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Flying into the "other" Grand Canyon
Long ago an inland sea covered most of the southwestern United States. Where the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, is now located — at 7,014 feet msl — is the top of the Mogollon (muggy on) Rim, a 200-mile-long escarpment that defines the southern limit of a geological region called the Colorado Plateau.
Over time the tides, storms, and currents of that ancient inland sea eroded the land to create this escarpment. When the sea receded it left behind a 500-square-mile area studded with multicolored pillars of red, blond, and tan sandstone that's now called Red Rock Country. Sedona, Arizona, sits in the middle of Red Rock Country. Oak Creek flows down from the Flagstaff area through Sedona.
In 1867 the first white settlers arrived. Attracted by the year-round water provided by Oak Creek, the settlers planted fruit trees and sold their harvest as far away as Los Angeles. The town name became official on June 26, 1902, when U.S. Postal Service officials approved the naming of the post office. Sedona is named after settler T.C. Schnebly's wife.
Would Sedona still draw four million visitors a year if the first name proposed for the crossroads — Schnebly Station — was accepted by the Postal Service in 1902?
No one knows the answer to that question, but it's well known that the word Sedona stirs the imagination of vacationers throughout the United States and even throughout the world.
Author Zane Grey located his 1924 novel The Call of the Canyon near Sedona in Oak Creek Canyon and described the coming of spring with these words: "As if by magic it seemed the green grass sprang up, the green buds opened into leaves, the bluebells and primroses bloomed, the apple and peach blossoms burst exquisitely white and pink against the blue sky. Oak Creek fell to a transparent, beautiful brook, leisurely eddying in the stone-walled nooks, hurrying with murmur and babble over the little falls. The mornings broke clear and fragrantly cool, the noon hours seemed to lag under the hot sun, the night fell like dark mantles from the melancholy star-sown sky."
Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona are known far and wide for panoramic vistas layered with brick-red- and soft-tan-colored rock. From the vantage point near the airport, the eye can scan from west to east over a 180-degree arc and take in rock formations with names such as Chimney Rock, Lizard Head, Sugarloaf, and Coffee Pot Rock. Down in the tree-filled flatlands below rests Sedona.
State Highway 89A threads its way through Sedona — first in an east-west orientation from West Sedona, then turning 45 degrees to the northeast at the Y, where state Highway 179 Ts in. East of the Y along 89A is uptown Sedona.
The Sedona Airport sits 500 feet above the town on a flat-topped mesa. Because of steep drop-offs on both ends of Runway 3/21, the airport is sometimes called the U.S.S. Sedona because it's as close to an aircraft carrier landing as general aviation pilots are likely to make. Unlike carrier-based U.S. Navy and Marine pilots, however, GA pilots don't have to drop their arresting hook on a cable to stop. The runway, at 5,129-feet long by 100-feet wide, is ample for typical GA airplanes and even most light jets.
But there are some cautions. Field elevation is just 170 feet shy of 5,000 feet msl, so pilots flying normally aspirated airplanes must remember to adjust for the decrease of engine power and lift because of density altitude. Fortunately the air temperatures in Sedona are pleasingly moderate, with high temperatures averaging 85 degrees Fahrenheit in mid-July.
The other variable to consider when flying into Sedona is turbulence, which is created when prevailing winds fetch up against the walls of the airport mesa. As the winds are forced up, they tumble near the ends of the runway. When wind-speed gusts are reported to be 20 knots or greater, it's wise to carry a little extra airspeed and plan to touch down a little long.
Telephoning the Sedona AWOS (928/282-1993) for a few days before arriving to get an idea of morning, afternoon, and evening local weather conditions is a good idea. These conditions are predictable and shouldn't keep any competent pilot from flying into and enjoying a visit to Sedona.
The Sky Ranch Lodge is the only motel within walking distance of the airport terminal. The airport restaurant food is good enough to draw pilots and locals alike for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some hotels will provide shuttle service, but a car is required to really see all the attractions in Red Rock Country.
Rental cars are available inside the airport terminal building. It's best to reserve your car a few weeks ahead of time, if possible. There's so much to see and such a variety of adventures that even the most calloused traveler will take home memories that will last a long time.
The Sedona Chamber of Commerce Tourism Bureau Web site is the best starting place. There you'll be able to send for the official guide to the area, order a promotional video, book a motel room, and get some ideas on the variety of adventures in store.
It's probably time to mention that the Sedona area has long been considered a sacred place, and visitors will have opportunities to learn about spiritual and metaphysical thought and take part in activities that are advertised to help participants "recognize and remove blocks," "manifest the life you were meant to live," and participate in a "seven healing rays workshop," to mention a few. For more information on this subject, click on the Spiritual & Personal Enrichment link on the tourism bureau's Web site.
"I went to one of those places and I didn't feel a thing," was a statement I overheard during breakfast at the Coffee Pot Restaurant. Judging by the number of visitors to the four vortexes located around the Sedona area, not everyone feels that way about his or her vortex experience, however. One printed definition of vortex is "an area of enhanced linear energy flow." The Airport Mesa vortex is located on the right (east) side of the road when driving down from the airport. It encompasses three hills. It's said that visitors to this vortex will experience upflow or masculine energy. The other vortexes are located in Boynton Canyon (combination upflow/inflow; or masculine/feminine energy); near Cathedral Rock (combination upflow/inflow; masculine/feminine energy); and near Bell Rock (upflow or masculine energy). Many of the local tour companies conduct vortex tours.
Unforgettable scenery, the chance to log an aircraft-carrier-style landing, and the lure of an energy transfusion at a vortex aren't the only draws for Sedona visitors. Sedona is known for a wide variety of art galleries and showrooms. Magnificent examples of Native American-inspired objects d'art, carpets, gold and silver-and-turquoise jewelry, and landscape art, as well as finely crafted photographic art featuring the Sedona area should begin to paint a picture of the width and scope of Sedona's art offerings.
A convenient starting point for art lovers is Tlaquepaque, an arts and craft village nestled amid tall old sycamore trees along the banks of Oak Creek near the Y. There are more than 40 shops, galleries, and restaurants laid out in a village inspired by the arches, fountains, and plazas building style of old Mexico. Visit the Web site for more information. Other galleries and showrooms are located throughout the area.
Sedona, because of its mild weather and clear air, has a strong pull on those who revel in the exertions of hiking, camping, and trekking. Since most of these activities take place on the Red Rock Country-Coconino National Forest land, a permit, called a Red Rock Pass, is needed to park a vehicle on any national forest property, which includes the many pull offs along federal, state, and county roads.
The passes can be purchased for one day, one week, or one year and cost from $5 to $40. Passes are available at any of the five Gateway visitor centers. Daily and weekly passes can be purchased at trailhead vending machines and at many local stores and hotels. The USDA Forest Service publishes a recreation guide that's chock-full of local campground information. Click on Maps & Brochures on the Forest Service Web site and download the PDF file of the area map to start planning your Sedona visit.
A comprehensive guidebook for the Sedona area is Sedona's Top 10 Hikes, by Dennis Andres. This book is well written and is packed with explanations on wildflowers, local animals, geology, and ancient ruins, as well as trail maps and descriptions.
Another book that's full of Sedona area information is Sedona: Treasure of the Southwest, by Kathleen Bryant. If the text and pictures in this soft-cover, large-format coffee-table book don't whet your appetite for a Sedona trip, you might want to see if you still have a pulse.
The first order of business after getting settled into one of the many motels and resorts could consist of scouting the area in a hot air balloon, biplane, or helicopter ( www.sedonaairtours.com and www.azheli.com).
After the tour get out your hiking boots and warm up for your week in and around Oak Creek Canyon with a refreshing late-afternoon walk. You may see a family of javelinas foraging along the trail. It's a cinch that you'll enjoy the vistas and rock formations. Later, enjoy a meal at any of the restaurants in town.
Maybe the next day will be spent looking over the pictographs and petroglyphs spread on the red-rock walls at Palatki, a site 15 miles north of Sedona, or at the V-Bar-V Ranch Petroglyph site, which is located 20 miles south of Sedona. Other significant southwestern Indian sites are Honanki, Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and the Tuzigoot Pueblo.
That afternoon the golfers in the family can head to any of the three local golf courses. The Oakcreek Country Club is a 6,824-yard-long, par-72 course that was designed by famous architects Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Robert Trent Jones Jr. There's a golf school, and the visual stimulation created by the red-rock pinnacles over the bright smooth greens of the fairways, tees, and greens will provide lasting memories. Other courses include the Canyon Mesa Country Club and the Sedona Golf Resort.
Other adventures include — but are not limited to — guided tours of every form and function including mountain bike tours, horseback rides, cattle drives, and a "cookout at the lookout," courtesy of the M Diamond Ranch. There's a chance to board the Verde Canyon Railroad for a four-hour train ride through an area west of Sedona that's sometimes called "Arizona's Other Grand Canyon." Find out more online.
Sedona is a singularly beautiful place. It's blessed with a great climate and a smorgasbord of attractions varied enough to provide a mind full of memories for everyone. It won't matter whether you're young or old, traveling alone or with an extended family, able to run up mesas or only able to enjoy the scenery from a comfortable tour bus or Jeep: You won't forget the time you spent visiting Sedona, a unique natural wonderland that is a must-see fly-in destination.