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Red Rock fantasylandRed Rock fantasyland

Sedona, ArizonaSedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona, is a beautiful and fun destination any time of year, but is arguably at its most appealing from October through December. The sun hangs low in the sky, and its golden light enhances the rich tones of the famous sandstone formations. In October, the cottonwoods glow with yellow leaves. By December, snow may dust the red rocks like powdered sugar on gingerbread. It’s easy to see why photographers and artists love this place.

  • The full moon rises behind Cathedral Rock. Sedona’s famous red-rock formations are the exposed remnants of the unevenly eroded Mogollon Rim. The layers are cross-bedded and windblown—vestiges of ancient, petrified sand dunes that alternate with deposits made during periods when the area was covered by shallow seas. All were later exposed when tectonic forces uplifted the area, allowing erosion to take place. Photo by Michael Wilson via Flickr.
  • Located atop a 500-foot mesa, Sedona Airport is often referred to as the “aircraft carrier of the desert.” Strong winds can create substantial downdrafts at the steep drop-offs at either end of the runway, so anticipate turbulence and be prepared to add power just short of the runway threshold on approach. Photo courtesy Sedona Airport.
  • Mesa Grill is simply one of the best-looking airport restaurants around. Modern, industrial, with a high slanted roof, it has enormous walls of windows that bring the outdoors in, and enough rich, rusty color to add warmth that fits the surroundings, despite the high-tech design. Dogs are welcome while dining on the patio, or dine indoors and still watch the runway action. Watch the sunset reflected in Sedona’s red rocks as you savor quesadillas or seafood fondue and cocktails. Photo by Tim Johnson.
  • In the 1970s, Nevada businessman Abe Miller became enamored with a multi-acre Sedona property studded with ancient sycamore trees near Oak Creek. He eventually convinced its owners to sell, with the stipulation that he always protect the giant sycamores. So began Miller’s quest to build a small Mexican-style art village, constructed entirely by amateur workers. Miller’s architect, Bob McIntyre, didn’t want plumb walls, so measurements were eyeballed without the use of tools. Miller and McIntyre made countless trips to Mexico to photograph and sketch village squares, and study how people interacted within them. The men bought relics, iron grillwork, enormous carved doors, statues, and other artwork for their project. The resulting Tlaquepaque (tell-LACK-a-pack-ee) Arts & Crafts Village, with its shops, fountain, chapel, and restaurants, is one of Sedona’s most-visited spots. The Aztec word “tlaquepaque” means “the best of everything,” though critics call it “lock your pocket” as some prices can be high. But the place is filled with original art of every type and certainly worth browsing even if you’re not buying. Photo courtesy Tlaquepaque.
  • Sedona has a vibrant and fun cultural atmosphere that is as intriguing as its landscape is beautiful. Each year in late October, Tlaquepaque hosts Dia de Los Muertos, a traditional Mexican celebration held to remember lost loved ones. Music, food and beautiful altars are on view. Watch fire dancers, enjoy free sugar-skull making, and visit the thematic face painting booth. Photo courtesy
  • A girl paints on the wall of remembrance during the Dia de Los Muertos celebration at Tlaquepaque. Photo courtesy Tlaquepaque.
  • People of all denominations visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross to offer their prayers, marvel at the building's distinctive architecture, and enjoy its panoramic views. It almost appears that the very rocks parted to embrace the chapel. Photo by Matthew P. Del Buono via Wikipedia.
  • Hiking around Sedona is unmatched. These people have climbed all the way up to Cathedral Rock. Alternatively, you can visit the Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness, where the easy Boynton Canyon Trail features towering red sandstone walls, pines, and a close-up viewpoint of Bear Mountain. It, and other hikes, are accessed off Dry Creek Road. Photo courtesy Megan Conner OH Partners.
  • The Jim Thompson Trail is a popular, easy-access hike. Southeast of town, the easy-to-moderate Cow Pies Trail also offers great red rock views, although it requires a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle to access the trailhead. Photo courtesy Sedona Chamber of Commerce.
  • Reflections on Oak Creek. Hikes abound here; the easy one-mile round-trip Allen’s Bend Trail follows Oak Creek along red rock walls. Red Rock State Park offers a variety of trails, scenic drives, and spring wildflowers. In warmer months, wet your feet on the lush West Fork Oak Creek Trail. It and Slide Rock State Park are must-do activities. Photo by Larry Lane via Wikipedia.
  • Pink Jeep Tours can take you out on the rocks. The Broken Arrow Tour takes you to several red rock viewpoints, and then down what seems to be an impossible rock face. Behind the Jeep, notice the two different colors of Sedona’s rock formations. The bottom, deeply red-hued layer is called Schnebly Hill Sandstone, formed when ancient rivers deposited iron oxide from distant mountains. The cream-colored Coconino Formation comes from wind-blown sand that created dunes similar to those found in the Sahara Desert. This layer accumulated after the final retreat of the sea, 265 million years ago. Photo courtesy Pink Jeep Tours.
  • Your bike rental shop will be happy to point out mountain biking trails suited to your abilities and interests. Photo courtesy Megan Conner OH Partners.
  • The highly-ranked Lodge at Sedona is a half-mile north of the runway and less than a two-mile drive from the airport. Nestled among pines, the facility offers romance and tranquility on its three-acre property. A waterfall garden, pond with fountain, horseshoe pit, and even a labyrinth beckon you outdoors to meditate upon the red rock vistas. Photo courtesy Lodge at Sedona.
  • Kid-friendly Poco Diablo Resort features outside space for running and play. There’s also a pool, four tennis courts, and an eight-acre, nine-hole, par-3 family-oriented golf course. The onsite American/Southwestern restaurant makes for convenient dining. Photo courtesy Poco Diablo.
  • Although beautiful any time of year, Sedona’s red rocks are set off to spectacular effect by fall’s golden foliage and winter’s snow. Photo by David Leicken via Flickr.

Sedona is in north-central Arizona at the base of the Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile-long escarpment that ranges 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the ground and runs east-west across central Arizona. It forms the boundary where the desert to the south gives way to the peaks and forests of the state’s high country to the north. Located atop a 500-foot mesa, Sedona Airport is often referred to as the “aircraft carrier of the desert.” The airport’s website is packed with pilot and visitor information. Hungry? Enjoy good food and views of the airport at Mesa Grill.

In mid-October, the weeklong Sedona Plein Air Festival brings unique workshops and the opportunity to see master painters in action. It’s followed by the Red Rocks Oktoberfest and Dia de Los Muertos celebrations. Throughout December, the Tlaquepaque (tell-LACK-a-pack-ee) Arts & Crafts Village is warmly lit for the holidays, beginning with Santa and a Christmas tree lighting. On one Saturday evening the village grounds are illuminated with thousands of luminarias in the Festival of Lights. The Sweet Stroll brings carolers, free sweet treats, music, and entertainment.

The Festival of Lights is held at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village one night each December. Thousands of luminarias, many decorated by visitors, are placed around the village, giving it a warm holiday glow. Photo by Wib Middleton and Festival of Lights.

Sedona offers endless hiking, from tough climbs to easy jaunts like the Jim Thompson Trail. Even if you aren’t into hiking, when in Sedona, a visit to Red Rock Crossing is a must to take your own classic photo of Cathedral Rock, one of Arizona’s most-photographed spots. The Crescent Moon Picnic Area offers the best light in late afternoon. Sedona’s other revered landmark is the dramatic Chapel of the Holy Cross, a sublime structure set into the red rocks.

Sedona attracts visitors from around the world who support a fine collection of innovative restaurants, attractions, shops, and exceptional places to stay. Fine art galleries seem to burst from every block. For Native American keepsakes, the Garland name simply means “the best there is” in Arizona.

Another Sedona icon is Pink Jeep Tours, in operation since 1960. Some tours explore Native American ruins, petroglyphs, or the top of the Mogollon Rim, and others take you hiking. For Jeep fun without the tour, try Barlow’s Jeep Rentals. They dispense both high-quality Rubicon Jeep Wranglers and excellent off-pavement advice, plus free airport pickup. Sedona is loaded with world-class mountain biking trails from easy to expert. Centrally located Over the Edge Sports has rentals, service, information about where to go, and easy access to multiple trail systems.

Chef Jeff Smedstad roamed Mexico’s markets and ranches for 15 years picking up ideas and honing his craft before opening Elote Café. He now offers regional, market-inspired dishes like mole poblano enchiladas, lamb adobo, smoked chicken enchiladas, and smoked pork cheeks. Photo courtesy Elote Café.

Beautiful accommodations are another highlight of a Sedona trip. Sky Ranch Lodge is right on the airport mesa 500 feet above town, giving it unbeatable views. Ponds, creeks, little bridges, a heated pool, and a hot tub are scattered among the lush gardens; hiking trails are nearby. The Lodge at Sedona is a half-mile north of the runway and less than a two-mile drive from the airport. Forbes ranked it as one of the 10 top Inns of America. Kid-friendly Poco Diablo Resort features outside space for running and play. There’s also a pool, four tennis courts, and an eight-acre, nine-hole, par-3 family oriented golf course. L’Auberge de Sedona offers the luxury of a French country lodge, spectacularly set on the shady banks of Oak Creek. Already highly rated, L’Auberge is now firmly in the bucket-list category after its $25-million rejuvenation.

Sedona is a place of wonder. Gaze in awe at enormous petrified sand dunes, laid down when dinosaurs walked the earth. In the winter, share the magic of holiday lights with your children or grandchildren and see the season through their eyes, or revel in the romance of the season. Its art can inspire you, perhaps even to create your own art. Sedona can be your place to relax and recharge with spa treatments, fine meals, and a luxurious lodge. Land your airplane on Sedona’s unique “aircraft-carrier” runway and start your own adventure.

Romantic, cozy, and impeccable are words that only begin to describe Cress on Oak Creek, Sedona’s premiere dining destination and part of L’Auberge de Sedona. For dinner, select from a three- or four-course menu. The resort’s Etch Kitchen/Bar also serves dinner, along with breakfast and lunch. Photo courtesy L’Auberge de Sedona.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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