I stood at the top of Cathedral Rock, overlooking the clutter of red rocks in the distance. Below, cars trailed across the landscape on pieces of gray ribbon, looping intricately around dull desert vegetation and more rocks. A strong wind blew, whipping locks of my hair against my lips and shoving me against a rogue cactus that had infringed onto the trail. It was thrilling, frightening, and altogether humbling.
This winter marked the seventh time I’ve visited Sedona, AZ in the ten years I’ve lived in the US. Doesn’t it get old? No. I don’t think it ever will.
Though often overshadowed by its close neighbor, the Grand Canyon, Sedona boasts its own array of breath-catching rock formations, Native American ruins, hiking courses, biking trails. By some it is reported to be a center of concentrated geomagnetic activity and source of strong energy vortexes. Whether or not this is true, the emphasis on spirituality and alternative healing modalities in Sedona have earned Sedona the nickname the “spiritual Disneyland.”
Only one Starbucks, one McDonalds (with sea-green arches instead of golden ones, because of city-regulated design guidelines), and one Cold Stone inhabit the small town. Instead, a series of fancy restaurants like Steak and Sticks (Mexican fusion, specializing in Buffalo wings and, you guessed it, steak), Cowboy Club Grille & Spirits (for your dose of cactus fries and green chili), and Picazzo (a mash up of Picasso and pizza—their motto is: “Where Pizza is Art”) replaces common food joints, offering gourmet meals to be enjoyed while admiring the red hills adjacent to the restaurants.
The arts scene is especially vibrant. An abundance of fine art galleries and boutique shops with handmade trinkets line the streets. Because of the rich Native American history in the area, Navajo rugs, Hopi pottery, and turquoise-studded jewelry are common and popular. But there are also hidden gems—my personal favorite galleries are collected at Hillside Sedona, which lies on the Southern part of the art district. Many pieces allude to the natural wonders in Sedona, but not all. Rose’s Elegance in Wood specializes in exquisite wood sculptures ranging from chess pieces to detailed model trains (they have seats inside and doors with latches). The Toneri Hink Gallery features Lynn Toneri’s pastel-toned nature art with RC Hink’s funky sculptures (think wine holders in the shape of cats and salt shakers with pig snout holes).
For more affordable gifts however, Uptown Sedona is the place to be. A handmade candle gallery, mineral shop, and rock-dyed shirt shops are all concentrated here; exotic yet inexpensive souvenirs adorn the display windows. Bronze statues line the walkways, portraying gallant horses, painters deep in thought, and playfully running children.
It may be hard to picture the earthy, rugged landscape in conjunction with the sophisticated airs of art exhibits and fine dining. But the appeal of Sedona is that it’s definitively elusive—it embodies both the mélange of culture and colors that border its streets and the unkempt, wild ranges of rock that lay without.