Updated: Aug 19
“Nowhere on this planet is the desert as fascinating as it is in Arizona.” wrote Joseph Stacey in Arizona Magazine. Having recently returned from an Arizona desert adventure, I would heartily agree. The glowing red rocks, the Saguaros towering over the Sonoran Desert , the Ponderosa Pine sky islands and the scent of Juniper and sage along the hiking trails, it is a stark yet intriguing place. We spent 7 days exploring the northern Arizona desert using Sedona as a base. We took day trips to Grand Canyon National Park and Jerome, AZ.
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Phoenix is the largest airport in Arizona and an interesting city to explore. When you start your desert adventure in Phoenix, it gives to an opportunity to observe the eco-systems changes as the elevation increases while traveling to Sedona. In Phoenix which is at about 1000 ft above sea level, you will notice the the citrus fruits and blooming plants growing in residential areas. They are prominent in this arid city. Phoenix is a huge foodie town. It has a large variety of restaurants, however southwest cuisine trumps everything, especially at Barrio Queen. Pictured above is their Suadero Aztec (Beef Short Rib Birria). These tacos were the best tacos I have ever tasted.
Travel to Sedona
As you start out towards Sedona from Phoenix, you see a multitude of the Saguaro cacti rising majestically over the desert floor. You will also see Barrel Cactus and Desert Palms
On the day we traveled to Sedona, snow had blanketed the higher elevations from a storm the night before. We chose to take I-17 to just outside of Flagstaff and pick up state road 89A there and then heading south on 89A into Sedona. This route allowed us to have magical snow views of the desert, including Mt. Humphreys in the center photograph.
Oak Creek Overlook
Oak Creek Overlook sits at the top of Oak Creek Canyon in the Coconino National Forest that surrounds the town of Sedona.
We stopped to take in the snow covered views.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, Oak Creek helped carve Sedona and the Verde Valley into the stunning beauty you see today. Oak Creek is fed by natural springs and has some water flowing through it all year long. Because of this water source and the protection of the red rock caves, Natives Americans have lived in this area for thousands of years. When the weather is good, you can purchase art, jewelry and crafts from Native Americans at the Oak Creek Overlook.
Lunch at Mesa Grill
Our lunch stop was at Mesa Grill. This restaurant is right next to the Sedona Airport.
You can watch the small jets take off and land while enjoying an outstanding meal and cocktails. They are known for their Fish and Chips and Carne Asada, both were delicious, as were our samplings from their cocktail menu.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
Before heading to our accommodations, we stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This beautiful catholic church has a stunning and distinctive sculpture of Christ on the Cross and panoramic views of the surrounding rock formations.
The Hoodoos (cylindrical rock formations) stand proudly on the outcropping behind the Chapel.
Hike the Baldwin Trail
We ended the day with a two mile hike along Cathedral Rock and the lower portion of Oak Creek. All of the hikes we did in Sedona can be found on the AllTrails App. This hike is a great introduction into the diverse landscape in Sedona. It winds through creekbeds, pine forests and red rock formations.
The All Trails App gives you several options for Loop Trails in this area. Most are categorized as easy. If you are looking for harder trails in this area, there is one that climbs Cathedral Rock.
This video shows you the views of Cathedral Rock from Oak Creek.
View From the Backyard
We had a view of the backside of Castle Rock from the backyard of our accommodations.
Dinner at PJ Village Pub
After a big lunch at Mesa Grill, we opted for some bar food at PJ Village Pub in the Village of Oak Creek. This is a fun, local, sports bar, with outstanding chicken wings. They have a large craft beer selection and a few well crafted speciality cocktails. We walked back by the light of a full moon.
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Hiking the Andante Trail
First thing in the morning, we hiked the Andante Trail from Chimney Rock to Tea Cup Valley and back. This 3 mile out and back trail is suitable for all skill levels. Hiking is my prefered way to explore Sedona. If you time in Sedona is limited, a quicker way to see these backroads places is with an Off-Road Jeep Tour.
The above video is the view from the end of the trail of Tea Cup Valley.
This is a lightly trafficked trail in the winter. The vistas of Thunder Mountain are gorgeous. We encountered a family of Javelins, a pig-like hoofed desert animal indigenous to this area.
Lunch in Cottonwood
After hiking we drove over to Cottonwood for lunch at Adriana's Mexican Restaurant. This is a very authentic Mexican Restaurant. The tacos and Margaritas hit the spot after a morning of hiking. Downtown Cottonwood has fun restaurants, Wine Tasting Rooms and funky shops. It is fun to wander around and explore them. Another fun way o see Cottonwood and all of the Verde Valley is via the Verde Canyon Railroad Adventure. This is a fun 4 hour train ride with great information about the area.
A Drive Through Coconino National Forest
On the way back, we took the scenic route along the unpaved Boynton Pass Road. The vistas were spectacular. When coming from Cottonwood, you rejoin the paved road at Bear Mountain.
Day Trip to Grand Canyon
The south rim of the Grand Canyon is 2-3 hours north of Sedona, depending on traffic. It is open 365 days a year. The entrance fee is $35 per vehicle. You drive through lush Ponderosa Pine forests between Sedona and the Grand Canyon, as you climb to 7000 ft above sea level. Arizonians refer to Ponderosa Pine forests as "sky islands" because they are an oasis of green occurring at high elevations. As you come down from the forests you cross the Colorado River plateau which is largely high desert. For one day visitors, the best place to begin your view of the Grand Canyon explorations is "The Village." The Village has scenic overlooks, hotels, the Lodge, restaurants, snack bars and gift shops. Take your time and absorb the vastness and majesty of the largest canyon in the world and consider that Native Americans from the Havasupui Tribe have been living in and around the Grand Canyon for 800 years.
There are also Day Trip Tours available to the Grand Canyon from Sedona.
Road to Hermit's Rest
In the summer months, the Road to Hermits Rest is accessible by shuttle bus or hikers only. In the winter months personal vehicles, are allowed to make the drive. There are 8 overlook stops including Hermits Rest. The views are different from each overlook. We stopped at several to view the canyon from different angles. We also packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed it from one of the overlooks.
Hermit's Rest was the stopping point of the horse drawn carts that brought visitors from the train station at Grand Canyon Village to the beginning of Hermits Trail which goes down into the canyon. As with many of the buildings on the South Rim, Hermit's Rest was deigned by Mary Colter, an interior designer and architect that worked on Grand Canyon buildings from 1901to 1948. Her structures are protected as National Historic Landmarks.
Sunset Happy Hour in Sedona
We bypassed Flagstaff and went through Williams on the way back to Sedona. This allowed us to get back to Sedona in two hours. We were able to see the sunset glow reflected in the red rocks of Thunder Mountain. Our overlook was the parking lot of the old amphitheater on the west side of Sedona. There is plenty of parking and picnic tables, making this a great place for a 'mobile" Happy Hour.
Dinner at Szechwan
Dinner was a family style feast of Chinese food at Szechuan Restaurant. The waiter graciously honored our request to share Hot and Sour soup and Dumplings as a starter and four flavorful entrees among 5 people. The Kung Pao Chicken and Eggplant in Garlic sauce were my favorites.
Hike Marg's Draw
We headed out in the early morning to hike Marg's Draw and were rewarded with a shaded start to this 4 mike hike. We started at Morgan Road and the first part of the trail was a shaded Juniper Forest. This is a hilly out and back trail that can be very busy. The vistas along this trail breathtaking.
Lunch at Tamaliza
After a nice morning hike, we fueled up at Tamaliza. Their Tamales are the best I have ever eaten. Pictured in the middle is my Pork tamale supreme...Delicious.
Sedona has a small but growing wine region. We visited three of their young wineries, Page Springs Winery, Javelina Leap and Oak Creek Vineyards. It was great fun to order a couple of tasting flights and talk about which wines everyone liked.
I find that when wine tasting it is often best to leave the driving to someone else. There are some great Sedona Wine Tasting Tours to keep you well informed and safe. They include tastings at each stop which makes them a good value as well.
Last Sunset in Sedona
The sunsets in Sedona are spectacular. The setting sun baths the red rocks in golden light. They almost look like they are glowing.
Hike Bell Rock Loop Trail
Our last hike in Sedona was Bell Rock Loop via the Rector Connector. This is the less trafficked and longer way to reach Bell Rock. On the western side of Bell Rock is the Bell Rock Vortex. I paused, stepped away from the crowds, closed my eyes and tried to feel the vortex. While I did not sense its energetic presence, I did feel a soothing influence. When I close my eyes I normally see swirls of yellow and green. In this place of vortexes, I saw red.
After enjoying our last hike in Sedona, we loaded the car for our return to Phoenix. We stopped at the haunted mining town turned artist colony, Jerome Arizona. The vistas of the Verde Valley, shopping and mining memorabilia are so intriguing. We ate lunch at Clinkscale on Main Street. I would highly recommend eating there! Everything we tried was delicious.
There is a Day Trip Tour to Jerome, if you prefer to leave the driving to someone else.
Return to Phoenix
On the way back to Phoenix, we stopped at a recreational area to stretch our legs and look at the fascinating Saguaros up close. These cacti are enormous, up to 3 stories tall. They have a very long life span. They do not begin growing arms until they are 70 to 100 years old. Several species of birds that nest in their hollow base and arms. They are an integral part of the Sonoran Desert eco-system.
For our final dinner in the Southwest, I requested a return trip to Barrio Queen, because their Suadero Aztec (Beef Short Rib Birria) Tacos are so darn good.
I left Arizona with a deep appreciation of the desert and a promise to return again.
For more information on visiting Sedona click on the Blog Posts below: