Story and photos by DEBRA BEHR
Special to The Advertiser
Story and photos by DEBRA BEHR
A million-plus lights sparkled, and that's not counting the stars.
Sedona — Arizona's spirit-and-sport zone — casts a special charm in winter. We stayed at the Los Abrigados Resort & Spa, at a condominium and at a dog-friendly hotel, exploring trails, parks and historic cities, some glowing with garlands, some decked with newly fallen snowflakes clinging to cactus and icing red rock formations. Sedona was named No. 1 of the 10 most beautiful places in America in USA Weekend's 2003 annual travel report, and we saw why.
We like to hike, and though we checked out Sedona's art galleries and dawdled on the cobblestone walkways of Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, we preferred to spend our time seeking natural attractions. In winter, the cooler temperature permitted us to hike miles more under red and white sandstone cliffs and buttes. We never knew if a day would be sunny or snowy, although most had blue skies.
Our first stop when we arrived was a visitor center to purchase a Red Rock Pass, which enabled us to park by trailheads in Coconino National Forest leading to red rock formations that recall a coffeepot, chimney, my dog's ears, Snoopy and other wild shapes. Then we looked at a map detailing dozens of hiking trails. Did we want to first see favorites in Boynton Canyon, to Chicken Point or by Cathedral Rock, said to be the most photographed spot in Sedona, or should we seek something new, like Devil's Bridge or Thunder Mountain?
Some say there are "vortices" — powerful spiritual spots — in four areas in Red Rock Country: at Bell Rock, Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock and in dramatic Boynton Canyon, where hoodoo rock spires, high sandstone and limestone cliffs, and ancient cliff dwellings create an otherworldly view.
We visited them all, and in late afternoon, as rich light casts a magical sheen, they can be beautifully arresting. But we didn't have a convincing vortex revelation.
The area has a good mix of easy to challenging trails. Some trails link to others, so sometimes we started out with one destination in mind and, depending on the time of day or our energy level, ended up seeing more than we expect. Along the trail to Chicken Point, for example, we spotted a connecting trail that led to Chapel of the Holy Cross, a landmark church between Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek. On a whim, we trekked to the church, best known for its distinctive giant cross and butte setting.
The idea for the church was conceived by area rancher and artist Marguerite Brunswig Staude in 1932, but the church wasn't completed until 1956.
On our visits, we followed Jeep trails, avoided brushes with cacti, discovered petroglyphs, peered in the Devil's Kitchen Sinkhole and scrambled to arches. Once we spotted hairy, pig-like desert animals called javelinas cross a residential road as calmly as neighborhood dogs.
To learn more about the area's history, we stopped by the Sedona Heritage Museum, which focuses on those who lived in the area from 1870 to 1950. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the main museum building encompasses the farm home of Sedona pioneers Walter and Ruth Jordan.
The museum reveals that Sedona's first industry was raising apples and peaches. Our favorite room, the Movie Room, showcases a glamorous time: Hollywood's enchantment with Red Rock Country. At least 80 feature movies included scenes in the Sedona area since 1923, starting with Zane Grey's "Call of the Canyon."
Like other visitors to Sedona, we were drawn to attractions beyond the city limits. One of our favorite vacation scene-setters is the trail at the West Fork of Oak Creek. The trailhead is 9 1/2 miles north of Sedona on scenic Highway 89A, which connects Flagstaff and Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon, called the most beautiful canyon cutting down the Mogollon Rim.
On our first visit, we wore snowsuits for warmth as we explored a trail transformed into a wonderland with snow-dappled maple and oak trees, shapely mounds of snow by a creek and towering cliffs in a narrowing canyon.
That day we also strolled in Slide Rock State Park, a 43-acre park seven miles north of Sedona on Highway 89A. The park's natural water chute, where visitors cool off in the summer, shimmered with snow, making it a pretty picture but not a tempting playground.
The park presents the Pendley Homestead, one of the few remaining frontier homes in Oak Creek Canyon. On display is the Pendley home built in 1920 out of native red sandstone and old farming equipment, which was dusted with snow when we passed by.
Pendley was the first farmer to develop a working irrigation system and to eventually bring electricity to Oak Creek Canyon when he connected a water wheel to a generator.
For a look at how the area's first residents, the Sinagua, lived long ago, we visited the ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument near Cottonwood and Clarkdale.
The Sinagua were farmers who had trade connections spanning hundreds of miles, we learned. They built and lived in the desert hilltop pueblo, which consisted of 110 rooms, including second- and third-story structures. The first were built around A.D. 1000.
We stopped by the visitor center, one of a few interpreting ancient Sinagua culture in Arizona, and followed The Ruins Trail loop around the pueblo.
Even more impressive is Montezuma Castle National Monument near Camp Verde, one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling was built in a limestone recess about halfway up the cliff and was home to the Sinagua more than 600 years ago.
We drove high up Cleopatra Hill, elevation 5,200 feet, to Jerome. Once a bustling copper mining town, Jerome is now a National Historic District with ghost-town lore and revitalized shops. We stopped by a glass-blower's studio to watch him work, then strolled down the main street before driving to Jerome State Historic Park.
Late one afternoon, we headed to an overlook by the Sedona Cultural Park to wait for sunset. A storm raged far in the distance, and as the light made peaks appear redder, blue sky mixed with dark rain streaks and colorful clouds formed an unusual backdrop. The valley below darkened, highlighting the red glow of the rocks. Rays of light illuminated branches. The spectacle outshone "Red Rock Fantasy" that night, which seemed only natural.
Debra Behr is a freelance writer and photographer in Santa Monica, Calif.