Driving in Arizona's Red Rock Country
Arizona is no place for people who think small. This isbig, wide-open country. In a drive around Sedona's red rock region you'll passlooming mesas, soaring spires, deep canyons, and a record of time that stretchesback millions of years. Toss your boots or sneakers into the trunk, fill up yourwater bottles, and be prepared to take that dirt-road detour at a moment'snotice. There's no reason to hit one place before another, so instead of devisingan itinerary for you, we thought we'd let you pick your preferences and connectthe dots yourself
1. Count the saguaro (that's "sa-whar-o") cacti toweringbeside Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff, a straight shot to red rockcountry. Found only in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico, the cacti can gomore than a year without rain (their trunks can store up to a ton of water).
2. Run sprints up and down the parade ground at Fort Verde State Park (125 E.Hollamon St., Camp Verde; 520/567-3275), a former military base. Used for armydrills during the Indian Wars of the 1870's and 80's, the field now fronts what'sleft of Officers' Row. From the commanding officer's house, to the surgeon'squarters filled with animal-skull and arrowhead collections, to the back kitchenwhere the doctor's children slept, you get a good glimpse of what life in theArizona Territory was like 100 years ago. While you're there, pick up an ArizonaState Parks pass: for $15, it allows one vehicle (with up to four people)unlimited entry to all 27 of the state's parks for five days.
3. Stroll to the base of the Montezuma Castle National Monument cliff dwellings(25 miles south of Sedona, off I-17 at exit 289, Camp Verde; 520/567-3322) andimagine how you would scale the walls of these prehistoric, five-story, 20-roomapartments if you lived the way the Sinagua Indians did 800 years ago. Afterexploring the ruins, take a walk around the visitors' center or rest in the shadeof the sycamore trees.
4. This is prime red rock country, surrounded by vivid sandstone monoliths, rockpinnacles, buttes and mesas, and a vast blue sky. Roll down the windows andbreathe deeply as you pass pungent piñon pine and juniper. While drivingdown Lower Red Rock Loop Road, guess which formation is called Bell Rock.
5. Look for the rock shaped like a coffeepot along Route 89A in Sedona, and turnin at the Coffee Pot Restaurant (2050 W. Hwy. 89A, Sedona; 520/282-6626), "homeof the famous 101 omelettes." Choose from sausage (No. 24), salsa (No. 52), greenchili and cheese (No. 49), guacamole (No. 74)-- anything but No. 101, thepeanut-butter-and-jelly-and-banana omelette. (Those who don't like eggs mightprefer the happy-face pancakes.)
6. Sedona's Javelina Cantina (671 Hwy. 179; 520/203-9514) kicks off its kids'meal with a quesadilla and a fruit cocktail, followed by a taco, enchilada,burrito, or tostada. (There's a burger, too.) For grown-ups: grilled yellowfintuna with tomatillo salsa, charbroiled salmon topped with red-pepper-and-cornsalsa, or classic south-of-the-border combos.
7. Bring back a piece of the West-- contemporary Southwestern art or sculpturefrom one of the scores of galleries at Tlaquepaque village (Hwy. 179, Sedona;520/282-4838). While parents shop, kids can play hide-and-seek amid Tlaquepaque'scourtyards or settle in at the Storyteller Bookstore (520/282-2144), with itsterrific collection of regional children's books.
8. Bounce into the backcountry with Earth Wisdom Jeep Tours (293 N. Hwy 89A,Sedona; 800/482-4714 or 520/282-4714). The 3 1/2-hour, $65 tour explores Indianlegends; other trips focus on ecology, geology, native plants, and rock art inand around Sedona. If 3 1/2 hours is too long for your crew, shorter tours can bearranged; kids under 13 ride half-price.
9. Hook 'em and cook 'em at the Rainbow Trout Farm (3500 N. Hwy. 89A, Oak CreekCanyon, Sedona; 520/282-5799). A $1 fee gives you a bamboo pole, a bucket, a net,and bait, as well as the run of two stocked ponds. The catch?There's nocatch-and-release; you pay for every fish you reel in.
10. Drive up Oak Creek Canyon to the Oak Creek Vista overlook, where you canmeasure time in layers of basalt, limestone, and sandstone. Then browse throughthe tables in the parking lot and shop for dream-catchers, tomahawks, fetishnecklaces, and tiny turquoise earrings, all the work of local artisans sponsoredby Native Americans for Community Action.
11. Slip and slide down natural water chutes, float in rock pools, and glidethrough the cool grottoes that draw summer crowds to Slide Rock State Park (6871N. Hwy. 89A, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona; 520/282-3034). After your swim, make likea lizard and sun on one of the many flat rocks beside Oak Creek. (Bring a towel,plenty of sunscreen, and Tevas or sneakers for traction on wet boulders.)
12. Stop for supplies at the Indian Gardens Trading Post (3951 N. Hwy. 89A, OakCreek Canyon, Sedona; 520/282-7702). The deli stocks unusual foods ranging fromkiller-bee honey butter to prickly pear cactus; there's a sunny patio out back ifyou prefer to picnic on the premises. Next door, Garland's Indian Jewelry (3953N. Hwy. 89A, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona; 520/282-6632) has some of the region'sfinest Native American silver and turquoise work, plus an extensive collection ofHopi kachina dolls.
13. Rent mountain bikes from Mountain Bike Heaven (1695 W. Hwy. 89A, Sedona;520/282-1312) and play cowboys and Indians-- on wheels-- along some of the besttrails in the country. Beginners can cruise Boynton Pass Road, a dirt lane that'splenty wide; more experienced riders have miles of single-track to conquer.
14. Get up early and hike to the Indian ruins at the end of Boynton Canyon. Besure to pack water and snacks. The trail is 2 1/2 miles each way and climbs 600feet to a spine-tingling perch on a red rock overlook; your troops will deserve areward if they make it to the end. The view is well worth it, so by all means usebribery to get them there.
15. Watch for deer and javelinas as you check into your casita at EnchantmentResort (525 Boynton Canyon Rd., Sedona; 800/826-4180 or 520/282-2900; doublesfrom $195), on 70 acres within the crimson walls of Boynton Canyon. Slide openthe glass doors onto your patio and take in the heart-stopping views. Hunt forlizards on the path to the pool and check out the Camp Coyote kids' program,where Uqualla, the resort's Native American cultural ambassador, might tell a fewstories.
16. Hike the Eagles' Nest Trail (less than two miles round-trip) orRattlesnake Ridge (this one'll keep the kids on their toes), part of the six-miletrail system at Red Rock State Park (4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona;520/282-6907). At the outstanding interpretive center, find out about ranger-ledfull-moon walks.
17. Give a prize to the first person to find the rock art decorating the walls ofthe Palatki Ruin (Forest Service Rd. 795, off Boynton Pass Rd.; call 520/282-4119for directions). A southern Sinaguan cliff dwelling, it has the area's largestpanel of pictographs. Clues: Look for bear, antelope, and sun symbols painted onthe red rock cliffs.
18. Crawl through an old mine tunnel and watch demonstrations of the antiquemining equipment strewn about the Gold King Mine & Ghost Town (one mile north ofJerome on Perkinsville Rd.; 520/634-0053). This funky open-air museum alsodisplays a huge collection of vintage trucks and tractors (and a 1902 StudebakerElectric that still works).
19. Hike the steep streets of Jerome, a hill town founded in the late 1880's on asite so precarious the whole place seems in danger of slipping off themountainside. Some of it did, in fact: the "sliding jail" now rests 225 feetbelow its original location. Indulge in a box of cinnamon graham Wild Westcookies-- shaped like stars, boots, and cowboy hats-- plus a hot chocolate fromthe Flatiron Café (416 Main St., Jerome; 520/634-2733). Then case theterrific galleries in this mining town turned artists' community.
20. Immerse yourselves in Arizona history at the Sharlot Hall Museum (415 W.Gurley St., Prescott; 520/445-3122), founded by a self-schooled frontierswoman,journalist, and poet who became the first woman to hold government office inArizona. (Her legacy is a state where the top five elected posts are currentlyheld by women.)