A half-day visit to Sedona
Believe it or not, I visited the state of Arizona and didn’t go to the Grand Canyon. I know some of you may be reacting with quasi-horror, but my visit was too short to try to squeeze in one of earth’s most incredible natural wonders. And yet I didn’t want to to spend all of my time in the Phoenix metropolitan area. It was pretty and all, don’t get me wrong, but Arizona is one of America’s most striking states from a outdoor perspective. And that’s why Sedona ended up being the perfect day trip from Scottsdale. So if you’re like me and only have limited time, here’s the perfect half-day itinerary for stunning Sedona.
I would recommend leaving the Scottsdale/Phoenix area as early in the morning as possible. Since Scottsdale is roughly north of Phoenix, we didn’t really encounter too much rush hour traffic since most people were headed in the opposite direction towards Phoenix, whereas we were heading north to Sedona. We drove away from our Scottsdale hotel at exactly 7:30AM and were at our first destination in Sedona just under two hours later. And as in Utah, the drive on I-17 was lovely between the huge, ever abundant cacti and the striking mountain vistas.
As our time was limited, I knew I would have to pick a couple of hiking trails of interest. While originally I had my heart set on hiking Devil’s Bridge Trail (google this to see the incredible pictures), I ultimately decided against this after learning that a four wheel drive vehicle was needed to get to the main parking lot. There was apparently another parking lot that “normal” vehicles could safely get to; however, it was farther away and required a hike simply to get to the start of the main trailhead. So instead I chose Cathedral Rock for our first stop. I discovered that while it’s not a long trail ( only a mile), it’s all up hill, and for some portions, incredibly steep as in scarily so.
There are two trails you can take, Cathedral Rock and Easy Breezy, (yes, it’s actually called that). The former is the trail with the scary sections and the incredible vistas, the latter is abbreviated where you don’t go remotely near to the top. Well, we did the scary one, and I say scary for two individuals who are not avid hikers, rock climbers, or natural outdoorsy people.
The first part was okay, uphill but nothing too bad. We then came to a point where you were literally climbing between boulders with no proper footing, hand supports, anything. I started to do this, then got majorly freaked out and was seriously considering calling it a day. I don’t have a fear of heights at all but this was something I had never done before, not to mention I had (mild) visions where I saw either myself or D slipping and plummeting to our deaths. But then a woman about twice my age just started climbing like it was a flight of stairs at a library. So yeah, that was the confidence booster I needed. And off we (slowly) went.
It took us a while and we stopped at various points along the way but the views from the top were incredible, especially from the other side that you don’t see until you’ve reached the end of the trail. It was an experience like this that proved I have more in me than I give myself credit for. Coming down was also a bit intimidating at times so for portions I just “crawled like a crab” down some rocks and scooted along on my bum.
In all, the full roundtrip took us about two hours. People much more fit and used to climbing steep inclines could probably do it in less time.
While there are a dizzying array of places to eat in the Sedona area, as soon as I learned of Tlaquepaque (try saying that three times fast), an arts and crafts shopping village with various eateries that was modeled after a colonial Mexican town, I knew I wanted to visit. Parking was free and plentiful. Since I had picked all of our Scottsdale dining ventures, I chose the the Oak Creek Brewery since I knew that would please D. We got there not too long after they opened (about 11:50AM) and already the place was crowded. I suppose where beer and burgers are advertised, the people will flock.
I didn’t want anything too massive since we had more hiking to do, not to mention my legs were still like jelly, so I ordered two appetizers, pretzels with an ale-infused cheese fondue, and bourbon sauce pork skewers that came on a tortilla. Both were good, not great. But this is the type of place to come for items like burgers and pizza. I just didn’t want anything too rich or large.
D started with the ale-infused onion soup. He chose the Earl of Steak (Angus beef bistro steak topped with roasted peppers and pepper-jack cheese). He finished both items and how he wasn’t bursting at that point, I don’t know. And for his beer, he ordered the Village Nut Brown Ale.
Lunch came to about $55.
As I mentioned before, I did most of my Sedona shopping specifically at Tlaquepaque. I bought everything from a cookbook to popcorn seasoning to a Christmas ornament to Southwest style woven placemats to a beautiful piece of pottery. I would highly recommend visiting Esteban’s and Cucina Sedona.
Even if you’re not a shopper, Tlaquepaque is just lovely to walk around in. And if you’re like me and love all things Mexico, you’ll especially adore it.
After the strenuous climb that was Cathedral Rock, I knew I wanted a more “sedate” and more importantly, relatively level second hiking trail so Bell Rock it was. And in case you’re wondering how it got its name, it literally resembles a bell. There’s a flat loop around the massive Courthouse Butte (what’s to the right of Bell Rock if you’re approaching from the parking lot) and this is what takes you to Bell Rock.
While we didn’t do the entire loop, we walked well over a mile simply enjoying the beautiful Red Rocks scenery. However, by this time a bad blister had started to form on my left foot and we still had one destination I was most anxious to visit. So we said goodbye to Sedona and headed out of town, all for a grand total of 2o minutes in the car.
When I discovered that were ancient cliff dwellings not only near to Sedona but also an incredibly short distance from I-17, I deemed then and there that there was no way I was missing them. So on our drive back to Scottsdale we got off the interstate to visit Montezuma’s Castle, cave dwellings that were neither a castle nor had anything to do with the Aztec king.
Montezuma’s Castle is a National Park monument and there was an admission fee but when your tourist dollars are going to help in preservation efforts for ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, I didn’t mind in the least. Adults 16 and older are $10 per person, under 16 it’s free.
It’s about a five minute walk from the Visitor’s Center to the dwellings and nothing will prepare you when you actually see them. They are truly incredible; it’s mind boggling to realize human beings created them using just their hands and primitive tools. I was in such awe seeing them and it only fueled my desire to one day visit Mesa Verde, the richer and more well-known relative to Montezuma’s Castle as the park ranger on duty told us. (Mesa Verde is a National Park, not just a monument, which means it gets more funding.)
It blew my mind to learn that as recently as the mid-20th century, park rangers were still giving visitors guided tours of the INSIDE of the dwellings, using ladders on the ground to access them. This practice ceased in 1951 since not only was it dangerous (people climbing steep ladders on the side of a cliff) but also terribly destructive to these ancient structures.
The creek that the dwellings looked out on was serene and beautiful but we learned it can be dangerous as it tends to flood.
Hit the road, hop back onto I-17 and start the journey (about 105 minutes from Montezuma’s Castle) back to Scottsdale.
As I would learn, a half day is not remotely enough time to see and do all there is in the Sedona area. I would definitely love to return one day and be based there. But if you have only limited time and you really want to get out and be one with nature, Sedona is the perfect place to start.
The Red Headed Traveler’s Tips to Visiting Sedona
-Parking at many of the trail heads is limited. The earlier you get there the better, especially if you’re hiking on the more popular trails.
-Wear proper footwear. I can’t stress this enough. While climbing Cathedral Rock we actually came across a family in which the dad was wearing flip flops! I was beyond appalled. We saw them pretty low to the ground so I highly doubt they made it to the top, especially as they had two children well under the age of 10 with them.
-Bring ample water with you. While I can’t imagine hiking in Arizona in the heat of summer, it was still warm in early March, especially after exerting yourself as much as you do while hiking. And most of the trails have absolutely zero shade cover.
-A lot of the trails require a Red Rocks permit for your vehicle. You can buy these at various locations throughout Sedona or most of the trails have self-dispensing machines. A one day pass costs $5. Don’t go without as I read that cars are regularly checked and the fines for not having a pass are steep. Remember that the $5 goes towards preservation and conservation efforts for one of America’s prettiest areas.
-Round abouts or traffic circles are HUGE in Arizona, especially Sedona. But I will say that traffic actually flowed quite efficiently and seeing as how many people visit Sedona, they are much needed. Just remember that once you get INTO the circle, you have the right of way.
–If you can, by all means avoid the “bathrooms” on the trail heads. Go at a restaurant or any of the visitors centers throughout the town but to the “natural porto potties,” just say no, especially if you’re a female. One look inside was enough to make me forget about needing to use the facilities.