48 Hours in Sedona, Arizona
The hustle and bustle of Phoenix is a world away from nearby serene Sedona.
If your image of Arizona is the mall-sprawl that radiates in all directions from Phoenix, head north. You don’t realize how steadily you’re climbing until, 90 minutes later, you step out of the car. Here, at almost 5,000 feet, Sedona’s famous sculpted mesas (horizontal and flat-topped) and buttes (which jut up vertically) glow beautifully in the afternoon sun. Breathe in, exhale, and your shoulders instantly drop two inches.
Chain hotels abound, but check in to L’Auberge de Sedona. Though it’s right in town, it’s tucked quietly below street level on Oak Creek. Get a cabin right on the creek, complete with outdoor shower, and you’re in a little world of your own.
A great way to orient yourself is by hopping the Sedona Trolley tour, which deposits you at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It’s a stunning structure, inspired, weirdly, by the Empire State Building. It rises heavenward out of twin buttes and overlooks the elaborate estate of Ioan Cosmescu, a medical inventor whose patents made him a fortune. In 1956 the chapel cost $300,000 to build. Cosmescu’s koi pond alone is rumoured to have cost $1 million. God and Mammon, side by side.
Sedona is full of New Age enterprises, but the real draw is the age-old setting. The desert is time made visible, and the striations of red sandstone, tan sandstone and grey basalt speak of eons. “That sandstone’s eroding at the rate of one inch every 600 years,” our tour guide, Jeff, tells us. “In 58 million years, all these buttes and mesas will be gone. So you’ve come at the right time.”
For dinner, it’s back to L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek, where executive chef Rochelle Daniel turns out outstanding treatments of pine-smoked venison, ricotta tortellini and Jidori chicken breast. Go for it: order the tasting menu, with expertly chosen wine pairings. This is fine dining at its best: original, balanced and precise. At sunset an astronomer, Dennis Young, sets up a powerful telescope on the roof of the adjacent parking lot. If you don’t know your Venus from a hole in the sky, he’ll guide you across the light years. Enjoy a leisurely nightcap in the bar, then head back to the cabin, where a fire’s been laid. Strike a match, then drift off to the scent of juniper and the sounds of a burbling creek. Bliss.
For breakfast, head to local favourite Coffee Pot, where the 101 omelettes on offer range from the ridiculous (jelly, peanut butter and banana) to the sublime (feta, olive, tomato and onion). Don’t worry about calories: you’re going to burn them off. This is superb hiking country. The 200 miles of well-marked trails, ascending mountains and traversing canyons are a major draw. They run the gamut from child’s play to downright gnarly; all have in common lovely views superseded, again and again, by even lovelier ones. Among the most rewarding: Cathedral Rock Trail, Devil’s Bridge Hike, Bear Mountain Hike and Fay Canyon Trail.
You’ve earned a late lunch on the patio at the gorgeously situated Enchantment Resort, and then a treatment at their Mii Amo Spa. Go with the Vibrational Massage and you’ll be introduced to “specially blended oils that vibrate with the frequency of the seven energy centres of the body” (60 minutes, $160). Chakras revitalized, you’re ready for aura photos, “multi-generational intentional readings” and crystal therapy at the many New Age shops in town. Retail therapy more your thing? Head to Tlaquepaque, an arts and crafts “village” where you’ll find everything from jewellery and fine art to handmade rugs and blown glass. If the cobblestones and adobe walls feel Mexican, it’s because the place is a re-creation of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, near Guadalajara.
Pop in to Oak Street Brewery and Grill for a craft beer or two. Then head to dinner at Elote, a plain but outstanding Mexican spot that will reward your patience if the no-reservations policy forces you to wait. (Try the adobo lamb shank.) Nightlife is not Sedona’s strong suit—virtually nothing’s open after 9 p.m.—so head out of town for more stargazing: the celestial show is spectacular. In the moonlight you may even spot a javelina, the sturdy, boar-like rodent that works the desert night shift.
A short day trip. A meandering 40-minute drive takes you out of the canyon and onto the Colorado Plateau. Presto!—you’re in Flagstaff. The city’s a sort of cowboy Portland—an authentic Western town, bisected by Route 66, built on cattle and lumber, now full of college kids, fun bars, cafés and shops. The Lowell Observatory is well worth a stop. (It was here in 1930 that Pluto was discovered.) And don’t miss the lovely Museum of Northern Arizona. It’s a model of what a museum should be: informative, engaging, brisk and beautifully curated.
Brix, which may be Flagstaff’s best restaurant, is open only for dinner, but sister room Criollo serves great tacos (try braised duck or ground bison) that make for a happy brunch. The historic downtown is easily strollable, with scores of shops offering everything from cool Balinese furniture and housewares at Animas Trading Company to the MEC-like bounty at Mountain Sports. If mere window-shopping tires you, remember you’re at 7,000 feet, as high as the summit of Whistler.
Time, alas, to head back to Phoenix. Ears pop on the gradual descent through the ever-shifting shadows and hues of the desert. If you’re lucky, your flight path will take you back over Sedona and the Grand Canyon—one last look at some of the most starkly memorable country on the continent.