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It offers outdoor fun, sublime scenery, history and a vibrant arts scene. At a cool 4,000-plus feet, Sedona sits on a high plateau between mountains and desert with the best of both, including a mild, sunny climate ideal for outdoor fun year-round, from hiking and horseback riding to tennis and golf.
But what gives Sedona its unique magnetism is its remarkable rocks. Carved by wind, rain and ancient seas into spires, buttes, cliffs and massive monoliths of red sandstone, this dramatic landscape soars above the surrounding pine forests like the avatars of ancient gods. Around dusk and dawn these rock formations often resemble castles and cathedrals glowing like hot coals against a brilliant blue sky. There’s water in the picture, too: Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon is a 16-mile gorge with streams and waterfalls between sheer rock walls. It’s easy to see why Sedona has become one of the most visited vacation spots in the Southwest. Celebrities have made tracks here as well: Lucille Ball, Orson Wells and Walt Disney all had homes in Sedona.

This quintessential slice of the Southwest has also provided the backdrop for countless Hollywood Westerns from the 1920s to the present. Stars such as Gene Autry, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Rock Hudson, Elvis Presley and Robert DeNiro have mingled with local townsfolk, who have often appeared as extras. This 25-square-mile scenic enclave in Arizona is about two hours south of the Grand Canyon and two hours north of Phoenix, making Sedona easy to reach, yet worlds apart. People who live here like to say, “God created the Grand Canyon, but He lives in Sedona.”

NATURE TAKES CENTER STAGE
A jeep excursion or self-guided driving tour is the perfect way to learn your way around Red Rock Country. Don’t miss Cathedral Rock’s reflection shimmering in the clear waters of Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing, a great spot for a picnic. Oak Creek Canyon has been called one of the eight most scenic drives in America. A stop at 286-acre Red Rock State Park within the canyon provides an easy way to learn about the area’s plants, animals and ecology at the environmental center. The park’s three different hiking and biking trails offer variety for all ages and energy levels as well as lovely views and opportunities for bird watching. Anglers can try their luck with the trout in Oak Creek. In warm weather, the canyon’s Slide Rock State Park is the place to head with swimsuits. Shaped and smoothed by the ebullient waters of Oak Creek, tilted rock ledges and little pools provide what may be the most exciting natural water playground you and your kids have ever experienced. Tall cottonwoods and sycamores shade hiking trails skirting the water in this 53-acre park.

Among the other named rock formations not to miss are Bell Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, Courthouse Rock and the family favorite, Snoopy. Sedona offers countless well-maintained trails for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. Another way to get a great overview — literally — of Red Rock Country is an early morning hot-air balloon ride. If the idea of floating serenely in a basket over some of Mother Nature’s sculptural masterpieces in hues ranging from burnt orange to burgundy sounds like nirvana, this could be the high point of your trip. For a scenic family outing on terra firma, hop aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, a historic mining town. As the train winds through the river valley, keep an eye out for eagles, striking rock formations and ancient ruins. Longer day trips can take you to the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley.

ANCIENT ART AND AMERICAN INDIAN WAYS
travel2Sedona bears deep roots in the past: native peoples lived here starting about 11,000 years ago. More than 2,000 ancient ruins within 100 miles of Sedona testify to the natural allure of this region long before recorded history. These once-thriving ancient cultures still speak to modern visitors through the cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and pictographs they left behind. In prehistoric times, this area was a ceremonial meeting place and a major crossroads for trading routes linking the Americas. From Sedona it’s an easy drive to Montezuma Castle National Monument, the oldest and best-preserved cliff dwelling in the Southwest. Its complex of 20 rooms perched a dizzying 100 feet above the valley floor dates to the 12th century A.D. Nearby, learn about ancient irrigation canals at Montezuma Well, a spring-fed sinkhole pool that creates a little oasis. You could also check out Palatki and Honanki, cliff dwellings in Red Canyon with impressive displays of rock art. Or tour the large collection of petroglyphs at the V Bar V, a U.S. Forest Service property once part of a historic ranch. To get a glimpse of American Indian traditions past and present, arrange to take the all-day Hopi Mesa Tour (7 a.m.- 7 p.m.) with Way of the Ancients Tours, which also offers a variety of other regional excursions.

ARTS ARE EVERYWHERE
Sedona’s natural beauty has attracted so many artists over the years that it has become a vibrant arts community with over 200 artists, 40 galleries, an arts center and performing arts venues for music and drama. The internationally famous surrealist painter Max Ernst was one of the first 20th-century artists to make his home here, followed later by the founders of Cowboy Artists of America — Joe Beeler, Charlie Dye, Johnny Hampton and George Phippen. In addition, Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the famous Chapel of the Holy Cross, a stunning engineering marvel set among majestic red rock formations 200 feet above the valley floor. Since its completion in 1956, this chapel of panoramic views has become one of Sedona’s renowned landmarks. Sedona’s arts and cultural scene offers a stimulating array of special events, too. Its “First Fridays” brim with gallery openings and opportunities to meet artists. Depending on your interests, you might want to visit Sedona on May 20-21 for the Art & Architecture Home Tour, Aug. 31-Sept. 3 for the Classical Music Festival, Sept. 21-24 for Jazz on the Rocks, or Oct. 7-8 for the Sedona Arts Festival.

To learn about the culture and history of Sedona, begin at the Sedona Heritage Museum, which covers the pioneers, cowboys, artists, celebrities, and movie-makers who have shaped this special town that has starred in some 80 films. One of the most interesting history excursions goes to Jerome, an old mining town set so high on a hill that it was dubbed the “City in the Sky.” As artists and others moved into this ghost town, it has bloomed anew with shops, galleries and exhibits covering its gold-mining days.

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SHOP, THEN DROP INTO A SPA OR VORTEX
In Sedona the shopping is as glorious as the scenery, whether you’re looking for drop-dead resort wear, American Indian arts or unique treasures by local artists. Sedona has five major shopping areas, including historic “uptown” and the Old Marketplace in West Sedona. But a favorite is the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. Fashioned after a traditional Mexican village with vine-covered stucco walls, cobblestone walkways, colorful tile and splashing fountains, this Sedona landmark looks like it has been here for centuries. Sedona is likewise renowned for its world-class spas — the perfect reward after a hard day of hiking, horseback riding or shopping. This area is also famed for tours that highlight the spiritual and metaphysical forces that many believe make Sedona a place of concentrated cosmic energy. On a “vortex” tour — the name for these high-octane “hot spots” — you’ll learn more about this energy, and why Sedona’s vortices, such as Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon, have become popular meditation sites. Don’t be surprised if you leave Sedona inspired and energized. But whether that’s the “vortex effect” or the result of all that outdoor fun in the midst of sublime scenery, only you can decide. For more information, go to VisitSedona.com or call (877) 778-4397 to receive a free Experience Sedona Guide.

By MELANIE YOUNG