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RVing Sedona Arizona: Red Rock Canyons, Hot Air Balloons and Ancient Dwellings
Red Rock Formations Near Sedona
Entering Sedona for the first time, colorful cliffs rise up along the highway in brilliant reds, white and gray. Driving north in our RV on the Red Rock Scenic Highway (Route 179), every turn brings a new view of the colorful red rocks surrounding Sedona. Giant rock formations shaped like bells or stately mansions guarded the hills overlooking the town. Many of the rocks have been named and we passed Bell rock, Courthouse Rock and other well known red rock formations.
Roundabouts Make for Tricky Driving in an RV
My husband, Bill, guided our motor home into the town while I snapped pictures through the windshield thinking that I might never see as beautiful views again. Little did I know that Sedona is surrounded by amazing rock formations in every shade of red and orange. As I was busily capturing the scenery, my husband was trying to maneuver our 33 ft. motor home and towed jeep around the many roundabouts in town. Obviously built without consideration for the motor homes and recreational vehicles that would one day have to negotiate them, the roundabouts were a challenge to his driving skills. We could see many black tire tracks running over the curbs where vehicles didn't quite make the circles as they were meant to do.
Sedona's Psychic Energy
Sedona was settled in 1876 as a small farming community, but by the 1950s artists discovered the area and a thriving art colony grew up in the town. The unique beauty of the Red Rock Country was enhanced by the belief in mystical qualities of the town.
It is believed that there are vortexes in the area that release psychic energy from the earth. There are four particular areas around Sedona where it is believed the vortexes are strongest: the entrance to Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock and at Airport Road. Believers say that the stronger the energy, the more twisted the Juniper trees and branches in the area. It's easy to believe this is true when, during your walks among the rocks you come across the ancient and twisted trees. Many of the New Age shops around Sedona have information on how to locate the vortex areas. They say that you can feel the energy surrounding you when you enter one of them. Whether this is true or not, only you can say, but it is certain that the red rock formations are inspirational and provide perfect settings for relaxation and meditation.
What is a Vortex?
Cycling Around Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona
Photographing Red Rocks Around Sedona, ArizonaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Guides to Sedona Arizona
Coconino National Forest and Red Rock Country Information.
In order to park on National Forest Land, you will need to purchase a visitor's pass and display it in your vehicle. You can purchase the pass at the visitor center on Route 179 or in many of the parking area pass vending machines. Passes cost $5 a day or $15 a week. You can use your America the Beautiful Pass, Golden Age,
and Golden Access in lieu of purchasing a pass.
For more information about the Coconino National Forest and Red Rock Country visit the Coconino National Forest Visitor's Center on Route 179 outside of Sedona. See the visitor site at: http://www.redrockcountry.org/
For those who are planning to camp in Coconino National Forest, either stop in to the Visitor Center or check out this website for more information: http://www.forestcamping.com/dow/southwst/coco.htm
Coconino National Forest Dispersed Camping
The Sedona area is virtually surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. While there are private campgrounds around Sedona, we always prefer to park our RV in National Forest or Bureau of Land Management land because it is more private and usually much more scenic (and much cheaper!). On our way into Sedona on scenic highway 179, we stopped at the Forest Service visitor center to get information about camping on National Forest land.
Coconino National Forest Camping
The Coconino National Forest actually has several developed campgrounds around Sedona, but many of them are not suitable for a motor home as large as ours. If you plan to camp in the Coconino National Forest, be sure to ask about size limitations in the campgrounds and about the roads leading to the campgrounds. During our drive into Oak Creek Canyon, we investigated two of the other National Forest campgrounds along 89A. They were both wooded and very nice for tent camping, but the large boulders which lined the narrow camping spots would have made parking a motor home or trailer difficult.
We chose to camp in one of the less forested dispersed camping areas about 10 miles south of Sedona. The area is located off Route 89 South on 525 (a dirt road). Luckily, we chose to park our camper in the second area we saw which was only about two miles down the dirt road. Later, when we explored with the Jeep, we discovered that the road beyond our camping area was very rough. Not only were the camping spots few and far between, but the road turned into an incredible dusty washboard. Worst of all, the first place where you could turn a rig our size around was about 2 miles farther up the road. We were SO glad that we didn't drive any farther with the motor home!
Dispersed Camping in Coconino National Forest
Hot Air Balloons In Camp
When we set up our camp near a wide open area, we were the only people there and were quite delighted with our privacy and beautiful views of the Verde Valley. Imagine our surprise when we woke up at 6:30 the next morning to the sound of voices behind our rig! We were even more surprised to see about 50 people milling about setting up hot air balloons to be inflated!
It turned out that the commercial companies that give balloon rides over the area use the spot for their balloon launches. It must be a wonderful experience to ride high about the red cliffs and giant rock formations and look down on the town and the beautiful valley. It was easy to sense the excitement of the passengers as they watched their balloon being inflated for their trip.
A Hot Air Balloon Photo Op
I was so excited that I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera and dashed out the door to get a close up look at the whole operation. It was fascinating to see the balloon crews first filling the balloon with air, then heating it with what looked like a giant blow torch. In a few minutes, the balloon was upright and attached to the basket. The passengers boarded, and they slowly lifted off the ground and floated away into the cool morning light.
The Hot Air Balloons Take Off Behind Our CampsiteClick thumbnail to view full-size
Exploring Oak Creek Canyon
There are many opportunities to view the beautiful scenery around Sedona including some spectacular drives. The Oak Creek Canyon drive north on Route 89A is one of the most beautiful in any season.
Although there are many places to eat and shop in Sedona, once you are a mile or two out of town, you will rarely see restaurants. Before we left Sedona, we filled our Jeep's tank with gas and packed a lunch as well as some drinks and snacks. I was glad,too, that we filled a thermos with coffee, as the day got colder as we went into the higher altitudes. Sedona is located about 4000' while Oak Creek Canyon drive climbs steadily until it reaches over 6000'. It does make a difference in temperature!
Scenic Route 89A - NOT for RVs!
Route 89A is a fairly narrow 2 lane road. There are many turnouts where you can see views of the brilliant red cliffs as well as the beautiful streams and mountains. Several miles north of Sedona, the road climbs steeply and there are some very sharp switchbacks. Believe the signs at the beginning of the drive when they say no trucks over 50 feet! This is not the place to take your large motor home or trailer!
Native American Crafts at Oak Canyon Vista
We visited Sedona in mid-March, just at the beginning of the tourist season. Even at that time, there was a lot of traffic on route 89A and many of the parking areas were crowded. The last one we stopped at before turning around and heading back to Sedona was the Oak Canyon Vista. It has a big parking area and a very nice overlook with spectacular views of the canyon. We also enjoyed looking at tables of crafts which were set up by local Native Americans displaying handcrafted jewelry, pottery and other crafts. I was especially intrigued by pottery made with white clay that had horsehair fired into it. There were also some lovely necklaces and bracelets with juniper seeds worked into the designs. I was pleased that the meanings of different stones and seeds used in the jewelry was explained to me when I purchased some as gifts.
Oak Creek Canyon via Scenic Route 89A, Sedona ArizonaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tuzigoot National Monument
Tuzigoot National Monument is a several story pueblo ruin on top of a ridge overlooking the Verde valley. The pueblo was built by the Sinagua people in the early 12th century. There are 110 rooms in the ruin which was excavated and restored by the University of Arizona in 1937. We arrived at Tuzigoot on a beautiful, clear warm day in March. As we walked up the hill to view the ruins, we could see beautiful views of the Verde Valley all around us. It was easy to understand why the Sinagua people chose this vantage point for their home. The ruins have been carefully rebuilt using the original stones that were found during the excavation.
Unlike many ancient dwellings, the public is allowed to walk very close to the walls and into parts of the dwelling. We enjoyed climbing the interior stairs to the top floor where we could see the Verde River and surrounding valley. We could just imagine the Sinaguans working and raising their families in this beautiful spot. Unfortunately, the museum here was closed for renovation during our visit, but seeing the pueblo close-up was still well worth the drive.
One of the mysteries of the Sinagua people is their disappearance. Tuzigoot, along with Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well was abandoned about 400 years before the first Europeans arrived in the area, and there is no sign of them reappearing in another area. Archeologists speculate that they might have been wiped out by their enemies or by disease, but there is no solid evidence of either.
Tuzigoot National MonumentClick thumbnail to view full-size
Montezuma National Monument
Not very far from Tuzigoot is Montezuma Castle National Monument. It was originally, and mistakenly, believed that the castle belonged to the Aztec emperor, Montezuma and the ruins were named for him. Actually, Montezuma was never in this area, but the name stuck. The castle is nestled into a sandstone cliff a hundred feet above the Verde Valley. It is a 5 story high, 20 room dwelling that was also built by the Sinagua people in the 12th century. Although the public is not allowed to walk into the ruins, there are good views of the cliff dwellings from the walkway below and an informative museum in the Visitor's Center.
Montezuma Well National Monument
To complete our day of visiting National Monuments, we went on to Montezuma Well National Monument. The Well is a large pool with dwellings built into the wall. Although there is not a visitor center here, there is a nice paved path from the parking lot up the hill to overlook the well. The well is fed by an underground source that has yet to be pinpointed. The water is a consistent 76° year around.
Because we enjoy visiting many National Parks and Monuments, we have a National Parks Passbook which we stamped in the Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Wells National Monuments.
Montezuma Castle National Monument and Montezuma Wells National MonumentClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sedona's Beautiful Red RocksClick thumbnail to view full-size
For More Information on the National Monuments around Sedona
Tuzigoot National Monument
100 Main St.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
527 S Main St, Camp Verde
Camp Verde, Arizona
Montezuma Well National Monument
Located 7 miles northeast of Montezuma Castle
Camp Verde, Arizona
Our experience in the Sedona, Arizona area was delightful, with new things to see and do each day. We saw hikers and mountain bikers along the trails, and enjoyed reading signs advertising psychic readings, aura photography and New Age shops. While we were more interested in exploring the Red Rock area and the National Monuments, there are many attractions for those who prefer shopping, browsing art galleries or investigating the New Age mysteries. Someday we'll return to see a whole different facet of Sedona.
Meanwhile, if you go, I'd love to hear about your experiences!
Copyright 2011© Stephanie Henkel
Photographs by Stephanie Henkel
All photographs in this hub are the exclusive property of Stephanie Henkel. Please do not download or use them without my express permission. Thank you!
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