red rock secrets
We ended our ten-day trek through Arizona and New Mexico in Sedona – one of the Southwest’s most acclaimed destinations. In addition to the gorgeous red rock buttes that ring the town, what struck us most is how different Sedona felt culturally and spiritually from the rest of the state.
Given Arizona’s varied topography and its resolutely purple political hue, it probably shouldn’t have surprised us that the state encompasses considerable cultural diversity as well. Sandwiched between the cactus-strewn Sonoran desert and ranchero landscapes of Southern Arizona and the scrub steppes of the Hopi and Navajo reservations in the north, Sedona almost feels like a coastal transplant with its hipster restaurants, art galleries, and natural spas.
Elysian Drive. Paradise Circle. Rhapsody Road. Moonlight Drive. Sunset Hills, Harmony, Windsong – the street names give the game away even before one gets out of the car and takes in the scenery and the fresh, mountain air. S is pretty crunchy granola – she spent 14 years as a vegetarian, flirted with veganism, and still makes her own yogurt, granola, and preserves – but even she found Sedona to be on another level.
We had breakfast at a local juicery one morning – the kind of place that serves mylk and offers a wide array of mystifying supplements for its fruit and herbal concoctions. S couldn’t recognize most of the ingredients on the menu and some of the ones she did gave her pause. Our barista’s explanation that the colostrum on offer was extracted from cows from a local farm and was sourced in powder form, for example, did very little to increase its appeal.
Sedona is famed for its mild microclimate. Driving down from Flagstaff, we were pleased to watch the temperature needle edge above the freezing point and settle into the low 40s. The two previous nights our AirBnB host had asked us to keep the taps running to ensure the pipes wouldn’t burst as the temperature dipped down into single digits. It was still chilly enough that we found plenty of snow on the ground in Sedona, but not so cold as to make hiking an unpleasant experience, as it had been during our stay in Winslow the previous two days.
With national parks closed due to the federal government shutdown, we stuck to the trails of the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, which offered more than enough spectacular destinations for the two days of hiking we had budgeted for Sedona. Our first afternoon, we took a meandering six-mile out-and-back trail to the Devil’s Bridge – a stunning natural arch that was crowded with visitors despite the icy approach and biting wind at the top.
The next day we found some less frequented trails, stringing together another six-mile hike in the Soldier Pass / Brins Mesa area of Coconino National Forest. There is an unmarked trail that leads off the main path to a scenic hidden cave. S had found a description of the turnoff point on a hiking blog. We were not the only ones to locate the hidden cave, of course, but it was clear that many of the visitors we passed along the trails were not in on the secret, lending extra allure to this remarkable spot.
Our last morning in Sedona – the last full day of our road trip – we awoke to another snowstorm. As with our visit to Santa Fe, we made the most of it, spending a few hours at a spa, soaking in an outdoor hot tub while the soft white powder enveloped the world around us. A moment of pure relaxation before we set our sights back east, where family and work responsibilities awaited to reclaim us from our brief escape into self-indulgent leisure.