Deep blue skies, captivating landscapes and a mountain of activities enthrall groups in Arizona’s Red Rock Country.
When it comes to selecting a location for a group trip, you’ll find Sedona, Arizona, two hours north of Phoenix, brimming with possibilities. This vibrant town of 10,000 attracts 2.8 million visitors each year, and there are good reasons why.
First of all, the Sedona area enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine each year. While that is certainly a big draw, there are more compelling reasons. Ringed by magnificent red rocks and unspoiled national forests, Sedona, at an elevation of 4,300 feet, is a land of timeless beauty. Over the centuries, erosion has sculpted the surrounding rocks into creations of spectacular form and color, leaving dramatic buttes and mesas. Scientists believe this region has undergone numerous cataclysmic geological events and has seen varied landscapes, including an ocean, a dry desert and dramatic volcanic eruptions.
Oak Creek Canyon
The centerpiece of Red Rock Country is Oak Creek Canyon. State Road 89A winds a lazy course down the length of Oak Creek Canyon to the north of Sedona. You can stop at one of the many overlooks, picnic areas, swimming holes or hiking trails along the highway. At Midgely Bridge, there’s a vista point with an especially unforgettable backdrop. Rand McNally considers this two-lane road to be the eighth most scenic drive in the country.
More than 50 hotels, resorts and timeshares, plus 20 bed and breakfasts—with 3,800 rooms total—dot this area and provide a high standard of overnight accommodations.
One such resort is the eight-acre Poco Diablo Resort on SR179 offering 137 rooms, most with private patios or balconies, as well as larger rooms with fireplaces. A complete nine-hole par 3 golf course is located in the center of the complex, as are lighted tennis courts, a fitness center, heated outdoor pool and whirlpool, the Poco Diablo Spa (owned and operated by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation), a library, conference center, restaurant and cocktail lounge.
There are eight national or state parks within a few miles of Sedona, including Dead Horse State Park, Jerome State Historic Park, Red Rock State Park, Montezuma Castle National Monument, Tuzigoot National Monument and Fort Verde Historic Park featuring a fort dating to 1871. The Grand Canyon is two hours north of Sedona.
With numerous things to do in and around Sedona, you’ll want to plan your group’s itinerary carefully. Besides the downtown Sedona with its many shops, there’s quiet Tlaquepaque Village, an upscale shopping experience grouped around large sycamores, charming buildings and bubbling fountains reflecting the spirit of Old Mexico. The village includes art galleries, specialty and Southwestern jewelry stores, and eateries.
Pink Jeep Tour
A fun way to see the red rocks up close is to take a Pink Jeep Tour through the majestic Canyonlands. On the three-hour “Ancient Ruins Tour,” the 700-year-old Sinaguan cliff dwellings come alive as your guide reveals the customs, myths and legends of this native people. The company’s custom-built, open-air jeeps can take you on a variety of area tours of varying lengths and interests.
Other outdoor activities include fishing in Oak Creek, hunting where allowed, interpretive programs at the Red Rock Visitor Center, camping and backpacking, and hiking the numerous trails throughout the region. Trails that backbackers enjoy include Long Canyon, West Fork and Dry Creek. There are more than 300 miles of trails in the area for hikers, bikers and equestrians.
Several museums and heritage sites are located in the Sedona area. You can see rock art at the V Bar V Heritage Site, and investigate more rock art and cliff dwellings at the Palatki Heritage Site. Sedona also has its own heritage museum, which tells the history of pioneers who settled the region.
At the Chapel of the Holy Cross, perched on the side of a mountain, you can experience a place of wonder and renewal. The chapel’s most prominent feature is a large cross that juts out of the hillside; the chapel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Verde Canyon Railroad
Just a few miles away in Clarkdale, the Verde Canyon Railroad offers a four-hour narrated excursion into Arizona’s “other” grand canyon. Historic diesel locomotives and a long string of comfortable passenger cars, some that offer plush first-class seating together with beverages and a complimentary buffet, make daily trips into Verde Canyon. The unspoiled scenery, much of it accessible only by rail, features spectacular rock formations, Sinagua Indian ruins, river habitat for eagles and other wildlife, and unique railroad structures. The railroad offers group and charter rates for parties of 20 or more. A private cupola caboose can be tacked onto the train and be chartered by parties of six or more.
If you want to organize a fun evening at a Western dude ranch, the Blazin’ M in nearby Cottonwood can accommodate small or large groups. The ranch has a replicated Western town with storefronts such as the Copper Spur Saloon and the Red Garter Old-Tyme Photo Shop. There are also cowboy activities such as rope lassoing and a shooting gallery, and you can chow down on a chicken-and-ribs chuckwagon dinner and enjoy a knee-slapping, Western-style music show.
Eating choices in Sedona? Numerous restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries are scattered throughout the business district. For dinner, your group will want to try Creekside Restaurant on State Route 179, a hot spot that serves international delicacies from around the globe. The menu features trout, salmon, duck, rigatoni, lamb and ribeye steak. With a large wine selection, including red and white wines from Argentina and Spain, cocktails and beer, this restaurant is a crowd-pleaser.
For breakfast or lunch, the Red Rock Cafe on Verde Valley School Road serves up hearty meals in a friendly atmosphere. Be sure to try the cafe’s giant cinnamon roll, which is called “three pounds of happiness.” The cafe has been featured in Arizona magazine as one of the top 50 restaurants in the state.
In the historic mining district of Jerome (“America’s Most Vertical City”), a few miles from Sedona in the Black Hills, visitors can tour the mining museum to learn how the largest copper mine in Arizona produced 3 million pounds of copper every month. Today the town, a photographer’s paradise, is a thriving tourist and artist community.
The impressive red rocks, mild climate and long list of activities available will make any group’s Sedona stay memorable. With equal parts ruggedly Western and equal parts “resort-style,” Sedona can claim numerous enticements.
If you go…
Many travelers to Arizona arrive in Phoenix at Sky Harbor International Airport, which is served by such airlines as American, United, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, British Airways, Southwest, and Spirit. The spacious Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix situated in the scenic North Phoenix Mountain Preserve, offers four choices of accommodations, several dining options including the unique Different Pointe of View Restaurant overlooking Phoenix, a Falls Water Village with poolside cabanas, a full-service spa, a golf course that can accommodate large or small groups, and 65,000 square feet of conference space. Contact the resort at 602-866-7500.
By Don Heimburger
Photos by the Author