Beautiful. Magical. Majestic. Spiritual. These are just a few words to describe Sedona.
Located approximately 30 miles from Flagstaff, 113 miles from Phoenix, 114 miles from the Grand Canyon, and 278 miles from Las Vegas, the history of the area dates back an estimated 4,000 years to when several Native American cultures including the Sinagua, Apache and Yavapai occupied what was then the Verde Valley at different points in time.
They were later followed by the Spanish who controlled the region from 1583 until the early 1800s when Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and about two decades later Sedona became part of the Arizona Territory.
The city was officially founded in 1902 by a group of homesteading families led by a man named T.C. Schnebly. Its naming—Sedona—is believed by some to be Native American or Spanish in origin and chosen in homage to the earlier area inhabitants. However, it is neither. The city is actually named after T.C.’s wife, Sedona Miller Schnebly, simply because some of the homesteaders really liked how it sounded – and it stuck!
Since the area was first discovered, it has been known for its spectacular red rock formations which have evolved over millions of years—close to 500 million in fact—as a result of the very early coastal plains and ocean bottoms, volcanic activity, and plateau uplifts back in the day, in addition to snow, rain and wind erosion.
The result is the breathtaking vistas and wealth of scenic beauty sitting at 4,500 feet above sea level and known the world over that wow residents and visitors alike year-round.
A Captivating Small Town
Sedona’s amazing beauty first hits you upon entering the city limits, whether via Interstate 17, State Route 89A, or State Route 179, and its instantaneously apparent why Sedona, encompassing only 19 square miles with a population of close to 11,000 year-round residents, has earned such lofty accolades as “One of the Most Beautiful Places in America.” That is no doubt attributed to the 1.8 million acres of national forest land surrounding it as part of the Coconino National Forest.
Once here, you’ll find two Visitor Centers - one located off Highway 89A, and the Uptown Visitor Center which assists over 300,000 visitors a year. The latter is where you’ll find an astounding array of information and brochures covering not just the city and surrounding area, but also destinations and attractions further afield.
Whether you’re seeking information about things to see and do, historical sites, dining, lodging, shopping, wineries, tours, personal enrichment (spas, yoga, massage, meditation, places of worship, and so on), local events, the arts and culture, State and/or National Parks, or other sites and attractions in Arizona, you will find it at both locations.
One of the best ways to get a good flavor and flair for all that Sedona has to offer is by embarking upon The Sedona Trolley (in fact, they call themselves, “"The Best First Thing to do in Sedona"). The Sedona Trolley offers two, 55-minute narrated tours: “Tour A" showcasing South Sedona and the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and “Tour B” covering West Sedona and Boynton Canyon.
However, I highly recommend the Full Scenic Combo Tour which covers both areas and lasts two hours, however you can break it up, for example, by taking “Tour A” in the morning and “Tour B” later that afternoon (or vice versa). It’s really the best of both worlds, the drivers are fabulous, and it’s well worth it!
Another worthy “overview stop” is the Sedona Heritage Museum. Housed in the former orchard and home of early pioneers Walter and Ruth Jordan, the property encompasses several entities that visitors can enjoy along a self-paced, self-guided tour: the Jordan House, Fruit Packing Shed, Tractor Shed, Irrigation and Water Outdoor Exhibit, Tenthouse, Telegraph Office, the grounds of the Old Orchards, and Jordan Park, a 4.75-acre public park.
Inside, the numerous permanent and temporary exhibits focus primarily on Sedona’s history from 1876 to the present. The artifacts and memorabilia here are amazing, some original from back in the day, others close representations of the particular period in time. Each area—from the Jordan Kitchen, to the Cowboy Room, Schnebly Room, One-Room Cabin, and others—offers a great deal of history and context for how the city and area developed and those who left an indelible mark along the way.
Perhaps the most popular entity on the grounds is the Telegraph Office, which originally served as a railroad depot in Winona, AZ over 100 years ago, later moved to Sedona and utilized as a movie set in the 1940s and '50s during what was called “The Golden Age of Western films.” John Wayne is one of the most famous actors to have worked in the Telegraph Office.
Despite its boutique size, Sedona offers so much to see and do in and around the area you’re sure to find many things that meet your every need and desire.
Among them are taking an exciting Jeep, ATV, or Segway Tour, embarking upon a self-guided walk in the Historic Uptown area, exploring Gallery Row situated along a one-mile stretch of Highway 179 and featuring over 50 outstanding galleries, a visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument, taking in a film at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre, site of the annual Sedona International Film Festival, enjoying a great workout and fun for the entire family at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, or relaxing at one of the many day and destination spas, just to name a few.
Not enough options for ya? Then check out this list of 100 Things to do in Beautiful Sedona!
The Spiritual Side of Sedona
One simply could not talk about Sedona without delving into its spiritual vortexes. A simple way to explain them is that they, according to Visit Sedona, are “swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration,” and they are very popular with those seeking or who practice regular wellness rituals (yoga, meditation, and spiritual awakening among them).
There are many places and resources available to explain and showcase Sedona’s vortexes (the four most well-known here are Boynton Canyon, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Airport Mesa), but among the best are those offered by Pete Sanders, a 40-year Sedona resident, author, teacher, and founder of Free Soul, a resource designed to share skills that help people be their own best spiritual teachers. According to Sanders, vortexes are not electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic phenomena, rather best explained by gravity, topography and something called “Superstrings Physics.” And, there are different vortex flows as well.
But don’t let all of this information make your eyes gloss over! For a brief introduction to vortexes watch his Scientific Vortex Video, or attend his 49-minute film at the Awakening Portal Garden's Sinagua Theatre. For those who’d like a deeper exploration Sanders offers live presentations twice a week at two locations in town.
While in town, my traveling companion and I visited Airport Mesa, and wow, I kid you not, I could immediately feel a shift in consciousness—mind, body and spirit, not long after my feet hit this sacred rock formation (I thought I could actually feel it while along the meandering walking trail adjacent to the Sedona Airport grounds—which you can embark upon instead of parking just below the Mesa for more spectacular views and great exercise). The science behind the vortexes is fascinating, however the experiences themselves can be life changing.
Although not a vortex, every Sedona visitor—whether searching for or connecting to their spirituality or not—must visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross. To say that the views and sensory experiences embracing you here will knock your socks off just doesn’t quite do it justice. For starters, the Chapel is literally wedged between two rock pillars 200 feet above the valley floor, and the property offers some of the most spectacular almost 360-degree views of the surrounding area.
Designed by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude who faced and triumphed over 50 years of opposition until it was finally completed in 1957, the Chapel is an architectural wonder featuring soaring ceilings, a central floor-to-ceiling window, inviting, traditional wooden pews, magnificent artwork, and a massive yet simple and poignant sculpture of Jesus crucified upon the Tree of Life.
And last but certainly not least, I think my favorite destination in Sedona is the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. Standing 36-feet high on 14 meandering acres at the base of Thunder Mountain, the Stupa offers the tens of thousands of visitors who have come here since it was dedicated in 2004 spiritual awakening and healing for themselves, loved ones, and the world.
Visitors here can perform meditation walks around the structure, meander along the Peace Park paths, sit in quiet contemplation, and more, all while experiencing the sacred ambiance of the surrounding red rocks and collective consciousness of peace and love for all of humankind.
Are you hungry for more? Then check out all the amazing places to eat, shop, and play in Much to Love about Sedona!