Town of Sedona & Cathedral Rock - Sedona, Arizona
Updated: Feb 17
After visiting Petrified Forest National Park, we left the town of Holbrook early morning the next day and headed to Sedona. It's just about a two-hour drive - it can be longer depending on how much you want to stop along the way. We did stop, may times, how can we not since we drove the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, one of the Top 5 Most Scenic Drives in America it is claimed.
There is plenty to see in and around Sedona. We probably need to keep coming back here, or maybe live there and join the flock of "snowbirds" who spend their winters in Arizona. But with so many beautiful places to explore, just in the United States alone, we haven’t been back since our last visit. As I’m writing this, I thought it is probably time to visit again.
But first, let me talk about the Oak Creek Canyon. Some people catch up on sleep in between destinations, but they are missing a lot of those interesting experiences on a road trip. Some might find the scenery boring, but look closely and you will be surprised at what you might find. Nature after all has many interesting features, if you care to look.
OAK CREEK CANYON
The canyon is about a 14-mile drive along Route 89A, located between the cities of Sedona and Flagstaff. This National Scenic Byway is a picturesque winding road (it climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona to the top of the Mogollon Rim), which you can descend or ascend either from Flagstaff or Sedona.
Oak Creek Canyon is located within the Coconino National Forest, and portions of the canyon have been designated federal wilderness areas, part of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. The United States Forest Service operates several campgrounds, picnic areas, and recreation areas within this canyon.
In the canyon, you’ll cross the 200-foot Midgley Bridge. Near the bridge is a parking area with a good view of the bridge and the canyon. We just had to stop and investigate. Bridges fascinate me and my husband Hermann - the design, how and where they built. The surrounding area of Oak creek Canyon is a beautiful background for this bridge.
Midgley Bridge is named for a rancher, businessman, and good-roads advocate Major W.W. Midgley. The 200-foot-long, steel-arch bridge spans Wilson Canyon. This bridge is a popular picnic site. I can believe it since it offers beautiful views of Mitten Ridge and the surrounding red rock landscape. It is also the trail head for some hiking trails in Sedona: Wilson Canyon Trail (1.2 mile), Wilson Mountain Trail (12 miles), Huckaby Trail (5.3 miles).
The construction of this bridge started in 1930 when the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) began upgrading the route through Oak Creek Canyon. It served as the final link to State Highway 79 connecting Phoenix and Prescott to Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon and Flagstaff. This bridge is a highly used road and an architectural landmark. In Oct. 8, 2014, Midgley Bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary.
RED STONE FORMATIONS
When traveling you will find interesting facts about the places you visit and what makes the place extraordinary and special. One of these places is Sedona. As we drove near, we could see the natural landscapes the town is famous for - the colorful rock formations.
Sedona is located at the southern end of the Oak Creek Canyon. It straddles the county line between Coconino and Yavapai counties, in the northern Verde Valley region, near Flagstaff. Located in the Upper Sonoran Desert of northern Arizona, it is a desert town surrounded by red-rock buttes (Steam Boat Rock, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock and many others), steep canyon walls and cliffs and pine forests.
The city of Sedona is located just at the base of the Mogollon Rim (layers of geological stone). The Mogollon Rim is an escarpment that stretches from across the center of Arizona, from northwest to the southeast. The escarpment is about 2,500 feet high. Lava covered this area in the last 8 million years. When it cooled, it formed a cap on the surface called basalt, a black rock, then was covered with other volcanic rocks.
You wonder why these rock formations have different layers. It's one of those nature's wonders. Time and earth's many geological changes created many layers of different stone, and at one point covering the entire Sedona area. They were eroded over the years and formed these amazing landscapes we see today.
The area around Sedona was at sea bottom 330 million years ago, and the shells of sea creatures formed a layer of limestone which became a foundation called Redwall limestone. It is dark brown and 300 to 600 feet thick containing marine fossils.
The second layer is the sandstone, or Supai Sandstone (a red bed deposit of sedimentary rock), deposited during the Permian Period, when earth’s major landmass was still a single super-continent known as Pangaea (between 280 and 300 million years ago).
Over time, more layers of different stone accumulated on top of each other: Hermit Shale, Schnebly Hill Sandstone, Coconino Sandstone, Toroweap Formation, Kaibab Limestone, Moenkopi Formation, Rim Gravels and Basalt (lava) Cap.
Although not all of these layers are present in Sedona, the Schnebly Hill Formation can only be found in the Sedona vicinity. It is a thick layer of red to orange-colored sandstone (due to the presence of hematite, an iron oxide otherwise known as rust). Exposure to the elements caused iron to oxidize or “rust,” resulting in red, orange, and brown-colored rock - a chemical weathering of natural minerals.
The city of Sedona is built near the top of the Hermit Formation or Hermit Shale, consisting of soft, easily eroded sedimentary rock (siltstone, mudstone, sandstone and shale), a dark rust colored layer about 300 feet thick formed 270 million years ago.
SEDONA’S FIRST INHABITANTS
In addition to marine artifacts, there are human artifacts found from the first inhabitants in Sedona as well. The first documented human presence in the Sedona area dates to between 11,500 and 9000 B.C. These were the Archaic people, the hunter-gatherers. They left an assortment of rock art in places near Sedona such as Palatki and Honanki. After them came the Sinagua people known for their pottery, basketry and masonry. They left rock art, pueblos, and cliff dwellings (Montezuma Castle, Honanki, Palatki and Tuzigoot). The Yavapai came after them, the nomadic hunter-gatherers. Then came the Apache groups, a nomadic or semi-nomadic people.
The Yavapai and Apache tribes were forcibly removed from the Verde Valley in 1876, to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Later, about 200 Yavapai and Apache people returned to the Verde Valley in 1900, and have since intermingled as a single political entity although culturally distinct. They contribute to the arts and culture of Sedona today.
CENTER OF TOWN
Arriving into town we got to explore the shops of course. The beautiful shops are calling, waiting to be discovered. I don't have to buy, I just want to see what they have (my all time excuse), but who can resist with all the beautiful items spread out and displayed in front of you.
Sedona is one of our favorite towns. It was established in 1902 but did not become a popular destination until the 1960’s. It was named after Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly (1877–1950), the wife of Theodore Carlton Schnebly, the city's first postmaster. She was known for her hospitality and industriousness.
Sedona is noted for its mild winters and hot summers; no wonder this place is popular. The negative side is the heavy traffic and the crowds in summer. I guess it is the same in any popular places you go to anywhere in the world. I know not everyone has the flexibility of traveling like we do, but we avoid traveling during peak seasons for a better experience.
Sedona bustles with shops and art galleries, as well as gourmet restaurants. You won’t get hungry or thirsty or be lacking for souvenirs to take home. The diverse culture (spiritual healers, mountain bikers, hikers, artists, nature photographers, film makers) has something for everyone.
Shopping or window shopping is an experience by itself. There are plenty of beautiful specialty products, from wine, arts & crafts, jewelry shops to crystals for spiritual healing. You won’t be able to resist buying something. We sure couldn’t resist buying the local wine. They do have good local wine selections, as well as plenty of wineries and vineyards or tasting rooms you can visit if you have the time.
OUTSIDE OF TOWN
After exploring shops, we drove around and explored the many rock formations and viewing points we could find outside of town. The landscape here is simply spectacular, something you can only find in the western United States.
There is something extra ordinary about the desert landscape isn't there? It's not only about the rock formations but the vegetation as well. Together, it creates an amazing vista and plenty of photo opportunities. Aren't you glad we are not using film anymore?
Arizona is desert country, but plants thrive here: Yucca, Agave (or century plant), Mormon tea Juniper, Creosote Bush (Chaparral), to name a few. These plants are not only drought tolerant but were also known to have medicinal uses with native Americans.
We didn't hike the first day (that was scheduled the next day), but there was plenty to see, even if you are not a hiker. Drive around and explore other areas not just the popular sights.
Sedona has seven natural wonders (Cathedral Rock, West Fork Trail. Devil's Bridge, Oak Creek Canyon, Airport Vortex/Mesa, Bell Rock & Boynton Canyon), but not all of these afford easy access.
One of the easy access points is the Cathedral Rock. This is one of the most popular sights in Sedona, due partly to its proximity to the highway. Another is the Bell Rock.
After checking the viewpoint at Schuerman Mountain, we drove down to Cathedral Rock, following the Upper Red Rock Loop Road, to Chavez Ranch Road then to Red Rock Crossing Drive to Forest Park.
Cathedral Rock is a natural sandstone butte located at the south side of Sedona. Looking at the massive rock, it does resemble a cathedral, carved from the Permian Schnebly Hill formation. It was at one time called "Court House Rock" - not to be confused with Court House Butte which was once called "Church House Rock".
There is a 1.2 mile back trail up to Cathedral Rock, short but rated as difficult. But we didn't have enough time, so we just walked in the park following Oak Creek and took some pictures at several viewpoints of the rock. This trail is accessible year-round. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on leash.
For hikers, the Cathedral Rock trail head can be accessed from the Back'O'Beyond Road. There is a small trail head parking area. It can also be accessed from Baldwin and Templeton trails. The small parking lot is not free and often fills up by mid-morning. But you can park on verges and on a stony stream bed further along the road.
We ended our first day quite satisfied, and were looking forward to do some more exploring the next day. That's when we did a little hiking, visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross (a landmark of Sedona) and checked the Vortex area where they say you can get healing energy. It is famous among spiritual seekers, artists and healers which we are not, but we decided to check it out anyway.