Riveting Red Rocks Rich Natural Beauty of Giant Formations in Sedona, Ariz

Article excerpt

Byline: Victor M. Andino and Alliniece Andino, Times-Union staff writers

The giant red rocks of Sedona, Ariz., are breathtaking and fill the eyes with their grandeur and mystery born of millions of years in the making. But it's not until you get closer and crawl around on top of them that you begin to appreciate just how rich this land is.

Sedona is nestled within the Coconino National Forest in northeastern Arizona. Just reaching the tiny city (pop. 14,000) via Route 89 affords views along a winding road of lush forests and steep valleys. As you approach the center of town, the red rocks loom around you. The layers of color within the rocks are evidence of eons of time and the massive pressure of rock upon rock. The famous red color comes from the iron in the sand.

Like finding familiar shapes in the clouds, Sedona has names for its giant rock formations: Ship Rock, Snoopy Rock, Coffeepot Rock and The Sphinx, to name a few. The centrally located visitors information center has handy maps and brochures to point them out.

You can gaze at the rock formations on a walk from just about any road in Sedona, but the entrepreneurial spirit has provided many ways to explore them. Several companies in town offer tours by Jeep, helicopter or airplane.

We wanted to get up close and personal, so we went with the Pink Jeep Tours company. For $40 per person, we were given a two-hour scenic trek that brought us 2,000 bumpy feet above Sedona.

The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the town, the geology, the plants and the animals. She told us she collects rocks (no surprise there) and rescues snakes she sees injured. Our ride to the top of the Mogollon rim afforded great views of the town. But her knowledge of the local plant life was so riveting, we often found ourselves fascinated by the plants growing right at our feet.

She spoke of the banana yucca, which native tribes once used for the amazing tensile strength of its string; the shaggy bark juniper with a bark so soft it was used as diapers for the Indians; and the beauty of the manzanita's delicate bell-shaped petals. In April and September, visitors get the added treat of seeing the wild lilac and desert lilacs in bloom.

The next day we took another Pink Jeep tour (they offer at least seven tours, depending on what you want to do, this one was $60 for 2 1/2 hours) that brought us to the ruins of the Sinagua Indian tribe. More than 500 years ago, the Indians built their homes into the rocks, using them for protection from the weather and their enemies. Our guide that day pointed to rooms high in the face of the rock that he said had been used to store food or were used as shrines.

It was fascinating to see the symbols, called pictographs, painted on the rock from mud. The ability to stand on the same spot where those Indians must have stood is a rare treat. Here, you are able to come nose to nose with a true historic artifact in its natural environment, instead of looking at it through a museum display case.

The detail is so rich, our guide could point out the fingerprints still visible in the mortar of the walls the Indians had built to protect their cliff dwelling.

Sadly, the site's openness makes it vulnerable. …