25 Reasons We Love Sedona

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How do we love Arizona's New Age nirvana? Rebecca Ascher-Walsh counts the ways, in no particular order

1. Rock stars up close: The breathtaking Red Rocks, which jut from the high desert floor in furious jags, have inspired everyone from the Native Americans who worshipped their energy fields thousands of years ago to the hikers who now worship the views. The setting for hundreds of Westerns--not to mention a bunch of car commercials--the Rocks are fully visible from town, but they're best appreciated from the hiking trails that encircle Sedona. You need a pass to park within the 1.8 million acres of Coconino National Forest; they're widely available, including from the Sedona Chamber of Commerce. 331 Forest Rd., 800/288-7336, sedonachamber.com, $5.

2. Soul innovation system: At the Mago Café, you can check your e-mail and drink a Green Esteem smoothie while strapped to a Brain Innovation System, which is allegedly able to smarten you up. (It looks like Star Trek sunglasses connected to a CD player.) Or simply give your brain the afternoon off and sit for a while by the lovely tearoom's fireplace. You'll leave more serene, if not sharper: In the guest book, one visitor wrote that leading a happy life is easier if you "worrie less." 207 N. Hwy. 89, 928/204-1047, smoothie $4.75.

3. Bacon and The Worm: Michael and Christina Eich--along with their mutt, Bacon--run The Worm, a 44-year-old book and music store. It's open 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, and Michael is happy to give advice on more than his favorite authors. "People ask us about everything," he says, "because we're open more than the chamber of commerce." And there are plenty of interesting titles to page through, from best-selling thrillers to How to Use Sages, Resins, and Herbs in a Wakan-Sacred Way. 207 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-3471, sedonaworm.com.

4. Delicious dirt: Inspired by the view of the Rocks, Sedona Fudge Company's Ann Evans created the shop's newest seller, Sedona Red Dirt. It's a heart-stopping concoction of cream cheese, amaretto, raspberry flavoring, and white chocolate. Too much? Try Slide Rock Swirl, made with vanilla cream cheese and a ribbon of chocolate. 257 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-1044; one-pound box $16.

5. Even veggies get TLC: Tender asparagus, precious Meyer lemons, and baby artichokes are lovingly arranged by dreadlocked, tie-dyed employees at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace--they earnestly believe the world can be improved one organic meal at a time. A mini-chain, New Frontiers has three outposts in Arizona and two in California. The take-out counter provides an ideal pre-hike lunch, including poached salmon and salads. Old Marketplace shopping center, 1420 W. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-6311.

6. Backward sunsets: In Sedona, the most dramatic "ooh..." moment comes when you face east, as the sun's rays seem to set the Rocks afire. People flock to Airport Vista, but you'll find more solitude paying $7 to park at Red Rock Crossing, which has unobstructed views of Cathedral Rock (where Addicus and Jen Patton, left, got married). Or just hang out in town on the patio of Canyon Breeze. "We have the best fish taco in Arizona," promises bartender Kevin Lefter. "And you can quote me on that." Who knew there was competition? 300 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-2112, fish taco $10.

7. The lullaby of a babbling brook: Don Hoel's Cabins are only 10 miles north of town, but you'll suffer delightful culture shock as you head deep into the forested canyon and arrive at what looks like a soundstage for Little House on the Prairie. A cozy cabin for two close to the creek, with quilts, a fireplace, and a full kitchen, is $125. (Cabin 7 is pictured.) For less rustic creekside lodging, the Best Western Arroyo Roble on Sedona's main street has seven two-bedroom villas that sleep six, with a full kitchen, two and a half bathrooms, and two fireplaces. The $330 rate includes breakfast, and the hotel has both an outdoor and indoor/outdoor swimming pool. Don Hoel's Cabins, 9440 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-3560, hoels.com; Arroyo Roble Hotel, 400 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-4001, bestwesternsedona.com.

8. Cactus as a side dish: Every first-timer to the Southwest should try fried cactus and rattlesnake soup, both of which are available at the Cowboy Club. But it's the restaurant's rib eye steaks and giant salads that draw tour guides at the end of a long day. Sidle up to the bar, which serves a full dinner menu, and leave the skull-and-horn-festooned dining room to the masses. 241 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-4200, cowboyclub.com, rib eye $23.

9. Hitting the ground walking: Dennis Andres is a gifted guide and an endless resource whose rates--$275 per couple for four hours--reflect both his experience and his exuberance. "I've walked 5,000 miles of these trails," he says, "and I still haven't found them all." Luckily, everyone can benefit from Andres's exhaustive knowledge with his book, The Insider's Guide to Sedona, an indispensable resource for lodging, services, and, of course, hikes. Order a copy before you plan your trip: The $21 cost, which includes shipping and handling, can easily be recouped by reading the "Saving Money in Sedona" chapter. Sedona Private Guides, 928/204-2201, sedonaprivateguides.com.

10. The mall rats are birds: The Spanish-style buildings at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village enclose plazas with lush plantings and flowing fountains--which attract the likes of goldfinches, scrub jays, and even quail. The shopping's not bad either. Ogle the $685 carousel horse at Sedona Music Boxes, then pick up a hummingbird hurdy-gurdy ($10) to take home as a souvenir. 336 Hwy. 179, 928/282-4838, tlaq.com.

11. Southern food in the Southwest: Diners at the Coffee Pot Restaurant wait beneath autographed photos of Melissa Etheridge and Jane Russell for the opportunity to choose from 101 different omelets. Go for the weird (roast beef and cheese), the silly (peanut butter and jelly), or the old favorites, so long as you don't skip the side order of homemade biscuits and grits. 2050 W. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-6626, ham and cheese omelet $5.75.

12. A heaven-sent B&B: With 3 million visitors annually and only 17,500 residents, lodging in Sedona is a seller's market, leaning toward the cheapish hotel or the luxe resort. One exception is A Sunset Chateau. Janet Buillet, an artist who has decorated the walls with her paintings and murals, presides over a B&B where the standard rooms are in fact sprawling suites with full-size kitchens and private terraces nestled up to the Rocks. The two-acre grounds include a red-velvet pandal (a Hindu ceremonial structure), a pool, and dozens of hammocks and chairs. "I got a lot of the furnishings through prayers," says the charmingly eccentric Buillet. "One morning, I asked for a pillow with an Aztec bird on it, and when I went out, there it was." Better not to inquire about the lamp made from three furry goat legs. 665 S. Sunset Dr., 928/282-2644, asunsetchateau.com, doubles from $149.

13. Twice-caught trout: Spend an afternoon fishing at the Rainbow Trout Farm. Then grill your catch at their picnic area or head for The Heartline Café, where the specialty is the farm's trout cooked in a pecan crust ($22). The best table is next to the fireplace outside on the patio, but you won't care where you sit, provided that you end the meal with the poached pear stuffed with marzipan, drizzled in caramel sauce, and wrapped in pastry. Rainbow Trout Farm, 3500 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-5799, rod rental $1, caught fish $7--$10 each; The Heartline Café, 1610 W. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-0785, heartlinecafe.com.

14. Cool airport lodging: Sky Ranch Lodge is the best deal in town. Rooms are up on Airport Mesa overlooking the Rocks, with a pool from which you can watch the sunset. It's next to the tiny airport, but don't let that stop you. Only single-engine planes are allowed to fly in and out, and only during the day, so the noise is nothing to get too worked up about. Airport Rd., 928/282-6400, skyranchlodge.com, doubles from $75.

15. Baked is good: Sedona residents fought the Hyatt's latest development--a combination of time-share condos and shopping center--but many came around when a branch of the Arizona chain Wildflower Bread Company opened inside it. Wildflower has great coffee, popular breakfasts, sandwiches on their fabulous breads, and pasta for dinner. The line can be long, but you're likely to overhear local gossip. (Note: You may have to park at the neighboring Starbucks.) The Shops at Pinon Pointe, intersection of Hwys. 179 and 89A, 928/204-2223, sandwiches from $7.

16. Vortexes and vortices: One of Sedona's major draws is its vortexes (or vortices, depending on whom you ask). These are spots where believers claim the earth offers up a little extra zing: Effects can range from feeling highly caffeinated to experiencing a psychic moment. Locals are divided between eye-rollers and those who find themselves moved to tears; in any event, visiting the sites is another excuse to bask in Sedona's natural beauty. Such things being immeasurable, some argue there are 4 spots, others 13, but a definite one is at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, worth a look for its modern architecture alone. Any trail map will point you toward the vortexes. The Chapel, Chapel Rd., off Hwy. 179, about five minutes south of town.

17. Clarity for $5: Body Bliss Factory Direct sells locally made topical potions for whatever ails you, from sore feet to a broken heart. If the single serving of Need Some Clarity? bath oil ($5) doesn't do the trick, step into the store's spa for a 15-minute Gemstone Oracle Reading ($25) by owner Chanda Schmidt, who looks like a German Carol Alt. Schmidt is the patron saint of fidgeters, offering a tarot card reading where each pick corresponds to a gem that you're encouraged to fondle. "Most people listen better while they're holding something," she explains. May all fates be learned while pawing a giant ruby. 320 N. Hwy. 89A, Ste. Q, 928/282-1599.

18. Old masters: Sedona has a plethora of galleries, but they can't beat the rock art you'll see at Honanki, Palatki, and V-Bar-V Ranch, three U.S. Forest Service sites of Apache and Yavapai ruins with prehistoric pictographs and petroglyphs. Talk to the rangers at Red Rock Ranger District before going, since the sites can be closed due to inclement weather. Montezuma Castle, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the country, is another ruin worth checking out. Red Rock Ranger District, 928/282-4119, redrockcountry.org; reservations required for Palatki; Montezuma Castle National Monument, off I-17, 30 minutes outside of town, 928/282-3322, nps.gov/moca, $3.

19. Spicing up your life: Two casual spots that offer knockout food at bargain prices, Tara Thai Cuisine and Thai Spices deliver a level of spiciness that the southwestern cantinas don't come close to matching. Tara Thai, 34 Bell Rock Plaza, Oak Creek, 928/284-9167, entrées from $8; Thai Spices, 2986 W. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-0599, entrées from $8.50.

20. Turquoise with poise: Don't be turned off by the chatting deer sculpture on the lawn of Garland's Indian Jewelry, which encourages you to "spend some bucks." (Or at least get over it.) Because inside, there's a cache of new and estate jewelry that Georgia O'Keeffe would have coveted--you may be so lucky as to snag an $8 pair of earrings. Next door, Indian Gardens Country Store sells a nice bowl of homemade beef stew ($5). 3953 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-6632, garlandsjewelry.com.

21. Rojo Roco Rojo: Say it three times fast! Rojo Roco Rojo is an excellent local red table wine that pairs nicely with a sandwich of grilled chicken, Gruyère, and caramelized onions ($10) during lunch at the Wine Basket at Hillside. On Friday nights, the Wine Basket hosts a wine-tasting dinner ($30), when co-owner and gourmet chef Jason Marchese prepares tantalizing meals to complement that week's selections of international wines. Recent menus included tilapia and leg of lamb. Hillside Shops, 671 Hwy. 179 E., 928/203-9411, reservations required.

22. Single-track minds: Area bikers take umbrage when Sedona is called Moab Light. While the Utah city has a bigger reputation, "we've got more single track and diverse trails," says Shaggy, who sometimes helps out at Mountain Bike Heaven. In fact, professional teams come here for training before their spring opening events. Rent a bike at Sedona Bike and Bean or at Absolute Bikes, both of which are close to the Bell Rock Pathway and Mountain Bike Heaven, which also leads group rides. Sedona Bike and Bean, 6020 Hwy. 179, Oak Creek, 928/284-0210, bike-bean.com; Absolute Bikes, 6101 Hwy. 179, 928/284-1242, absolutebikes.net; Mountain Bike Heaven, 1695 W. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-1312, mountainbikeheaven.com.

23. No worries: The crime rate is essentially nil, no doubt thanks to the town's population, which divides neatly into wealthy retirees, artists in love with the light, and service workers on a spiritual quest--for whom stealing would be totally bad karma. While there is an occasional car break-in, one local swears that the culprits aren't delinquent teenagers but transients on their way to explore the Grand Canyon, only two hours away. (A number of local outfitters on the main strip run day trips, if you're not inclined to make the drive or arrangements yourself.)

24. A half-off farewell margarita: Take a quick turn off Highway 89A and you'll feel miles away at the Hideaway Café, which makes comfort food--pizzas, sandwiches, BBQ--perfect for the end of your adventure. The lounge upstairs allows smoking, while the restaurant downstairs has a heated patio. The Hideaway also occasionally features live entertainment, like a solo guitarist. Score a 20 percent discount with a coupon from the chamber of commerce and consider your $4 margarita half-price. Country Square Plaza, 251 Hwy. 179, 928/282-4204, sandwiches about $8.50.

25. Jeep thrills: Sedona Red Jeep tour guide Kurt Raczynski bypassed medical school, but he never relinquished his passion for science. On the 90-minute Soldier Path tour, you'll learn why the Rocks are red (iron in the sandstone), how Native Americans hunted antelope (speared 'em or drove 'em over a cliff), and that a tarantula bite only stings. "But the Mojave Green rattlesnake is toxic," Raczynski says cheerfully. "You could be dead in 30 minutes." And you'll also get to stop at this natural pool. Bad backs, take note: The ride is pretty bumpy. 270 N. Hwy. 89A, 928/282-6826, redrockjeep.com, $54.

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