Tucked away 2½ hours north of Phoenix (2½ hours south of the Grand Canyon), Sedona’s terrain overwhelms the visual senses with a striking contrast in color and form. If the stupendous red sandstone rocks seem eerily familiar, it’s probably because they’ve co-starred as the classically rugged American landscape in recent SUV commercials and more than 70 Hollywood Westerns, chiefly filmed in the 1940s and '50s. Colossal cliffs, spires and cathedral-like buttes catch fire in the late afternoon sun, burning a deep crimson against a flawless blue sky. The magic is caused by eons of erosion and the iron oxide laid down in a shallow sea 375 million years ago.
The Sedona area underwent a rapid expansion in the 1990s, though it is generally conceded that too little attention was paid to appropriate planning and aesthetic zoning. Oak Creek (a few miles to the south) has been especially blighted by the heedless construction of shopping malls, gas stations and hotels, all jumbled together with no semblance of organization. The central point of Sedona is the “Y” junction of Highway 179 and Highway 89A, the busy road running from Cottonwood to Flagstaff. Turn left, and you come to the sprawling residential area of West Sedona, populated by many retirees and aspiring artists. Turn right, and you drive along Main Street past the Sedona Arts Center before entering the splendor of Oak Creek Canyon, where cottonwoods and wildflowers follow the twisting path of a stream between towering palisades of more than 2,500 feet.
Most of the stores, galleries and restaurants of note can be found along Highway 179 or in Tlaquepaque (pronounced “t-lockey-pockey”), a thoroughly charming Spanish Colonial arts and crafts village with a number of relaxing, sycamore-shaded plazas. Architecturally, Tlaquepaque may be a reminder of the warm Spanish world to the south, but in fact, Sedona is poised at 4,600 feet above sea level, halfway between the desert and the cool mountains. Summer temperatures average in the low to mid-90s, but winters can be cold with snow. April/May and mid-September to mid-November are particularly delightful times to visit, with daytime temperatures typically in the 70s, falling to the 40s at night.