart that comprise one Monument and Tuzigoot is one site that comprises the other.
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Other Sedona-Area Attractions
Sedona was so packed with visitors in April that we didn’t do much in town itself, but we did particularly enjoy two places there. First, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is a must-see. Like the great cathedrals (but obviously on a much more intimate scale), it’s a building that is meant to both inspire and to glorify God. The chapel has a cleanness of line and beauty, simple and almost stark in appearance, that fits extremely well into the also-inspiring beauty of the surrounding red rocks formations.
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Second, we also enjoyed touring through Tlaquepaque, a sprawling “arts and shopping village” in Sedona made in a southwest motif that features numerous galleries, boutiques, another Catholic chapel, and restaurants. Some of the art was outstanding and there were many pieces of art and craftwork that Kathy and I really liked and might have considered buying if we could afford them and if we weren’t living in no more than 300 square feet of space!
Visiting the town of Jerome was a lot of fun (although I wasn’t pleased with any of my pictures). Notable for being perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the Verde Valley, with a very precipitous and curvy highway cutting through it (definitely not appropriate for driving a sizable RV like ours), Jerome had a long history as a mining town and is now primarily a tourist attraction. There were several great galleries in town that we enjoyed looking through. My favorite by far was Firefly, with their wonderful nature-themed art in a beautifully restored and updated historical building, and Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes and Art Glass (they say they are the largest brick and mortar kaleidoscope store in the world), with an astoundingly large collection of kaleidoscopes of all sorts, sizes, materials, and prices.
Cottonwood’s Old Town is another historic area preserved to reflect how it appeared in historic times. Like many such areas, it is now largely comprised of art galleries, antiques stores, and restaurants. We enjoyed walking through the Old Town area but did not spend a great deal of time there other than to eat at the same restaurant twice (more on that below).
Dining in the Area
We enjoyed eating at Bocce pizzeria in Old Town Cottonwood so much our first ight in town that we ate there again when meeting up with friends Dick and Sue (in town for a birding event) for dinner one night toward the end of our stay. We were very glad we didn’t pass up their excellent variety of gluten-free pizzas. We also ate at Oak Creek Brewery & Grill, which is highly regarded in Sedona. It was crowded and expensive, like a lot of things in Sedona (thank God for free hiking!), but their food and beer was good. Another stop was at THAT Brewery in Cottonwood. A much more rustic place, they make many different types of beers and what we tried was excellent, and better than what we had at Oak Creek. We had a delightful conversation with, as it turned out, fellow Christians from Minnesota (retired to Cottonwood) and North Carolina (their son, a biologist with a fascinating job as an aquarium director, living out his faith in the realm of science) who shared our table and were also sampling THAT’s beer selections.
Sedona also has a Whole Foods grocery store that features an abundant self-serve salad and deli bar. They had lots of choices and it made for a good, fast meal (although also fairly expensive for what you get – notice the Sedona high prices theme here?).
It was very crowded in Sedona and, to a lesser extent, in Old Town Cottonwood and Jerome, during our stay in this area. Our visit was during the height of their high season. We don’t like it when traffic is bad and when we’re competing with crowds of people for parking spaces, art viewings, restaurant seating, etc. We’d like to return to Sedona in the future, but unless we need to be there at a specific time to meet up with friends, we won’t visit around spring break time. Aiming for February or very early March, or May, would probably be better. Nonetheless, we tremendously enjoyed our days with David and Nancy (and their relatives Tom and Janice; perhaps we’ll see you in Michigan someday!) and are grateful for their hospitality. We look forward to more hiking adventures with them in future.
If you know the Sedona area then you’ve seen RVs boondocking on certain public lands between the Verde Valley and Sedona. You may be wondering why we, with all of our solar panels and lithium batteries, didn’t boondock in our motorhome instead of staying in the State Park and the commercial RV park we happened to get into. Well, we looked for boondocking sites along FR525, beginning from off of highway 89A, and along some of the spur roads in that area. We weren’t impressed with the choices available. Camping sites obviously big enough for our rig were already occupied (more of the crowded area issue) and other more “iffy” sites were deeply rutted due to recent (and admittedly atypical) heavy rains. Most other sites were simply rougher than we felt comfortable with, given the fairly low ground clearance of our rig, or were very unlevel. When we’re next in the area we will hopefully avoid the crowded time and we will like to look harder for boondocking, probably starting from the side of the area closer to Sedona rather than from off the highway.
We saw lots of evidence of New Age spirituality in the area. From shops featuring numerous types of healing (and other results) crystals to a “New Age Supercenter” just across from Tlaquepaque, to a guru-like man sitting cross-legged on the top of a notable needle-like outcropping while he played the flute and occasionally chanted feel-good slogans; to Japanese tourists praying to spirits at the same location, to shops offering psychic readings and astrology, there was a lot of activity focused on people that were obviously inspired by Sedona’s beauty but were, unfortunately, seeking spiritual sustenance and guidance in the wrong place.
Speaking of spiritual matters, we worshiped at Calvary Chapel in Camp Verde twice during our stay, including a wonderful Easter service. Great music, great teaching, really warm and friendly people. On Easter the worship time was led by Hilary and Kate, a talented musical duo from San Luis Obispo, CA. If you live in that area then I suggest you look for one of their local performances (they play at churches, wineries, and other gathering places). They were excellent!
Next: Flagstaff and Prescott