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Arizona’s Weird Side is Full of Wild Wonder

Sedona 1

These were the only two things I knew about Sedona prior to making it the first destination of a five-day, four-night family romp through Northern Arizona. Yet they were equally responsible for fueling my interest in checking out this quirky city, long considered a haven for those that are into things like spiritual vortexes and other similar practices that the average person may consider a bit fringy. It’s been my experience that people that society considers odd produce some pretty beautiful things.

Sedona 2

It doesn’t take much time after we arrive to realize that the beautiful things Sedona residents make – and some of the wares are indeed rather lovely – take a back seat to Sedona’s natural splendor. Bell Rock, pictured above, is one of the many rock formations in Sedona that are cool enough to have their own name. The craggy ridges of the rocks – not to mention their brilliant red hues – give each formation a sense of life and purpose, almost as if they are ancient protectors of the landscape. Suddenly, it makes sense why the spiritual vortex crowd considers this sacred ground. At the very least, the combination or rock, brush, and sky make a great background when we coax our youngest daughter to do an “indie rock band” pose.

Sedona 3

The suddenness of the rocks’ color seems to have a near-mystical quality. There is no gradual change in the hues as we drive in and out of the city. The redness just happens in totality, like nature flipped a page and started a new chapter. It is jarring and magical at the same time.

Sedona 4

For the most part, Sedona’s rock formations are pristine, clear from the intrusion of mankind. There are a couple of exceptions. The first of which is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, pictured below. Given the sacred reputation Sedona’s rocks possess, it only seems fitting that a building some consider to be holy is ensconced within the rocky peaks. The building itself feels like it has a connection to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterworks, even though neither he nor his protégés had a hand in its development. You can tour the inside and look out over the hillside through its massive window behind the altar as long as there isn’t a service going on, but I find standing outside and in awe of the building more peaceful. It also makes me regret that I don’t have any ambient music saved on my smartphone.

Sedona 5

Joining the chapel in man’s quest to meld with Sedona’s nature is Palatki Heritage Site, a fascinating point of interest showcasing ancient Native American cliff dwellings built between 1100 and 1400. Onsite cave pictographs suggest that the dwellings were built for protection from the elements. If your children have recently studied Native American culture, this humble little diversion is well within their wheelhouse.

We continue to explore the synthetic side of Sedona with a trip to Tlaquepaque, a compact arts and crafts-centric village whose name looks like a cruel prank to pull during a spelling bee. My hunch equating the strange with the beautiful is realized during our two-hour visit. Plenty of hand-crafted jewelry, custom glassware, handmade rugs, and artwork are on hand to admire or purchase – most of which feels genuine, not tourist-trap gimmicky. Considering how much Sedona thrives on tourism, that’s saying something.

Sedona 6

The weather is sunny and relatively warm on the last day of our Sedona excursion – warm enough to hit one last spot, Slide Rock State Park. It’s essentially nature’s take on the Slip ‘n’ Slide, as gentle waters slowly cascade down a bed of smooth rocks. Footing is tricky at first, but we all get the hang of it. The water comes with a cold bite on this day, but it’s safe to say the wet stuff would feel pretty nice under proper summertime conditions.

Did I have a spiritual awakening or reach some sort of inner harmony in Sedona? No. I did have a lovely time with my family exploring the wonders of nature, though. That’s not a bad consolation prize.

Rich Manning is a freelance writer that has been covering Orange County’s food, wine, and lifestyle scene for ten years. He currently lives in Fountain Valley with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs.
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