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Pack sunscreen and comfortable shoes because Sedona is all about the outdoors. Spending time under any roof but an azure sky will seem like an opportunity squandered. Clusters of natural wonders can be found in every direction so it’s difficult to pin down a specific list of attractions, but what follows are the best Sedona things to do. Do these and nothing else and you won’t feel cheated in the least. You’ll be hungry for more but you won’t feel cheated.
Sedona occupies a slender stretch of habitable space, surrounded on all sides by national forest land. With a back yard full of wild country, it’s no wonder jeep tours are a cottage industry for the burg. There are several companies to choose from, but Pink Jeep has been bouncing into the outback for 50 years. Our favorite tour is Broken Arrow, an off-road adventure that climbs straight up the side of the famous red rocks, with stunning views stretching across Munds Mountain Wilderness. The jeep acrobatics, whether circling Mushroom Rock or navigating the Road of No Return, are enough to put a smile on the face of even the surliest teen. Most Pink Jeep drivers are certified by the National Association of Interpretation, so beyond the thrills, the tours provide insight into the local history, geology, flora and fauna.
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Neighborhood: Highway 179 Corridor
The most compelling work of art in town doesn’t hang in a gallery. It rises from the ground and merges elegantly with the surrounding towers of stone. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude and completed in 1956. The chapel perches 200 feet above the valley floor, thrusting upward between two burly pillars of rock. High cliffs of salmon hues form the backdrop. The interior of the chapel is simple and unadorned. A few benches, some tapestries and flickering candles create a serene, meditative oasis, while soft sunlight streams through the floor-to-ceiling window. Come for the sweeping views, or a little quiet contemplation, or both. Free. Taize prayer services are held Mondays at 5PM.
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Neighborhood: West Sedona
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Sedona, chances are you’ve seen Crescent Moon Picnic Area, known locally as Red Rock Crossing. That image of Oak Creek flowing in front of majestic Cathedral Rock is one of the most-photographed images in the Southwest. Don’t be surprised to find radiant brides and glowing grooms posing for their wedding portrait on the rocky banks. The shallow stream meanders past the base of Cathedral Rock and through forested groves. On the bank opposite Cathedral you’ll notice dozens of stacked rock totems, looking like a miniature Stonehenge. This is Buddha Beach, considered to be the site of a powerful vortex. The main entrance to Crescent Moon is in West Sedona, but you can save a few bucks by coming in the back way. From the Village, travel west on Verde Valley School Road for 4.8 miles (the last mile is unpaved but smooth) to Red Rock Crossing parking area. A short unmarked path leads to Oak Creek. It costs $10 per vehicle to enter but only $2 for walk-ins.
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Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes while in town. Because here’s the wonderful secret: Vortexes are located at some of the most devastatingly scenic spots among the red rock formations. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form ‘vortices’ is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes. They’re found at Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock and Airport Mesa. Anyone on a journey of self-discovery, or just curious, can find out more about vortexes from the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association, an affinity group of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce.
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Small-town museums possess an old-fashioned, laidback charm, and this one is no exception. Sedona Heritage Museum showcases life among the red rocks from early pioneer days until the present. The focus is split between exhibits on apple-growing, cowboys and movies. That’s a trifecta rarely seen in museums, but it covers much of Sedona’s history. This was cowboy country, although the early settlers thrived along Oak Creek by growing apples and peaches. And nearly 100 feature films were shot in Sedona so the movie room is chock-full of photo stills, posters, storyboards, a diorama of the old western movie set, and a loop of Sedona-based flicks. Admission is nominal ($3). The setting, a peaceful homestead and orchard in Jordan Historical Park, is worth a visit alone.
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Neighborhood: HIghway 179 Corridor
Nestled on the banks of Oak Creek, Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village is a collection of Spanish-style buildings reminiscent of a Mexican hamlet. Cobblestone walkways meander past vine-covered walls and beneath stone archways. Graceful Arizona sycamores that seem to grow from the buildings themselves shade the courtyards, where shoppers stroll past splashing fountains and beds bursting with flowers. Tlaquepaque (pronounced Tla-keh-pah-keh) houses a collection of upscale galleries, shops and restaurants. Parking can be difficult on weekends, so take the free Roadrunner shuttle instead (it operates from 11AM to 6:30PM seven days a week and runs every 15 to 20 minutes from Uptown to Tlaquepaque—you can find the shuttle map on their website
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Neighborhood: Verde Valley
The Verde Valley Wine Trail introduces visitors to the suddenly booming wine industry that surrounds Sedona. Four boutique wineries huddle on rocky shoulders of ground above Oak Creek and the Verde River. Each one is a family-owned, family-run small production property. The Verde Valley, with its volcanic soil, muscular sunshine and overnight temperature drops, offers the kind of microclimate that bullies grapes just enough to bring out their best characteristics. Start at the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce, where they’ll provide a map that leads to the wineries and four additional tasting rooms. If you’re concerned about sampling vino and then driving, they can set you up with one of the many tour companies that travel the Wine Trail.
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Neighborhood: West Sedona
If you’re unfamiliar with western skies at night, you’re in for a treat. Lack of light pollution, combined with haze-free, low-humidity desert skies, makes Sedona a paradise for stargazers. Take the Evening Sky Tours and the heavens drop right in your lap. Evening Sky Tours sets up outside of Sedona where professional astronomers act as guides. They begin by using laser pointers to diagram an overview of the very universe. After this introduction, guests are given time on state-of-the-art telescopes to hone in on comets, planets and galaxies. Suddenly the rings of Saturn seem close enough to slip onto your finger.
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Neighborhood: West Sedona/Red Rock Ranger District
Just outside of town, nestled against soaring magenta cliffs, are the ancient ruins of the early inhabitants of Sedona. Both are cliff dwellings of the Sinagua, ancestors of the Hopi, who lived in the region from 1100 AD to 1350 AD. At Palatki, a trail also leads back to alcoves sheltering pictographs, or painted symbols, adorning the rocks. Some of the drawings date back to the Clovis Culture around 10,000 BC. Palatki and Honanki are a few miles apart, down a dirt road. Although bumpy, the road is usually passable to passenger cars except when muddy. There is no admission, but a Red Rock Pass is required for all vehicles parked at the cultural sites. Call at least one week ahead to make reservations (928-282-3854), because the forest service limits the number of visitors.
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Neighborhood: Oak Creek Canyon
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Seven miles north of Sedona, in what once was a thriving orchard, stone banks throttle the creek into a narrow frothy chute creating a natural water ride. Along the route are pools of varying depths, perfect for wading, swimming and cliff jumping. Something for everyone—as long as you don’t mind company. Slide Rock is not exactly a secret. Word of warning: Wear cut-offs or other sturdy shorts. Adults may scrape bottom through the shallows, so it’s not uncommon to stand up at the end of the slide, only to see swatches of your bathing suit continue downstream. If you’re here during a non-swimming time of year, you can wander the old orchards in peace and explore the bony banks of the creek until you find a scenic spot and picnic like there’s no tomorrow.
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