There is something very different about hiking through the canyons and landscape of Sedona, Arizona.
In the fall, Sedona hits you. It gets inside you as any good place can, and it stays there forever, whispering for you to return. Deserts can do that; they have a kind of magic that arrives on a soft breeze in the night, daring you to look up at the stars and dream. This is the home of the people who roamed the wild hills before Europeans even set foot here: the Anasazi, a name coined by the Navajos that means “the ancient ones.”
High deserts are different than what you might imagine. The first time I came to Sedona, it was autumn. The palette of life’s color was on display: trees still mossy-green and covered in dew; turquoise rivers; velvety purple skies; and silver clouds, dark grey on the corners, filled with rain gathered around fiery mountains. The seasons come late here, but it rains in Sedona enough to keep life buzzing all year. In the winter, the rain gives way to snow. It’s an odd concept for some to think of snow and the desert, but somehow it feels natural.
I’m here again, and it’s autumn again, and there is a chill in the air; my breath billows in clouds around me and I feel instantly content. Coming from Los Angeles, it's nice to ease into the pace of Sedona. The tempo is a downshift from the city, and LA’s cacophony of sounds seems so far away. The air is crisp and quiet. You don’t need to rush off to see or do a million things.
The place I always begin is with the best view in town—at least, it is in my book—so I head north on the 89A and turn off at Airport Road looking for The Airport Overlook. I know the name is a bit of a let-down—it suggests to me noise and asphalt—but the 360-degree view is worth the drive. The view is impossible to miss, and I pull over as soon as it comes through my passenger side window. I wander down the short track that hugs tight to the hillside. It’s not a long trail, but it will get your blood flowing. I find a spot to take in the sun as it starts to set. If you’re a fan of photography or a passionate Instagrammer, this is the place in Sedona where you take a top-shelf sunset pic. But if you’re more about the experience than the pics, you can just sit and be part of the now while you watch the evening show.
Back at camp, I wrap up warm and sit by the fire with my Hot Toddy, gazing upward. I remember that the Anasazi used these same stars to plan their harvests. I know that I can usually catch a shooting star or two before I turn in early.
In the morning, the frost steams as the sun lazily stretches out over the hillside. The silence of these mornings, while I am sipping my tea, is why I come. It gets me thinking about those “ancient ones,” so I head off to seek them out.
It’s only a half mile or so worth of trail between the parking lot and the Honanki Heritage Site, or “Badger House” in the language of the Hopi. This is one of the largest prehistoric pueblos in the Verde Valley, and some structures date back more than 2000 years. It's a short walk rather than a hike—a flat start with a slight incline towards the end, up to the former dwellings of some of the oldest known inhabits of the area. While I walk, my mind tries to follow in their footsteps; how did they live? What did they love? And why did they decide to carve their homes into the face of this mountain?
The Anasazi people disappeared mysteriously from the area only 50 years after they built these structors, and nobody really knows what happened to them. So, I guess my questions will go unanswered, but I can imagine, as I wander the pueblo, what their life there might have been like.
Back in the car, I head south on the Forest 525 Road toward Fay Canyon Trail—a 2.2-mile out-and-back saunter. Today, I am all about the landscape. My feet on the flat terrain tap out a drum-like beat as I meander deeper into Box Canyon. It’s a flow that leads me quickly to the halfway point, about a mile in, where I turn off and take a steeper path to a rock arch and a lookout. I sit for a time and contemplate the curved, soft stone, carved by the weather into this unusual shape. I return to the main path and, as always seems to be the case, get to the end a little too soon. There is a secret here that makes me think about something that Cheryl Strayed said: “When the path reveals itself, follow it.” In this spot, if you push past the trail’s end for about another 100 feet, you hit a perfect plateau with a stellar view.
There are so many hikes in Sedona that I love. Bell Rock is a 4.2-mile moderate excursion that takes about four hours; West Fork is 6.3 miles out and back, and is probably one of the most iconic trails of all; but if you love a challenge, Devil’s Bridge Trail is up there on my top things to do, taking you to a phenomenal view across the Arizona landscape from Devil’s Bridge.
In the evening I drive to the Cowboy Club in the historic center of town and sit at the bar eating my dinner and talking to the locals. The place is just enough ciche to make it fun and not too much to feel like and amusement park, not to mention great food. I can’t believe that I already have to pack up camp and get going tomorrow but not before I check out a few crystal shops and find myself a new piece of jewellery for my collection. The trip seems to have end all too soon but I know its only a matter of time before I find myself on the road again, head east towards the vibrate colors of this high desert oasis.
Originally Posted in Rova Magazine February2019