There's no denying that Sedona's landscape is larger than life. The famous red rock buttes, mesas, and hoodoos loom imperiously against the saturated blue desert sky, practically daring you to feel significant. Fortunately, Sedona in autumn offers ample compensation to mere cogs in the universe like us: crisp, juniper-scented air; glorious sunsets; and great places to lay your head after a day's trek. It's hard to lose your way, no matter what you're seeking--mystic crystal revelations, the truth that's out there, or simply peace of mind.
Where to Stay
Bed & Breakfast at Saddlerock Ranch 255 Rock Ridge Dr.; 520/282-7640; doubles from $140. On the slopes of Airport Mesa -- named for the tiny airfield just down the road -- this snug three-room retreat was built in the twenties with flagstone floors, timber-beamed ceilings, and walls made of red rock and adobe. Saddlerock has vintage Western charm and a soupçon of Hollywood glamour, too. The house turns up in some western films, and also served as digs for John Wayne and other stars working on location.
Canyon Villa Inn 125 Canyon Circle Dr.; 800/453-1166 or 520/284-1226; doubles from $145. The views of the massive Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte formations from the inn's enormous windows are practically head-on. But that startling effect is counterbalanced by the relaxed gentility of the 11 rooms. Innkeeper Marion Yadon's indulgent breakfasts are impressive creations in their own right.
Enchantment Resort 525 Boynton Canyon Rd.; 800/826-4180 or 520/282-2900; doubles from $295. This 220-room pueblo-style resort brings new meaning to the mantra "location, location, location." Surrounded by the Coconino National Forest, Enchantment lies within the walls of a red rock canyon, a setting of such extraterrestrial beauty that you almost expect to find rocket ships in the parking lot instead of SUV's. A forest ranger can provide hiking advice; there are also excellent tennis facilities and a small full-service spa. The Yavapai dining room offers amazing views to accompany your breakfast and dinner.
Graham Bed & Breakfast Inn & Adobe Village 150 Canyon Circle Dr.; 800/228-1425 or 520/284-1425; doubles from $169. Adobe Village's four casitas are the stars of this 10-room inn, each one lavishly decorated in a different theme. In the crimson and sage Lonesome Dove casita, cowpoke wannabes can curl up in front of a floor-to-ceiling red rock fireplace, then swing through the room's saloon doors for a soak in their faux-barrel whirlpool tub while a genuine potbellied stove takes the chill off the air.
L'Auberge de Sedona 301 L'Auberge Lane; 800/272-6777 or 520/280-1661; doubles from $175. You'll hear some grousing around town that the regal rooms -- all drenched in Pierre Deux fabrics -- are out of sync with Sedona's ruggedness, but try telling that to the couples who fill up this French country hideaway every weekend. The flush weekenders book one of the 37 très luxe cottages, with canopied beds and fireplaces, situated on the woodsy banks of Oak Creek.
Sky Ranch Lodge Airport Rd.; 888/708-6400 or 520/282-6400; doubles from $75. Smack on top of Airport Mesa and 500 feet above town, this quite stylish motel has 360-degree views and landscaped grounds. Pricier rooms have kitchenettes, fireplaces, and the best vistas.
Sedona is a 2 1/2-hour drive from Phoenix. Flagstaff is 27 miles to the north. U.S. Highway 89A and State Route 179 are Sedona's main drags; the busy intersection where the roads meet to form a Y is often used as a geographic reference point.
The area's scenic attractions are the ubiquitous red rock formations and the verdant 16-mile-long Oak Creek Canyon. Highway 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff follows Oak Creek, and it's a remarkable drive in autumn, even for just a few miles. New Agers have deemed Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and, south of town, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock to be vortexes of life-enhancing electromagnetic energy; UFO enthusiasts claim that the same spots are favorites on the itineraries of intergalactic visitors. At any rate, the landmarks are easy to reach and highly photogenic.
You can take in Sedona's natural wonders from your car, but the area is also threaded with trails for hikers who want a closer look. For maps and information, call the local office of the National Forest Service (520/282-4119) or the Sedona-Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce (520/282-7722). If you'd rather have someone else do the driving, several jeep tour companies will be happy to squire you around the sights and take you into Sedona's astounding backcountry. Among the best are Pink Jeep Tours (800/873-3662) and Sedona Red Rock Jeep Tours (800/848-7728); for a New Age slant, try Earth Wisdom Tours (800/482-4714).
Arizona has resisted the siren call of daylight saving time and so remains on mountain standard time year-round.
Where to Eat
L'Auberge L'Auberge de Sedona, 201 L'Auberge Lane; 520/282-1667; prix fixe dinner for two $130. With its gracious service and intimate, formal French setting -- just within earshot of burbling Oak Creek -- L'Auberge is very much the special-occasion place in Sedona. Executive chef Mark May pairs tiger shrimp with lime mayonnaise and presents venison loin in a tangy vinegar-black currant sauce.
Hideaway Restaurant Country Square, Hwy. 179; 520/282-4204; lunch for two $20. Pizzas, pasta, salads, and other satisfying lunchtime fare, reasonably priced and served with Western geniality. Ask for a table on the outdoor deck, which commands a view of both Oak Creek and sun-drenched red rocks.
Shugrue's Hillside Grill 671 Hwy. 179; 520/282-5300; dinner for two $55. A menu of contemporary favorites -- rosemary chicken, Pacific crab cakes, oysters -- prepared with aplomb and just enough culinary twists to keep things interesting. Seafood dominates; try the seared ruby-red ahi grilled in a five-pepper spice crust and served with wasabi.
Judi's Restaurant & Lounge 40 Soldier Pass Rd., La Pasada Plaza, Hwy. 89A; 520/282-4449; lunch for two $25. The meat loaf and chicken potpie specials at this gemütlich spot are such a hit that Judi phones her regulars to let them know when she's making their favorites.
Jimmie Jean's Sedona Coffee Roasters 2155 Hwy. 89A; 520/282-0282. As of press time, Sedona is a Starbucks-free zone. But even if a branch does open, this unassuming coffeehouse, which roasts beans on-site, should offer some stiff competition. Try a cup of the house special Red Rock Blend while you pore over your Forest Service maps.
Watching the sun sink is a major spectator sport in Sedona, where the combination of fading light and red rocks makes for some potent viewing. Here are some of the best spots to catch it.
Airport Mesa 3 1/2 stars It's a vortex, a vista, a scene, and the most popular vantage point in Sedona at dusk. The mood tends toward boisterous instead of reverential.
Yavapai Restaurant 4 stars Enchantment Resort; 520/282-2900. Cocktail hour on Mars. You don't see the actual sunset, but rather its reflection on the walls of Boynton Canyon. Jockeying for a good table on the terrace can be an intriguing test of the social contract.
Crescent Moon Red Rock Crossing 4 stars Coconino National Forest (520/282-4119) is Sedona's most photographed spot. Picture this: Cathedral Rock so red from the day's last light that it looks as if it were igniting for takeoff.
There's the Rub
Perhaps the only travelers who should give Sedona a pass are the massage-phobic. While there's no official census, massage therapists seem to outnumber the red rocks, and in-room treatments are as standard an amenity as fluffy towels.
"A lot of people come here on vacation to find healing and peace, and massage fits into that package," says Laura Aronson, who heads up the Sedona Massage Association, a group of 26 veteran freelance therapists. "They are convinced there's a heightened energy in Sedona, and massage can help put them in touch with that."
Since a standard Swedish may leave some clients feeling that they haven't gotten their fair share energy-wise, many Sedona therapists make massage just part of an overall aura tune-up. A treatment may incorporate not only therapeutic modalities, but also crystals, aromatherapy, chakra balancing, and other kinds of energy work. One therapist advertises "acupressure with feather dusting." Another ad carries this endorsement: "When Candace touches me, everything about me shifts."
In 1993 physical therapist John Barnes recognized Sedona's potential as a massage mecca and opened Therapy on the Rocks (676 N. Hwy. 89A; 520/282-3002), now one of three centers in the country devoted to his Myofascial Release technique. Barnes believes that the fasciae, a fishnet-like system of connective tissue that permeates the body from head to toe, can be at the root of problems ranging from temporomandibular joint pain to chronic fatigue syndrome. A Myofascial Release practitioner feels for spots -- referred to as holding patterns -- where the fasciae have supposedly tightened, and gently stretches and applies pressure to elongate them again.
Being on the receiving end of Myofascial Release takes some getting used to. The therapist doesn't make continuous motions across the skin, so there are few of the rhythms and sensations usually associated with massage. I was a little alarmed when the therapist placed vinyl-covered wedges at either side of my pelvis to realign it, another hallmark of the technique. I can't confirm whether there was new spring in my fasciae, but I did enjoy the novelty of the process, and rose from the massage table feeling somewhat invigorated. Besides, you can't beat the setting: Therapy on the Rocks is on a cliff overlooking Oak Creek, and its outdoor treatment deck is near a 50-foot waterfall (the sound of which I initially mistook, somewhat petulantly, for that of an exhaust fan).
What I liked best about Therapy on the Rocks was the receipt for my $120 hour-long treatment. This wasn't one of those vague accountings you get from a spa. It was thoroughly itemized ("Neuromuscular Reeducation, $20") and printed on that tissuey pink carbon paper that many doctor's offices still use. Walking out with it in my hand was almost as empowering as the massage itself. This was no mere indulgence, I told myself. I needed it.
Given a choice of stretching my legs at a McDonald's or at an Italian visionary's prototype for the urban community of the future, I'll pick the latter any day. That's why I stopped at Arcosanti, about halfway between Phoenix and Sedona.
Arcosanti is the realization of urban design concepts developed by architect and Taliesin West alum Paolo Soleri. In 1970, appalled by the environmental, social, and aesthetic consequences of suburban sprawl, Soleri and his Scottsdale-based Cosanti Foundation broke ground on a model community. The site is on a mesa overlooking the Agua Fria River, near Cordes Junction. Arcosanti was to be solar-powered and self-sufficient, a test-case school for urban studies that embodied what Soleri called "arcology" -- the ideal marriage of architecture and ecology.
Today Arcosanti has become something of an arts and intellectual center; each year about 50,000 people attend hands-on construction and architecture workshops and concerts held on the grounds. But Soleri's vision of a community of 7,000 permanent residents living lightly on just 25 acres of the project's 4,000-acre preserve has yet to materialize. Construction is ongoing, but only 5 percent of the multi-use, earth-cast concrete buildings are finished, and fewer than 100 people call the project home.
Even so, Arcosanti makes quite an impression as it comes into view on the desert landscape. It evokes associations with both the European and Arabic Mediterranean, as well as cover art from a vintage paperback edition of Isaac Asimov.
I found the tour of Arcosanti less than compelling; our young guide, a nonresident, kept lapsing into Valley-girl-like cadences. But I did buy one of the lovely, naïve-styled wind bells, which are made here from bronze or ceramic and help underwrite the project. And the delicious vegetable moussaka I ate in the café of the visitors' center was much better for me -- and the environment -- than a Big Mac and fries.
One-hour tours are offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (520/632-7135; $6 per person). For workshop and concert information, go to www.arcosanti.org.
What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Lives?
Sedona and the millennium go together like Dionne Warwick and psychics. Check out the Web site www.city.sedona.net/y2k.htm for information on what Red Rock Country will be doing
Copper Town Revival
I visited the old mining town of Jerome not out of historical curiosity but rather because of a pair of earrings I had admired on a stylish woman in Sedona. "You must go to Jerome," she'd said. "The shops are as good as Sedona's and the prices are lower."
It's a 45-minute drive from Sedona to Jerome. You end up 2,000 precipitous feet above the Verde Valley floor (and nearly a mile above sea level) on Cleopatra Hill. During the town's heyday in the twenties, some 15,000 people lived in grand houses and ramshackle shanties all over the hill. When blasting was under way in the copper mines, the whole town shook. By 1953, the phenomenally rich ore deposits that had made Jerome's fortune were finally played out, and the town was all but abandoned. A movie about its mining history is shown daily at the Jerome State Historic Park museum (520/634-5381).
Hippies and artists discovered Jerome in the sixties and seventies. The town is now a National Historic Landmark, and the well-preserved storefronts that line the switchbacking streets hold boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. My earring source had raved, and rightly so, about the selection at Raku Gallery (250 Hull Ave.; 520/639-0239). What she hadn't told me is that the gallery's two-story windows look out across the entire Verde Valley to the Mogollon Rim of the Colorado Plateau. It's a must-see view.
Sedona's Best-Kept Secret
There's a blaze in the outdoor fireplace on the grounds of Garland's Oak Creek Lodge. Guests like to sit out under the stars in Adirondack chairs, sip the lodge's wonderful cider, and gloat.
And well they should: getting a cabin here, especially on a weekend, is the leisure traveler's equivalent of gaining admission to Harvard.
It's not that Garland's, eight miles north of Sedona, is the haunt of the elite; nor is it exactly the lap of luxury. Mary Garland, who runs the place with her husband, Gary (his family also owns jewelry and rug stores in Sedona), describes the ambiance of the 16 pretty but unpretentious knotty pine cabins as "upscale camping." (She does note, however, that when Martha Stewart came here for a photo shoot, she deemed Garland's quite haimish.)
What Garland's has is peace (no televisions, no phones), an idyllic setting in Oak Creek Canyon, and glorious food: reasons enough for the fiercely loyal clientele to rebook their cabins for the same dates year after year after year.
It's certainly easy to understand how missing one of chef Amanda Stine's dinners could put a damper on the rest of your year. There's just a single seating each night in the rustic lodge's dining room, and only one dish for each of the four courses. But with entrées such as roast tenderloin of pork with lobster mushrooms and apple-cabbage compote, Stine proves that she's a master of vividly flavored New American cuisine. Ingredients often come from the lodge's own organic orchards and gardens; the cherry tomatoes in my salad were nothing short of a revelation.
Garland's Oak Creek Lodge Hwy. 89A, Oak Creek Canyon; 520/282-3343; doubles from $168, including breakfast and dinner; the prix fixe dinner is $30 per person for non-guests (reservations are required). The lodge is closed from November 15 through March.
Hollywood in Sedona
A feeling of déjÀ vu may come over you when you visit Sedona, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should run for the nearest workshop in past-lives regression. It could be that Sedona has left its imprint on your unconscious through appearances in a host of classic westerns.
Moviemaking at Sedona began in 1923 with Call of the Canyon; the screenplay was based on a novel set in the area by resident Zane Grey. More than 80 westerns followed, bringing to town just about every Hollywood cowboy: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Sterling Hayden, Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin, Rock Hudson, Randolph Scott, Alan Ladd.
Even Elvis Presley rode through town to film the otherwise forgettable Stay Away Joe (1968). Bob Bradshaw, who worked on just about every Sedona movie as a double, bit player, or crew member after moving here in 1945, remembers the King fondly. "He could ride," the 81-year-old Bradshaw says. "And when people came around the set, he would go out of his way to give autographs."
Sedona never attained the status of Monument Valley as a location for westerns (and the great auteur of the genre, John Ford, didn't film here), but directors were attracted by the relatively temperate climate and wide variety of settings: desert ranges, red rock formations, canyons, and dramatic vista points, such as Schnebly Hill and Red Rock Crossing. Broken Arrow -- a 1950 racial-tolerance parable starring Jimmy Stewart as a peace-seeking army scout and a very hunky Jeff Chandler as Cochise -- is a virtual Sedona travelogue, showing off 30 different area locations. But if there's one western that should be inextricably associated with Sedona, it is Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1953). Beloved of cineastes (Martin Scorsese introduces the restored version, now available on videotape, and there's even a Johnny Guitar Society with its own Web site), it was filmed almost entirely in the area. The movie pits Joan Crawford against Mercedes McCambridge in a feverish psychosexual battle to the death, while the normally tough-as-nails Sterling Hayden, playing Crawford's lover, gets the lines of an ingenue: "Tell me something nice. . . . Lie to me. Tell me you waited. Tell me." Teetering between high camp and Wagnerian grandeur, Johnny Guitar's histrionics are very much at home in the surreal theatricality of the Sedona landscape, which looks even more lurid here, thanks to a film process known as Trucolor.
Bradshaw remembers well the making of Johnny Guitar. He rode with Ward Bond's posse, and rigged the hideout for Scott Brady and Ernest Borgnine under Coffee Pot Rock. He also still chuckles when he thinks of the enmity Joan Crawford created on the set: "Sterling Hayden came up to me one day and said, 'This is one of the best movie locations I've ever been on, except for that bitch.' "
While Sedona remains a popular backdrop for commercials, the feature-film business here ebbed when westerns fell out of favor with moviegoers, and the fragile desert landscape can't accommodate today's combustive blockbusters. But the sagas filmed in Sedona are not forgotten, according to Jim Eaton, president of the local historical society. "You can live on streets named Johnny Guitar, Gun Fury, Pony Soldier, and Last Wagon," he says with a laugh.
Shop to It!
Tlaquepaque (336 Hwy. 179; 520/282-4838) is the pride of Sedona, a pretty Spanish colonial shopping plaza shaded by graceful sycamores. But the charms of its labyrinthine layout can wear thin, and you have to navigate crowds on weekends. Some standouts among the 42 shops are Isadora, which specializes in handwoven clothing (520/282-6232); Mother Nature's Trading Co. (520/282-5932) for nature-themed kids' stuff and decorative objects; Esteban's (520/282-4686) for handsome pottery (set among a dizzying array of salsa-and-chip sets); and Cocopah (520/282-4928) for its mind-boggling collection of mostly handmade beads, some of which have been turned into chic eyeglass chains.
The favorite Sedona pastimes of scenery-gawking and spending are fused at the Old West-style Hillside Shops & Galleries (671 Hwy. 179; 520/282-4500). The Clay Pigeon (520/282-2845) and the Blue-Eyed Bear (520/282-4761) are good sources for crafts and jewelry, predominantly Southwestern and Native American in style. Favorite Clothing Co. (520/204-1920) has a fine selection of nubby, artsy-looking items for women.
Of Sedona's countless New Age retail vortexes, my vote goes to the Center for the New Age (341 Hwy. 179; 520/282-2085), which makes its home in a run-down house across the road from Tlaquepaque. The earnest but unimposing staff lets you browse the shelves in peace, and you can get a souvenir photograph of your aura for $31.50. A number of readers and healers work on-site; most sessions are held in private rooms upstairs, but I did overhear one in progress that included the pronouncement, "With that moon and those planets, you are a deeply intuitive person."
Both X-Files addicts and lovers of kitsch should find something to entertain them at Starport Sedona (273 N. Hwy. 89A; 520/282-7771): View a map of local UFO sightings or buy an abducted aliens are in my trunk license-plate frame.
Earnest renderings of Western and Native American themes seem to be the order of the day in many Sedona galleries -- not that there's anything wrong with that. But for a change of pace, visit the Hozho Center shopping mall (431 Hwy. 179), where Peggy Lanning-Eiseler runs two excellent galleries. The Lanning Gallery (520/282-6865) carries lacquered furniture by Eronga, an Indian artisans' collective in the Michoacán state of Mexico. The pieces bring to mind home design by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Across the hall, the Turquoise Tortoise (520/282-2262) carries work by top Native American artists and artisans.
The Garland name is synonymous with quality, selection, and expertise when it comes to Native American crafts. Garland's Navajo Rugs (411 Hwy. 179; 520/282-6632) is chock-full of weavings, kachina dolls, baskets, and pottery by modern artisans; there's also a small collector's room of antique items. At Garland's Indian Jewelry (Indian Gardens, Hwy. 89A; 520/282-6632), you'll find work from some of the best Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni craftsmen.
Uninventing the Wheel
"Did you see any medicine wheels?" a couple asked as they passed me on the Boynton Canyon trail. They were looking for the spiritually charged spoked stone circles that New Age acolytes have borrowed from Native American culture and build in Sedona's vortexes. The U.S. Forest Service, however, is doing its best to make sure you never see one. To the people who maintain the wilderness areas, medicine wheels and other New Age cairns are vandalism, plain and simple.
Picture Godzilla stomping on Manhattan and you get a good idea of the environmental impact of medicine wheels. When people stray off the Forest Service's painstakingly designed trails and move rocks around, communities of lichens, fungi, and other tiny living things that have taken hundreds of years to develop in the desert soil don't have a chance of surviving. And the fragile ecosystem isn't exactly enhanced by all the offerings left behind in medicine wheels -- feathers, beads, fetishes, crystals, medicine bags of herbs, even ashes and money.
Medicine wheels aren't just environmentally incorrect; they are anthropologically off-base as well. While much of Red Rock country is considered sacred by the Yavapai-Apache and Hopi, there's no evidence that any of the tribes who have inhabited the area ever used the wheels to express their spirituality -- it's a practice associated with the Great Plains Indians.
Luckily, the Forest Service may be seeing results. In 1997, 193 medicine wheels were discovered and disassembled; in 1998, the number was just 73.