SAND DUNE ADVENTURES IN SEDONA
"Whatever you do, please don't write about vortex or new age stuff!" I was standing in a Sedona supermarket, chatting to a local in line at the checkout, and had just disclosed I was a travel writer when she delivered this earnest request. The vortex stuff' was nonsense, she added a real estate ploy that had gotten way out of control. Her warning: avoid the vortex at all costs.
I'd come to this city of 10,000 to check out the red rocks for which it is famous, and quickly learned I was one of some two million visitors who arrive into town each year for precisely the same reason. Some go hiking up and around the red rocks, others choose mountain biking, helicopter flights or jeep tours on the dusty roads. But there's also a good number who are only too happy to partake in the new age stuff' I'd been warned of - an industry spawned from the notion that vortexes or spiritual energy points cluster around Sedona, enhancing prayer and meditation. Vortex tour brochures touted everything from spiritual growth and self-improvement to yoga and transformative personal experiences at those sites.
But you either believe in that stuff, or you don't and since I don't, I headed out on a bumpy pink jeep tour for a better view of the monolithic red stones that have made Sedona a tourism magnet. And it's no exaggeration to say this - they truly are magnificent. The first time you glimpse them, as you head towards Sedona on Highway 179, you could easily be forgiven for distracted driving. You round a corner and there they are: striking, massive, dignified and unmistakably fiery red.
I learn that these are sand dunes that rise up to 6,592 feet into the sky. The rocks get their blazing hue from hematite, a reddish form of iron oxide deposited as water seeped through layers of ancient sandstone, millions of years ago. Time has carved multi-layered spirals, hills, buttes and camelback shapes into the sandstone. The dunes extend their arms into the sky as if gesturing heavenward, creating a vivid backdrop that can't help but startle and amaze you.
With our jeep bumping over rocky terrain in the Coconino National Forest, just minutes from Sedona's bustling retail strip, our guide pointed out agave plants, prickly pear cactus and Arizona cypress trees. Though it may look dry and arid, Red Rock country is biologically rich, with a range of different plant communities that support a huge variety of wildlife, from herds of javelina to fox and coyote, bears, elk, badgers and roadrunners. For archaeologists the land is a living museum, littered with fragments from the past, including pottery shards dating back to the Sinagua people who resided in the area until 1400 AD.
Later, I hit the highway for Flagstaff to try Flagstaff Extreme, an adventure treetop experience. I admit, I was scared when I strapped on a harness and climbed ladders into the upper reaches of a Ponderosa pine tree forest. But after a few minutes of navigating through the forest using innovatively constructed swings, ziplines and bridges, my confidence soared. The wind was blowing through the treetops as I banished my fear of falling and focused instead on balance, confidence and trust in the safety equipment. After completing each of the five levels of adventure, an exhilarating wave of achievement washed over me, propelling me forward.
On my final day in Arizona I joined Mary McDowall for an ATV tour a half-hour from Sedona in Prescott National Forest. The owner of Arizona Offroad Tours, she took our group 25 miles into the hilly Verde Valley, pointing out desert willows, manzanita, hollies and other desert shrubs along the way. "This is one of the most beautiful parts of the state," she said, gesturing at the million acre forest around us and the mountain plateaus in the distance. Clambering on the spanking new ATVs we powered up a dirt road, then took a sharp turn and zoomed noisily along a meandering, dry creek bed created by the swirling waters of flash floods during monsoon season.
It was a striking contrast to the boutiques and gift shops we'd been browsing a day earlier in Sedona. McDowall agreed. "You go to Sedona, you're going to see Ferraris," she said with a shrug. "It's touristy. But if you're an outdoor person, this is the place for you, because there's nature everywhere."
IF YOU GO:
For jeep tours contact www.PinkJeepTours.com or call (800) 873-3662
Horsin' Around Sedona offers 90-minute trail experiences starting at $98. Info: www.horsinaroundsedona.com; (800) 403-1690
Arizona Offroad Tours offers guided tours in Prescott National Forest starting at $46. www.myarizonaoffroadtour.com or call (928) 451-1777
Flagstaff Extreme courses start at $49 for adults and $25 for kids. Info: www.flagstaffextreme.com or call (888) 259-0125
Stay: The writer was a guest at Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa; www.sedonarouge.com (866) 312-4111
General Info: www.visitsedona.com; (800) 288-7336
PHOTOS Captions & Credits
1. Sedona's red rocks are mesmerizing in their beauty, inspiring romance, reflection and pure awe. Photo: Lauren Kramer
2. A Pink Jeep tour is a great way to learn more about the geology, plants and wildlife of Sedona. Photo: Lauren Kramer
3. Flagstaff Extreme will test your mettle but is an exhilarating place to step out of your comfort zone, push your limits and catch the breeze from the heights of a Ponderosa Pine forest. (photo cred: Flagstaff Extreme)
4. Flagstaff ExtremeTravel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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