Sedona is one of the most spiritual and scenic places in the US. Making the trip up to Arizona’s red rock country is one both locals and visitors make for a multitude of reasons. While many people only consider the end destination when planning a day trip, this particular drive is about the experience of the journey. Traveling along primarily the same route as the old Prescott to Phoenix wagon route, travelers will experience the joys of the ever-changing scenery as well as historic monuments from Arizona’s territorial days.
Once outside Phoenix city limits, folks get a real taste of one of the most beautiful deserts in the world, the Sonoran Desert. Named after the Mexican state of Sonora, this desert is lush with a diverse landscape of plants, trees, and cacti. The king of the cacti, the Saguaro (pronounced Suh-war-ro) dominates your view. Considered the icon of the desert this species of cactus, the largest in the world, only grows naturally in the Sonoran desert. Depending on the time of year you travel, you may be lucky enough to see one in bloom. The Saguaro cactus bloom is the state flower and only blooms for less than 24 hours so if you are lucky to see one, consider it a good omen for what lies ahead.
On your drive from Phoenix to Sedona, you will be climbing elevation the entire trip. Phoenix and the Sonoran desert rest at about 1,000 to 1,500 ft in elevation. Sedona comes in at about 4,500 ft in elevation so the scenery will be constantly changing. Just as you peak above the Sonoran Desert at about 3,000 ft in elevation you will be greeted by tall grasslands and wide-open plains. Looking around you will notice the abundance of mountain ranges on all sides. Arizona is the most mountainous state in the US so wherever you are, there’s sure to be a mountain range in sight. One particular range, the Bradshaws, will ride along with you to the west.
Had it not been for the discovery of gold, silver, and copper in this mountain range, Arizona may not have become the state as we know today. The US had very little interest in this region of the unexplored southwest at the time. They had their hands full dealing with the Civil War. With concern over these precious metals falling into opposition hands, President Lincoln declared Arizona a US territory in 1863 with the 1st territorial capital located not far from this mountain range in Prescott.
Traveling farther north and higher up the vegetation the landscape will diversify as the appearance of Juniper trees start to make their presence felt. Aside from just the wonders of the scenery on the way, you’ll notice off-ramps names from the Old West; New River City, Black Canyon City, Bumble Bee, Crown King, Montezuma’s Castle, Montezuma’s Well, Tuzigoot, Deadhorse Ranch and so on. Who came up with these names? Many of the odd sound places were former stagecoach stops on the old stage line. Other places, Tuzigoot, Montezuma’s Castle and Montezuma’s Well play a much more significant role when considering all of Arizona’s history. Dating back as far as 10,000 years ago these are significant to Arizona’s native people. Visiting these locations you get a sense of what life was like in ancient times.
On the final leg of the trip a few miles before exiting off towards Sedona you will see signs for Fort Verde State Historic Park. Another location that adds to the vision of life in the old west, this military fort was built to protect settlers from Apache raids as well serving as the base for General Crook. General Crook was tasked with relocating the native tribes to new locations negotiated by the US government, better known today as reservations. 4 of the original buildings still exist. With the locations of Montezuma’s Castle and Fort Verde just a few miles apart, it is very possible to experience architecture and daily life 11,000 years apart.
The journey is only the beginning. Headed off the freeway as you make your way into Sedona off in the distant mountain range you may notice some buildings resting hillside. This is the historic mining town of Jerome. Once the richest copper mining town in the entire territory with a working population of over 10,000 now sits a population of less than 500. One could easily visit both locations in one day.
Veering north you start to make your way into the village of Oak Creek. It’s very easy to get excited as the rocks and hills around start to turn to their iconic red color. The National Forest Red Rock Visitor Center and Bell Rock are the first 2 of many stops waiting to greet you but you’re not “there”……..yet. Both Bell Rock and the visitor center are worth a look but it’s a sample of the beauty and mystery Sedona has to offer.
Once you’ve got your fill of these locations you’ll continue north into Sedona’s city limits. If you look up and slightly to the right you may notice an interesting, almost out of place structure nestled into the hillside. That would be the infamous Chapel of the Holy Cross. Built in the 1950s, this landmark is a relatively young representative for the registry of historic places. Open year-round, this is one of the more popular attractions in Sedona. With a narrow 2 lane road and very limited parking it gets very hectic, very easy, so just be prepared for crowds and little to no parking.
The drive from Phoenix to Sedona is one of history and beauty. Let us take the hassle away from driving so you and your friends can enjoy the landscape and soak in all things this amazing state has to offer.