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A Spiritual Red Rock Playground (Sedona, AZ)


By Jennifer M. O’Brien

Full of old Southwestern charm and New Age funk, Sedona, Ariz., dazzles scenery-junkies eager to catch a glimpse of a red-smeared moonscape-type atmosphere: corral-stained red rock giants jut out to a desert blue sky as if reaching out in prayer.

The locals — a colorful cast of characters from cowboys to artists to eccentric New Agers — have affectionately christened the monolithic rock formations with names like Snoopy, Woodstock, Teapot, the Giant Thumb and E.T.

Just about 100 miles from Phoenix (which is best approached after a spectacular, nail-biting drive through the mountainous region of Jerome), Sedona offers travelers the best of Old World meets New. Hacienda-style villas, ranch-style abodes and modern hotels and resorts — including the Radisson's Poco Diablo if golfing is your bag — all blend into the rock like masterfully planned by American architecture idol Frank Lloyd Wright.

Like something out of a surreal sci-fi flick, Sedona (named after Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly in 1902), offers visitors not only a unique viewing experience (thanks to the many buttes and mesas that take up residence in the arid desert heat), but it offers a sense of spiritual tranquility that Native Americans, particularly the Navajo, have long recognized.

Many tourists come to experience, and even attempt to feel, the various energy vortexes located in and around the red rock region. A host of tour companies, including "Spirit of the West," and "Pink Jeep," offer half-day or full-day vortex tours to sites like Bell Rock, which gives visitors a breathtaking view of the valleys, desert environment and canyon/mountain ridges off in the distance.

While in town, spectacular sights to see include the Chapel of the Holy Cross church (a must-see for even the most non-religious soul on the planet). The church is craftily sculpted into the red rock hills, and offers a good glimpse of the surrounding terrain: a colorful array of red, orange, pink, beige, brown and green all commingle with the intensity of the crisp, clear desert sky. The local Sedona trolley company stops at the church along with a host of other local area attractions.

But Sedona is more than just scenery and "energy" centers. The artist community is alive and well and offers visitors great shopping excursions. Another must-see is Tlaquepaque, an art area of cobblestone, narrow Spanish-style alleyways, which combines shops, galleries, spiritual stores, and cafes — all located in a secluded enclave in the hills at the site of the first Post Office.

The main drag is also not to be missed. It's lined with independent-owned boutiques (carrying everything from books, clothing, trinkets and cowboy paraphernalia), and features a whack of southwestern restaurants, the most famous of which is the Cowboy Club famed for its Prickly Pear alcoholic concoction. The "alien-inspired" Red Planet diner is another funky, fun hangout for a kookier dining experience.

And while I went to Sedona, Arizona to find emotional healing after a busted-up relationship, what I also discovered was one of the most beautiful cities in North America: a surreal red rock playground that offers eye-popping scenery. Indeed, at the end of my southwestern journey, I felt a great giggle and awe of nature unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

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