Arizona’s mystical red rock paradise might be Colorado’s new desert escape.
The slickrock trails of—wait for it—Arizona.
For decades, Aspenites have flocked to Moab, Utah, for their shoulder-season desert fix. Increasingly, so have residents from Salt Lake City and Colorado’s Front Range. But, Moab’s surge in crowds has motivated more Aspen locals to seek out alternative desert destinations. Enter Sedona, Ariz.
The area’s red rock formations and mild, semiarid climate check the boxes for a desert escape, as do the more than 300 miles of biking and hiking trails. But the town, separated into West Sedona, Uptown Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon and the Village of Oak Creek, and all done in Southwest-style architecture, attracts a completely different desert dweller than Moab. Think new-age vortex seekers, haute hippies, yogis and metaphysical healers compared to the national parks crowd and RV/motorsports contingent flocking to Utah. High-end resorts blend tastefully into the landscape; world-class spas offer Native American-inspired treatments using indigenous materials; art galleries abound; and the food scene rivals anywhere in the Southwest.
While 600 miles separate Aspen from Sedona, the drive is doable in a long day (or direct flights link Grand Junction to Phoenix, a two-hour drive from Sedona). Towering red-tinged iron-oxide monoliths shaped by millions of years of sediment deposits and erosion stand at the entrance to town.
Sedona’s high desert appears almost lush thanks to a forest of Arizona cypress, pinon pine and juniper. North of town, Oak Creek Canyon’s fresh spring-fed creek flows through a tropical-like narrow gorge filled with sycamores, walnuts, alders, willows, flowering shrubs and wildflowers. High on the mesas and around the formations, ocotillo, prickly pear and hedgehog cacti line trails and root one firmly in the desert.
Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land, four wilderness areas and two state parks, Sedona’s recreation opportunities stretch as far as the imagination. Mountain bikers can access more than 250 miles of single-track trails—everything from the flowy and smooth to the techy and sketchy—without having to get in a car or catch a shuttle.
Hikers can easily access picturesque trails, some of which are off limits to mountain bikers and some of which lead to Sedona’s famous vortexes—places of intense energy where mysterious cosmic forces are said to emanate from the rock. People travel from all over the world to Sedona, seeking healing, meditation and self-exploration at the area’s four most famous vortexes: Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon.
Metaphysical belief or not, visiting the vortexes means spending time at the area’s most spectacularly scenic locations. If the only thing you take in are the views, the physical beauty of Sedona has the ability to recalibrate, recharge and restore.
The Red Agave Adventure Resort offers an intimate setting of two-story chalets and studios with views of two of Sedona’s iconic red rock formations. Well-known hiking and biking trails leave right from courtyard. Chalet from $279, 120 Canyon Circle Drive, redagaveresort.net
Cress on Oak Creek (301 L’Auberge Lane, lauberge.com/cress) features a prix fixe menu of locally foraged and handselected ingredients incorporated in savory courses served on the banks of babbling Oak Creek. Locals and visitors line up by 4:30pm every afternoon for a table at the award-winning Elote Cafe (771 SR 179, elotecafe.com), which serves authentic cuisine culled from chef/owner Jeff Smedstad’s 20-plus years of travel across Oaxaca, Veracruz, Puebla and his native Arizona.
Absolute Bikes (6101 SR 179, Ste. B, absolutebikes.net) rents Specialized, Pivot and Marin full-suspension mountain bikes, as well as road bikes, kids’ bikes and e-bikes. REI ($1,200, rei.com) offers a four-day Arizona Sonoran Desert Mountain Biking adventure trip with a small group and local guides staying at a private camp each night.
Photography by: Courtesy of Property