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.