From Red Rocks to Slot Canyons: Astounding Arizona

Stunning Sedona.
Stunning Sedona.

Recommended Time: 5-7+ Days

Earlier this year, I got to visit one of my favorite places on earth for the very first time. Arizona is completely and utterly amazing. The week we spent in the desert was one of the most profound of my life. I’d never seen anything like it—the red rocks that seemingly rose out of nowhere. The canyons carved out of the ground by mighty rivers. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful place.

We started our trip by flying into Phoenix International, renting a car, and immediately heading out of the city. We wanted to stop at a few national monuments en route to Sedona. The first was Montezuma Castle, which was pretty remarkable. To think that people chiseled out the side of that mountain centuries ago is pretty amazing. It’s definitely worth a stop, as is nearby Tuzigoot National Monument, offering scenic views of the surrounding desert landscape.

Road winding through the red rocks of Sedona.

But it was the drive from Tuzigoot to Sedona that had me literally gasping at the views. The colors of the earth shift, becoming deeper—richer. The red rocks start to poke out of the ground, reaching skyward. And then you’re there—in Sedona—where it’s as if God took a paintbrush and dotted the landscape with colors you’d only expect to see in some exquisitely detailed watercolor.

Make sure to spend a few days in Sedona. You don’t want to plan to stay for an evening, then drive away the next morning, watching the red rocks in your rear-view, knowing there’s so much you left unexplored. From scenic hikes to off-roading adventures, Sedona has an adventurous side that you’ll want to take some time to delve into. Check out my city guide for the best activities, restaurants, and places to stay.

Next, make your way to the Grand Canyon, a mere two hours north. Perfect for a day trip, or a week-long camping adventure, the Grand Canyon offers an experience for every type of traveler. We spent the afternoon gazing over the rim, marveling at the layers of rock formations, and the tens of thousands of years of history held within them. It’s an incredible place—something that often tops the bucket lists of amateur travelers everywhere—and as well it should! No picture could ever do it justice. You need to stand in its presence to truly appreciate its magnitude. Just go there. Trust me.

You can see for miles.

You can see for miles.

A fun side jaunt is Page, Arizona. A ridiculously small town in the upper northeast corner of the state, Page is about a 2-hour drive from the Grand Canyon, via one of the most isolated stretches of road you’ll ever come across. It’s all on Native American land. You’ll go miles and miles without seeing anything. We wondered to ourselves who in the world would ever stop at the roadside stands you’d see set up occasionally—but somehow they were always deserted. There’s one town about halfway down this road between Page and Flagstaff—and it’s still about 20 miles from that exit. I don’t remember ever feeling that isolated.

Page boasts several natural wonders that make the journey well worth the trip. We reached Horseshoe Bend at sunset. This is the place where the Colorado River makes a 270-degree turn, forming the shape of a horseshoe. It’s one of the most tragically beautiful places I’ve been. (I read a fun fact that it has the highest suicide rate in Arizona because people think it’s the perfect spot from which to pass into the next life). It’s a hike from the road, but the dramatic views make up for that. Sit and marvel at the beauty before you.

The main reason people make the trek to Page is to visit Antelope Canyon, just outside the town. It is the most photographed slot canyon in the world. Unlike the Grand Canyon carved into the earth and witnessed from above, visitors walk into Antelope Canyon, and light dances on the canyon walls. At high noon during the summer months, light beams travel to the floor, creating an environment straight out of photographers’ dreams. It’s a remarkable place, and luckily because all the natural beauty is above your head, you are hardly bothered by the hordes of tourists surrounding you—and your images are virtually people-free!

Arizona is truly an incredible place worth some exploration. We would have loved to have had time to continue on to Las Vegas, or more National Parks in Utah. If you have the time, make the multi-day drive from Phoenix to Salt Lake City, stopping at every National Park along the way. When we mapped it out, our possible route would take us to eight!

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, Sedona.

Have you been astounded by Arizona? What other stops would you include a road trip?

Check out our other road trips: Maine, Maui, Florida, California, and the Finger Lakes.

Places

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, East Sky Harbor Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ, United States

Places

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde, AZ, United States

Places

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States

Places

Sedona

Sedona, AZ, United States

Places

Grand Canyon, South Rim

Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon Village, AZ, United States

Places

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend Parking, Page, AZ, United States

Places

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ, United States

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, East Sky Harbor Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ, United States

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde, AZ, United States

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States

Sedona

Sedona, AZ, United States

Grand Canyon, South Rim

Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon Village, AZ, United States

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend Parking, Page, AZ, United States

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ, United States

Off-Roading in Sedona with Pink Jeep Tours

Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.
Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.

Doug beamed with pride as we reached the summit of our first viewpoint, Sedona red rocks towering above us in every direction. “And this is the view from my office!”

Enjoying the view from Submarine Rock.

Enjoying the view from Submarine Rock.

It’s hard not to be excited about your job when you are completely surrounded by immense beauty such as this—and fresh perspectives from tourists each day to make sure you never stop appreciating how lucky you are to enjoy the view.

Doug grew up on the Broken Arrow Trail. He knows every curve of it—every bump in the road. He can drive it in reverse (and yes, he’s done it!)—but he has yet to test the theory that he can do it in his sleep. It’s home for Doug. Each day, an adrenaline rush as he takes people on an off-roading adventure they won’t soon forget.

Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.

Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.

I first heard about Pink Jeep Tours when our friends at The Constant Rambler visited Sedona and took one of the tours. It sounded awesome, and I knew it would be a highlight of our visit to the area. But I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of their tagline: “You Gotta Do It!” Having spent a handful of years working in tourism marketing, I equated this generic—and a tad presumptuous—phrase to the dreaded “there’s something for everyone!” But now, having experienced this for myself, I can whole-heartedly say that when it comes to Pink Jeep Tours, you really “gotta do it!”

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You can’t drive down a road in Sedona without seeing an open-air Pink Jeep loaded with happy passengers off on their adventure. For more than 50 years, Pink Jeep Tours has been showing people the very best of the history, nature, geology, and, of course, the stunning vistas of the Southwest. In fact, when the company was founded in Sedona in 1960, it became the first Jeep tour operator in the United States. Today, Pink Jeep Tours sees more than 300,000 guests each year, and offers lots of tour options in Sedona, Las Vegas, Scottsdale, and the Grand Canyon.

And don’t be fooled by the hue of these Jeeps. They mean business! Designed for “rock crawling,” they are custom made to traverse the rocky landscape of this trail—even going down a 45° angle at one point in the tour! But why pink, you wonder? During a visit to Hawaii, Pink Jeep’s founder was struck by the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s choice of color—which permeated everything from the building to the staff uniforms. Pink isn’t a color you’d expect to see in that context—and it’s not a color you forget once you’ve seen it. Soon, pink became the signature color of Sedona’s favorite tour company.

Broken Arrow Trail was the first—and is still the most beloved—tour offered by Pink Jeep Tours. If you want an authentic, down-and-dirty, off-roading experience, this is the tour for you! While there is definitely a lot of action during this 2-hour tour, there is also plenty of time to get out and enjoy the crazy stunning views that greet you in every direction. Highlights of the tour include stops at Submarine Rock and Chicken Point, driving on top of some red rocks—something only Pink Jeep Tours is allowed to do—and taking one perilous journey down the Road of No Return.

The Road of No Return

The Road of No Return

During your trip to Sedona, do yourself a favor and take a Pink Jeep Tour. It’s a unique way to explore those famed red rocks, and your tour guide will take your on an adventure that’s sure to be a highlight of your trip. If your guide is anything like Doug, they know how lucky they are to get to explore the back roads of some of the most beautiful country every single day—and they are excited to share it with you.

Me and Doug

Me and Doug

Climb aboard and hold on tight! It’s going to be a bumpy, beautiful ride!

What to know if you go

The Broken Arrow Trail takes 2 hours and costs $95 per adult ($71.25 per child, 12 years and under). Make sure to reserve your seat in advance!

 

 

Places

Pink Jeep Tours

Pink Jeep Tours - Sedona, AZ, State Route 89A, Sedona, AZ, United States
(800) 873-3662

Pink Jeep Tours

Pink Jeep Tours - Sedona, AZ, State Route 89A, Sedona, AZ, United States
(800) 873-3662
https://www.pinkjeeptourssedona.com/

Our Guide to Sedona, Arizona

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.
Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.

There’s a saying among the locals: “God created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona.”

I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of amazing places in my young life. From the snow-covered Alps in Switzerland to the Na Pali Coast of Hawaii, I’ve been to many moving places. But there was something about the colors of the desert—the way those red rocks stretched into the sky—that spoke to my soul.

The more I travel, the more I try to live in the moment and to appreciate my surroundings. I couldn’t help but stare in awe at the enormity of the rocks that dotted every landscape, in every direction, for as far as the eye could see.

It started with the drive into Sedona. Driving down State Route 89A was like becoming one with some beautiful painting. It was probably the most distracted I have ever been behind the wheel. I couldn’t stop saying, “Oh, wow!” as I stared off in every direction.

Stunning red rocks.

Stunning red rocks.

Over the next three days, I became completely and utterly enchanted with the colors of the desert. I couldn’t take enough pictures of the same rocks, and I couldn’t manage to sit and stare quite long enough to soak it all in.

I was so sad to leave this desert oasis to move on to other Arizona sites, that when presented with the opportunity to return on our drive back, we cancelled our reservations in Flagstaff (after checking into our hotel!) and leapt at the opportunity to spend another 24 hours in Sedona.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Here’s our guide to one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.: Sedona, Arizona.

Where to Play

Pink Jeep Tours: Do NOT go to Sedona without taking a ride on the Pink Jeep! For more than 50 years, this company has been giving people access to some of the most beautiful off-the-beaten-path spots in Sedona. Take the famous 2-hour Broken Arrow Tour for some stunning scenery, and an off-roading adventure anyone from the casual traveler to the adrenaline junkie will love. ($95 per person; other tours available).

Red Rock State Park: With 286 acres to explore, and lots of daily activities, this place is a must-stop on any Sedona adventure. Check with a ranger to help determine the best trail for you to follow, given time constraints and desired activity level. They’re great, and will help you pick the perfect trail for your visit.

Storm over Red Rock State Park.

Storm over Red Rock State Park.

Take a Hike: There are more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails in Sedona. It’s just what you do when you’re there. I’m not a huge fan of hiking, but even I had fun on a handful of trails: Yavapai Vista Trail, Bell Rock Pathway, Airport Loop, and Soldier Pass Trail. There are no bad views in Sedona. What’s great about all these trails is that you don’t have to wait for your reward until the end. All of our hikes took twice as long as they probably should have, since I had to stop every couple of minutes to take more pictures of the dramatic, ever-changing landscape. Make sure to look up info on trails before you go out—some are marked better than others, so it’s good to do a little research before starting your hike.

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Where to Stay

$$$ Hyatt Pinon Pointe: This was a beautiful resort hotel in the middle of downtown Sedona. It was very conveniently located, which made it easy to park your car and walk to the shops and restaurants. We stayed for three nights, and enjoyed using the pool and hot tubs—which had incredible views of the mountains. We liked staying here, but be prepared to get the spiel about listening to a timeshare presentation.

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$$ The Orchards Inn of Sedona: We spent our last night in Sedona at this hotel—and we wish we’d spent all of our time here! They were having a 40% off deal, and we got a King Suite with INSANE views of the red rocks for $130. The room came complete with a balcony and a fireplace. There is a complimentary breakfast at the Mexican restaurant across the parking lot—something hard to come by at Sedona hotels. This place, too, is located in the heart of downtown.

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$$$$ Enchantment Resort: We didn’t stay here, but we talked with a lot of people who were staying at the resort when we went to eat dinner there. Everyone was thoroughly impressed—and why wouldn’t they be?! This place is tucked away, back in the midst of towering red rocks. Located about 20 minutes from downtown, this is an isolated paradise—a prime place for relaxation and some serious stargazing. With lots of restaurants, amenities, and a full-service spa, if you want to be pampered, there’s no better place to stay in Sedona! We were impressed by the very chill vibe this place exuded—unlike the ritzy L’Auberge de Sedona.

Where to Eat

$$$ Elote Café: Serving “creative, out-of-the-box Mexican cuisine,” this place is insanely popular—and insanely good. Go early! It opens at 5 p.m. (Tuesday through Saturday) but people start lining up at 4:30 p.m. By the time we got there at 6 p.m., there was an hour and 45 minute wait! We stuck it out, and OMG, are we glad we did! Whatever you do, order their namesake appetizer: fire-roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime and cotija cheese. Everything is so delicious, you’ll want to buy the cookbook just so you can have it all again. We did!

$$ El Ricon: Located in the Tlaquepaque shopping center, this restaurant serves “Arizona-style” Mexican cuisine. While most of the food was mediocre at best, they served the best beans and rice I’ve ever had at a Mexican restaurant! Oh—and try a prickly pear margarita, but beware they’re a little on the liberal side with the tequila! Whew!

Lunch at El Ricon.

Lunch at El Ricon.

$$ Cowboy Club & Silver Saddle Room: The Cowboy Club is one of the oldest eateries in Sedona, and played host to the likes of John Wayne and other movie stars who filmed in the area, and is credited as the birthplace of the Cowboy Artists of America. If you want to try some desert cuisine, this is the place to do it. From cactus fries and buffalo chili to—yes—diamondback rattlesnake, you can try so many things you thought you’d never want to see on a plate.

$$$$ L’Auberge de Sedona: I had high hopes for this place. It’s rated extremely high on TripAdvisor, and appears to be one of the most beautiful spots in all of Sedona. With outdoor dining by Oak Creek, who wouldn’t want to sit outside and listen to the babble of the brook while you dine on gourmet dishes?! I think circumstance had a lot to do with us not loving this place. It’s attached to a very expensive resort, so the clientele has lots of money, and doesn’t mind flaunting it. That always leaves us a bit cold. Spurts of rain kept us inside, and although I’d looked at the menu online, I didn’t realize it was pre fixe, starting at $80 per person. We weren’t that hungry, so we had to sit at the bar, and order off a different menu (although you can select one entrée from the fancy menu to share, if you’d like). Much like the atmosphere, the food was pretentious, and apparently when you’re banished from the dining room, the service goes downhill rapidly. We enjoyed our prickly pear mocktails and got out of there. The grounds really are beautiful, but if you want to go, just know you’ll be paying a pretty penny for the experience.

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$$-$$$$ Enchantment Resort: Unlike L’Auberge de Sedona, this place didn’t make us feel like outsiders. On our last night in Sedona, we decided to go have appetizers and drinks fireside—in the midst of the gorgeous scenery I’d seen online. We ate at Tii Gavo, one of a few restaurants open to people not staying at the resort. We ordered—you guessed it—prickly pear margaritas, and Kobe beef sliders, which were awesome! We spent a fantastic evening talking travel with new friends we made sitting around the fire. Several of us broke out our Google Sky Map app, and started pointing out constellations and planets.

Dinner at Enchantment Resort.

Dinner at Enchantment Resort.

Where to Shop

Uptown Sedona: Whether you want fine art or a Sedona sweatshirt, you’ll find it in this shopping center at the intersection of Arizona 89A and 179. Both hotels we used were very close to this spot, and we spent a handful of hours walking up and down the charming blocks. Make sure to take a break from all that window shopping to try some prickly pear ice cream at Black Cow Café, and the to-die-for chocolates at the Sedona Fudge Company—don’t worry, you can’t miss it. The tantalizing scents wafting through the door will entice you inside!

Shopping in Sedona.

Shopping in Sedona.

Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village: If you have a free afternoon, stop by this charming little shopping “village.” Beautifully landscaped, Tlaquepaque features more than 40 shops and galleries, representing the work of some of the finest artists in Arizona. Be prepared to spend some serious cash if you want to take home a treasure from your time in Sedona. Kyle and I always buy an art *print to remember our trips. The key word there being print! I’ve never had so much trouble finding a copy of a painting versus the $3,000+ original. You’re made to feel like a bit of a cheapskate if you can’t quite spring for the authentic painting or sculpture. There are even layaway programs at some of the galleries so you can have whatever piece of art “speaks to you.”

Contrasting light and shadow.

Contrasting light and shadow.

Have you ever been to Sedona? What would you add to our lists?

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