Planning a week-long family vacation in Arizona, I worried that our teenage daughters would be bored by too much scenery and not enough friends. I worried that I’d scheduled our trip to the desert for August, the hottest month of the year. And I worried that after a few days marveling at intensely scenic vistas, we’d all wonder what to do next. I am pleased to say that all of my concerns were groundless and that our journey to Sedona and the Grand Canyon offered more than enough for everyone. While Phoenix, where our flight landed, was 105 degrees, it wasn’t long before we were making the two-hour drive north to the milder clime of Sedona. Along the highway, the prickly outstretched arms of giant saguaro cacti welcomed us to a landscape already so different from New York. Our arrival in Sedona was accompanied by exclamations of awe as we entered the land of red rock mesas, sandstone spires and multi-hued cliffs.
The lures of Sedona Our first outing was to Enchantment Resort, where we watched the sun set behind a range of red rocks. We supped with our sweaters on before a spectacle of color, and as the sky darkened, bolts of lightning highlighted the mountaintops, eliciting a diners’ chorus of oohs and ahhs. In the morning, we set out for a more factual introduction on one of Sedona’s many Jeep tours. Our jovial guide, Dino, identified rock formations, easy to recognize once we’d heard their names, from Steamboat Rock to Coffee Pot Rock, to a stately group called The Elders. Off-road, flaunting the Jeep’s maneuverability, he pointed out indigenous vegetation, such as manzanita bushes and lightning-mangled cypress trees. He showed us a juniper tree he said was the model for one in “The Wizard of Oz”, and maintained that the ubiquitous prickly pear cactus, with its circular, thorny fronds, was Walt Disney’s inspiration for Mickey Mouse. (Other introductory options include one of Sedona Trolley’s two 55-minute tours or Supervue Theater’s onscreen tour, “Sedona: The Spirit of Wonder”.) The area surrounding Sedona has been designated by the U.S. Forest Service as Red Rock Country, and exploring it requires an easily obtainable vehicle pass. Armed with this, we visited Palatki Ruin, 7 miles west of Sedona via dirt road, where we traversed the remains of a Sinagua cliff dwelling dating back to 1100, and perused the area’s largest panel of rock art and pictographs from several native cultures. Other Sinagua ruins can be viewed at Honanki and Tuzigoot National Monument, and petroglyphs can be found at the V-V rock art site. Sedona is known for its vortices, where it is said the Earth’s energy forces are particularly strong and can provide a sense of well-being. Though not subscribed to by the U.S. Forest Rangers, the vortices intrigued us, and we stopped at one, Airport Mesa, on the road that leads to the airport. Climbing to its top and gazing out over endless red configurations while the sky grayed with threatening clouds, we agreed that, energy forces or not, it would be difficult not to be uplifted by being in such a place. Down-swept would be a more apt description of our experience at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon. Slippery rocks within the creek create a natural water slide that attracts all ages and is the source of many delighted screams. It was a welcome relief from the midday heat, and a nearby roadside Navajo market lured the girls with its turquoise jewelry and other native crafts. We took the four-hour, evening train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, along the Verde River, over trestle bridges, through a 680-foot manmade tunnel, and into the heart of Sycamore Canyon. The heartbeat of the railroad tracks, the changing scenery, the sighting of eagles’ nests, the setting sun, and enough of a rain shower to create a rainbow engaged us all for the entire trip. Another excursion was to the ghost town Jerome, a 19th-century hillside mining town turned contemporary artists’ community. There we walked the steep streets amid historic buildings and quaint galleries and shops.
A day at Grand Canyon We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in time to walk along the rim and attempt to absorb the awesome immensity before us as the sun set. Our true exploration began the next morning when Bruce Sawyer, owner of Touch the Southwest Tours, introduced us more intimately to the canyon’s treasures. He initiated us on the moderate Kaibab Trail, pausing often so we could “water up”. He pointed out minerals and fossils in the trail walls, cacti underfoot, and ravens, turkey vultures and condors overhead. At Moran Point, he showed us how to lie on our stomachs with our heads protruding over the edge of a sheer cliff. We hiked at Grandview Point, where he encouraged us to brave what seemed a treacherous turn for the wondrous view beyond. A chef in a previous profession, he served us a gourmet luncheon under the trees, and at the end of the day, directed us to watch the sunset at Yavapai Point, where the challenge of finding a parking space was well worth it. Touch the Southwest offers customized tours and camping outings at the Grand Canyon and other nearby sites. Sawyer, a trained geologist, convinced us to splurge on a helicopter ride — an exhilarating flight, though I did breathe a sigh of relief when we landed. Those less daring might try the Grand Canyon IMAX Theater, where “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets” plays hourly. Young visitors to the Grand Canyon (ages 4-14) can participate in the National Park Service’s free Junior Ranger program, which offers a range of daily educational activities.
Other nearby attractions Between Sedona and the Grand Canyon are several worthy stops. Traveling north, we visited the Museum of Northern Arizona outside Flagstaff, where a Native American celebration was in progress. The museum focuses on the local artistic and geologic exhibits. On our return, we took the eastern route and visited the well-preserved Pueblo ruins at Wupatki National Monument, and the dramatic lava flows at Sunset Crater Volcano.
Where we stayed We sampled two hotels in Sedona. Los Abrigados Resort & Spa, adjacent to the upscale shops and restaurants of Tlaquepaque, offers family-friendly suites and a choice of three restaurants. In addition to virtual golf and two pools, there are tennis, volleyball, basketball and paddle tennis courts. The Sedona Spa features daily fitness classes and a changing roster of activities for children ages 5-15 through its Leaping Lizards Kids Klub & Teen Activities program. 160 Portal Lane, Sedona, (800) 521-3131 or (928) 282-1777, www.ilxresorts.com. Junipine Resort is comprised of ‘creekhouses’ in Oak Creek Canyon that are ideal for families. Oak Creek burbled outside our back door, inviting wading, fishing and just sitting. We dined on premises at Junipine Café and Grill, then gathered in our living room to watch a videotape we’d rented at the front desk. The setting was so peaceful we hated to leave. 8351 North Highway 89A, Sedona, (800) 742-7463 or (928) 282-3375. www.junipine.com. Lodging at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim is at one of Xanterra Parks & Resorts’ 922 rooms and cabins. The best-appointed, El Tovar Hotel, as well as Bright Angel, Kachina and Thunderbird Lodges, are rim-side. Phantom Ranch welcomes those who hike to the canyon’s bottom. There is Maswik Lodge, and we stayed at Yavapai Lodge, the park’s largest facility located near Market Plaza. While not luxurious, our accommodations were clean and comfortable. There are cafeterias and dining halls in the lodges; the only gourmet restaurant is at El Tovar. Hotel reservations may be made up to 23 months in advance, so plan ahead, especially if you hope to stay at El Tovar. (303) 29PARKS or www.grandcanyonlodges.com.
Contact information • Enchantment Resort, 525 Boynton Canyon Road, Sedona. (800) 826-4180 or (928) 204-6000. www.enchantmentresort.com • Sedona Red Rock Jeep Tours, 1485 W. Highway 89A, Sedona. (800) 848-7728 or (928) 282-0254, www.redrockjeep.com • Sedona Trolley, (928) 282-5400 • Supervue Theater, 6615 Highway 179, Sedona. (928) 284-3214, www.supervue.com • Red Rock Country, Sedona Ranger District, Sedona, (928) 282-4119, www.redrockcountry.org • Palatki Ruins, (928) 282-3854 • Slide Rock State Park, (928) 282-3034 • Verde Canyon Railroad, 300 N. Broadway, Clarkdale (928) 639-0010, www.verdecanyonrr.com • Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff (928) 774-5213, www.musnaz.org • Wupatki National Monument, Highway 89, www.nps.gov/wupa • Sunset Crater National Monument, Highway 89, www.nps.gov/sucr • Touch the Southwest Tours, Bruce Sawyer, 1717 N. Center St., Flagstaff (888) CHILAKO/244-5256 or (928) 213-9085, www.touchthesouthwest.com • Airstar Helicopters, (800) 962-3869 or (928) 638-2622, www.airstar.com • Grand Canyon IMAX Theater, www.grandcanyonimaxtheater.com
Suggested eateries Sedona: -Dahl & DiLuca Ristorante Italiano (928) 282-4200 -Hideaway Restaurant and Lounge (928) 282-4202 -Pizza Picazzo (928) 282-4140 -Sasaki Japanese Restaurant (928) 284-1757 -Takashi Japanese Restaurant (928) 282-2334 -Heartline Café (928) 282-0785 -Secret Garden Café at Tlaquepaque (928) 282-9564 Jerome: -Flatiron Café (928) 634-2733 -Red Rooster Café (928) 634-7087