Take time to explore Red Rock country

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Many people visit Sedona, Ariz., only as a brief stopover on the way from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, but this oasis in Red Rock country is worth more of your time for its unrivaled natural beauty and for its arts and restaurants. And some believe it offers spiritual renewal at mystical New Age energy spots.

Don't believe the natural beauty claim? Surf over to the Chamber of Commerce -- www.visitsedona.com/ -- and click on "Videos & Live Views" for their "About Sedona Video" and "Live Sedona Views" of the Red Rock formations surrounding the town. They're worth the wait even if you have a slow dial-up connection. There are souvenir shops galore, but for a real treasure to remind you of your visit you'll want to scan "Arts & Culture" to learn about the galleries offering unique works by local artists and members of the Navajo, Hopi and other tribes of the Southwest. If you've ever admired distinctive Navajo weavings, be sure to hit Garland's Navajo Rugs -- www.garlandsrugs.com/ -- for its huge stock. And for a pleasant shopping stroll, go back to "Where to Shop" and look under "Shopping Centers" for the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village.

Before you decide to spend all your time in the galleries, click on "What to Do" to get an overview of the local tours, especially the Jeep tours, along with spas, recreation and sightseeing.

Did the videos jog your memory? Hollywood has been using the area for nearly as long there have been movies, especially for westerns, and it still is a background for numerous commercials. The Sedona Film Office --www.sedonafilmoffice.com/ -- has lists under "Film History" and "Recent Projects." John Wayne, Joan Crawford and Burt Lancaster are just a few of the stars who worked here.

All those scenic canyons and ridges threading through the area provide opportunities for great hiking trails, both inside and outside the city. The Coconino National Forest has a special Web site for Red Rock Country -- www.redrockcountry.org/ -- where you can click on "Maps & Brochures" to see how extensive the network is. Your best bet for seeing details is the map in "pdf" format and the downloadable Recreation Guide. Just remember, even though Sedona's elevation is higher than that of the desert city of Phoenix, it still gets hot on those trails in the summer.

For a side trip, the old copper mining community of Jerome -- www.jeromechamber.com/ -- almost became a ghost town but has evolved into a mountainside (the switchback roads are not for squeamish drivers) arts and crafts colony with a great view.

In the opposite direction, Flagstaff -- www.flagstaffchamber.com/ -- is a university town offering cooler, pine-scented air (elevation 7,000 feet) with the 12,000-foot San Francisco Peaks in the background.

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