(Note: Click on any of the pictures for a larger photo!)
I had never really thought about Sedona as a travel destination. What little I knew about it didn't seem that personally appealing. Sure, I like nature. But Sedona, by reputation, seemed more for beatniks who like to chant "ommm" while staring at the red rocks and doing yoga or some mystical mediation. That's not me.
But I was sitting in Vegas, quite happy with myself for a great boys' weekend with the men of my family. We all won at the gaming tables, but sadly the boys' trip was now over. I still had several days to kill before heading off to the West Coast. I had already decided to drive and see the Grand Canyon National Park for a couple days, but that still left some time in between. While trolling through some Tripadvisor entries about the GCNP, I noticed that several travelers had coupled that trip with a side journey to Sedona. I browsed through a few photos and checked out the map. Sedona looked to be about a four hour drive from Vegas, and then from Sedona, another two hours to GCNP. So mostly on a whim, I decided to give Sedona a whirl.
I left Vegas early in the morning, planning to spend two nights in Sedona before heading over to the GCNP early on the third day. That would leave me with hopefully a day and half to see Sedona. In hindsight, I sold myself short and wish I had allocated more time to this wonderful place.
The drive to Sedona was actually quite pleasant. I turned on my Pandora radio and sang along to my favorite songs (all of which are decades old), occasionally pulling over to check out the scenery. I love to travel the world, but sometimes, I am still amazed by how vast and amazing and scenic our own United States is. For example, I have no idea what I was looking at from this particular rest stop on the high way, but wow.
There were many interesting views like that along the way, but the scenery really started to open up about an hour before hitting Sedona. The hills started getting steep, and the roads had hairpin turns as I ascended and descended along the mountain road. I pulled into a scenic overlook to take it all in. There were some Native Americans selling trinkets at the overlook, but views were the star attraction.
From that lookout point, it was mostly a downhill, scenic drive into Sedona itself. I realized that I was fortunate to have decided to visit in the autumn, as the vivid colors made the scenery more breathtaking. The drive down took me through Oak Creek Canyon, that has many trails and parks, and where I would return the next day for my own hike.
Soon I had made it into town of Sedona! I missed this sign the first time so had to backtrack to take the photo. Haha.
The first thing that struck me about Sedona was how amazing it must be to actually live here. Imagine living in a post card. From your window, whether you were living in mansion or working at the local McDonalds, you could gaze at inspired views from every angle. Many people say that Sedona is a "spiritual" place. I was beginning to understand.
I stopped at the local tourist bureau. Note: there are many so-called bureaus in town that are nothing more than travel agencies, but only one "civic" tourist center. The elderly woman at the counter there was extremely helpful, and when she found out that I was mostly interested in photography and on a very tight time schedule, she pulled out a map and made some great suggestions.
The first stop for me that late afternoon was the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is an actual functioning church built into the side of a mountain.
From there I drove around to surrounding areas, just taking in the scenery. Everything was so beautiful that I had a difficult time mentally processing it all.
As the day wound down, I went to my motel to check in. Sedona is not a cheap place. And I like cheap! Cheap is good! Through Hotwire, however, I was able to find a pretty basic and clean motel (Sedona Days Inn) for $69+tax. It served me well, even for an overpriced basic motel. LOL. I guess I was paying for the view, because even from the parking lot, the sight was quite pleasant.
It was now time for sunset, so I headed over to the "airport strip" to catch it. The panoramic sunset photo is at the top of this blog entry, and it was awesome! Double click it. Here are two more.
After the sunset, I was getting hungry. The more popular places in the guidebooks were fully booked so I just went next door and ate a basic meal. I was pretty tired from the drive and sight seeing, but not too tired to order a cheap (but good) bottle of wine. Hmm, never too tired for wine. I ate dinner reflecting on how beautiful this town was. Of course, I couldn't finish the bottle so I took it back to the motel, where I would drink it the next night to have my Sideways moment of drinking wine out of a paper cup.
Soon I was snoring away in bed.
Soon I was snoring away in bed.
The lady from the tourist bureau advised me to get up early the next morning and go to Mesa Rock to catch the sunrise. I had actually tried to go there for sunset, but the EXTREMELY limited parking prevented me. Many regard Mesa Rock as the spiritual hub of Sedona, where the zen vortex all comes together. Yeah, whatever. Still, I figured it would be beautiful, so I was determined not to miss the sunrise. I left the motel while it was still dark, and when I got to the Mesa Rock parking lot (only has about 7 spaces), I noticed that almost all had already been taken. I squeezed my car into the lot and then climbed up the hill.
I made a big error in the dark. Between the darkness and my poor eyesight, I missed the sign pointing to the left for Mesa Rock. Instead, I veered off to the right into the more visible trailhead around the hill. After walking (and mostly stumbling in the dark) for about 15 minutes, the sun started to peak through. In the faint light, I finally realized I was in the wrong spot! Uh oh!
I hurriedly backtracked, trying to rush back to Mesa Rock to capture what I could of the sunrise. I'm not sure that rushing was very wise, since an errant stumble could send me down the side of the mountain, but luckily I made it back to the trailhead in one piece. And then I noticed the sign pointing me to the left for Mesa Rock, which was only about 20 yards away from the parking lot. Doh!
I climbed the rock, and I must say, the views were amazing. I quickly forgot about my earlier misstep. Because of the limited parking, there weren't that many people on the rock as the sun started to rise, and I began to understand why people call Mesa Rock such a spiritual vortex.
Given my limited time, I only had time for one hike. I drove back to Oak Creek Canyon, and decided to try the West Fork Trail. I bought a sandwich at a local deli and started off. The morning was a bit chilly, so I started the hike with a couple layers of clothing. The round trip hike took about 5 hours, with lots of stops to snap photos. Between the hiking and the sun, I warmed up quickly and by the end of the hike, had removed the outer layers. I finished the hike in just a T-shirt and shorts.
Again, I was grateful that I was here during autumn. The bright foliage, surrounded by the majestic cliffs, made for about as a wonderful a hike as possible. I stopped midway for my "picnic" lunch before heading back, very happy but also quite tired.
It was late afternoon by the time I finished my hike. And I still had a lot more to see! I looked over the tourist map and the penciled suggestions. I hopped in the car and checked out as many as I could.
Near the end of the day, I wanted to get a better view of Cathedral Rock, which is regarded as the most picturesque. I also knew that I wanted to see it from the park side. It took me a little bit of driving to find the park entrance, but whoa! I felt like I had stumbled upon a little artist commune and that I had stepped into a painting. I wish I had had more time to try the hike here, but the views were enough to make me smile.
I checked my watch, and saw that sunset was approaching. I hoped that I could go to Mesa Rock to catch the sunset this time, but sure enough, the parking lot was full by the time I got there. So I headed up once more to the airport strip to catch the last sunset of Sedona.
By this time, I was pretty tired. I went back to town to grab a quick bite to eat, and knew that I should head to bed soon to get an early start the next morning for the Grand Canyon. I was soon snoring in bed.
I woke the next morning to head back to Mesa Rock to catch the sunrise, and my last few glimpses of Sedona. I had come to Sedona on a whim, and a bit skeptically, but I left as a converted fan of this marvelous place. My day and a half here was certainly a bit rushed, but a little bit of nature's heaven is better than missing it altogether. As for the spiritual mumbo jumbo? Well, maybe I am less skeptical about that now as well.
P.S. As is often the case, I took WAAAAY too many photographs. I must have shot at least 600 photos while in Sedona. And as always, I never had the time to cull through them adequately. The ones posted here are not necessarily the "best" ones, but the ones that, on quick perusal, fit well the telling of the journey. At some point, I will post the photo highlights in a more logical manner. :)