May 7, 2024

Sedona, Arizona; Guest Post: Discovering Sedona and the Arizona Desert: A 3-day itinerary

Guest Post

Discovering Sedona and the Arizona Desert: 
A 3-day itinerary

story and images by Iris Miller Stetson

vista and rocky trail at beginning of hike on Airport Loop in Sedona, Arizona
vista and rocky trail at beginning of hike on Airport Loop in Sedona, Arizona

Day 1

For years, I’ve heard how beautiful Sedona is.  I recently saw it for the first time with my life-long friend Susan, who I came to visit in Tucson.  She picked me up at the Phoenix Airport and we drove the 119 miles from there on to Sedona, which is quite a bit shorter than the 232 miles from Tucson.

As we approached Sedona, we saw red rock formations on the side of the road and knew we were near.

Though it was a Tuesday afternoon, cars were backed up for miles. While we were amazed by the beauty around us, we were horrified by the invasion of tourists. Sedona has about 10,000 residents, but it gets over 3 million tourists a year. We later learned from locals that Sedona is always overrun by visitors.

The Arizona Department of Transportation installed 12 roundabouts in the busiest part of town where most of the shops, art galleries, and restaurants thrive. It turns out they make it more challenging behind the wheel. Patiently, Susan kept us on the right road heading to the Sedona Southwest Inn, where we were booked for two nights.


Overnight Lodging in Sedona

Sedona Southwest Inn 

It was a challenge to find reasonable prices for lodging that provided two beds. During my online search I learned that most rooms were $600/night and up. We were pleased to find something that looked decent at $300/night. Located about a 10-minute drive from the center of town, our inn was quiet and the beds were comfortable, but I can only give it 3.5 stars (out of 5). It had a worn and tired feeling, was motel-like, and our room was not tidied after the first night.  But the price included breakfast and, though nothing special, it was adequate. 


Shopping in Sedona

TlaquepaqueArts and Shopping Village 

Once settled in our room, we ventured out to the nearby Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village. Though very touristy, I appreciated that this large outdoor mall is decorated in the style of its surroundings. But the prices were shocking. A visitor sitting outside a candy shop who was eating a small ice cream scoop pointed to the shop and exclaimed, “Their prices are ridiculous! Over $5 for this little scoop!!" I went into the candy shop but saw nothing that looked good enough or special enough to splurge. We then wandered into a shoe store and a few other shops and the prices reminded me of back home in California where everything is over the top. A lot of the shops at Tlaquepaque are nice, but nothing stood out. However, the weather was great so it offered a pleasant place to sit, browse, and walk around.


Dinner in Sedona

American Creekside Bistro 

Owned by the same folks who run the Mesa Grill, another well-known Sedona eatery, the American Creekside Bistro can be quite busy. Book dinner reservations in advance. Since we arrived early, I had time to wander around the Creekside Plaza where the bistro is located. It’s full of shops catering to those who come to Sedona for the vortexes. Sedona has lots of tours and stores just for those who visit in search of crystals, spirituality, and the promise of renewed energy from the assumed magic of a vortex. 

Like most of the places we went to, The American Creekside Bistro is very casual and the food is good. We shared an appetizer of Ahi Tuna Nachos made with spiced wonton chips, spicy aioli duo, mango, fresh ginger, and avocado. The main course was Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breast with lemon caper butter, asparagus, whipped potatoes, and dessert was a huge warm Peach Cobbler with caramel ice cream and whipped cream--this was one of the rare times that I couldn't finish something sweet. Overall, the food was plentiful and tasty, and since we shared everything the tab was extremely reasonable.

Peach Cobbler dessert at American Creekside Bistro in Sedona, Arizona
Peach Cobbler dessert at American Creekside Bistro in Sedona, Arizona

Day 2

A hike in Sedona

Sedona Airport Loop Trail   

After breakfast the following morning, we took road 89A to the Airport Road. This takes you to the Airport Vista Parking Lot where you can park for $3, cross the road and gaze out to incredible views from the Airport Scenic Overlook. 

Susan doesn’t hike but I do, so she sat at the lookout while I crossed back to the parking lot and found what I thought was the beginning of the Airport Loop Trail. I viewed a map but couldn’t determine how long the hike would be. I was wearing new hiking shoes with a good grip, my sun hat, jeans, a T-shirt, and light jacket. I had my phone and some cough drops but not much else. It was 11 a.m., and the temperature was in the 60s with a high expected in the low 70s. I’m used to walking 4 to 5 miles each day and, in my excitement to walk on the red earth and see the Sedona I came for, I foolishly took off without any water or knowledge of the trail. 

The day and scenery couldn’t have been more beautiful. At first, I passed a lot of people going the opposite way, and a very nice woman asked if I wanted my picture taken, so I posed.

The trail began along the road, and as soon as it veered off I saw incredible red rock formations but realized I had to also watch the path since it was so rocky. I knew I couldn’t capture this kind of beauty in a photograph, but I kept stopping to shoot pictures anyway. The vistas were breathtaking. 

red earth in Sedona, Arizona
red earth in Sedona, Arizona

I called Susan to let her know I didn’t see any markers and did not know how long I would be. When I got to what I suspected to be the halfway point, there were markers. I stopped and rested, gazing at the incredible mound of red earth and formations before me. Many fellow hikers were doing the same thing.

One marker indicated .6 mile to the end, so I called Susan again to let her know, that given the terrain, I expected to be back in an hour or so. It was noon.

As I journeyed on, the trail seemed to get rougher and more precarious in a number of places where the edge narrowed. There were slanted, slippery-looking rocks that I had to cross so I slowed down on those and carefully moved on.

cacti along Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona
cacti along Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona

I met many trailblazers. There were parents with children, and people with dogs on leashes.  I was often asked how I (a 76-year-old) was doing. I felt cared for by my fellow nature lovers. At various points, I’d ask people if they knew how much farther the trail went but no one did. Maybe we were all lost? And I kept thinking, “How on earth could I start out without water and not knowing how long this would take?" Then, I met the nicest woman with her husband and two boys. They offered me food and water. I accepted the water, and the woman said they’d be behind me. Somehow, I lost them, but in between calls to Susan I’d stop to look at the cacti and take short breaks under small trees that offered a little shade, where I’d drink a few sips of my precious water.

rocky trail at beginning of hike on Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona
rocky trail at beginning of hike on Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona

At one point, I was a little worried that I might be lost, but then I crossed paths with a woman who told me to look for a wire fence that led to the end and that it wasn’t far. I came close to two female deer and a very large buck. I’m used to deer and knew they’d run away from me, which they did. After that, I saw a slight fork in the road and came upon the wire fence. Soon, I heard people talking and saw houses on the other side of the fence. There was no marker, but I noticed a small gravel path that led up to a road. I followed it and found myself near the Airport Scenic Overlook, right across the street from Susan, who was waiting in her car. It was 1 p.m.

After gratefully rejoining my friend, and sitting for a few minutes and drinking more water, I visited a convenient porta-potty in the parking lot. On the way, I ran into the wonderful woman who had offered me food and water. We hugged as she exclaimed, “You made it!” There were so many guardian angels on the trail that day, all seeming to watch out for each other.

summit of hike on Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona
summit of hike on Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona

I know some people venture out on the Airport Loop Trail to see the sunset.  If you do, be prepared with flashlights, good directions, warm clothes, good shoes, food, and water. Rattlesnakes don’t come out until the end of April, and I didn’t see any lizards or jack rabbits, but make sure you’re well equipped.

Since my adventure, I’ve researched the trail.  I have found varying lengths, but I think it was about 4 miles, including that .6 mile which is the back end of the loop. I’ll never forget this experience. I was never scared—it’s too beautiful and demanding for that--though I am sorry to have alarmed my friend. If you visit, take in as much of the magnificence as you can, but don’t forget to pack along some water!


Lunch in Sedona

Indian Gardens Café and Market 

After my adventure, we headed to the Indian Gardens in Oak Creek, a lovely neighborhood away from the center of Sedona. It has a very pleasant outdoor patio, and the lunch menu offers sandwiches, salads, and other typical cafe fare. We shared a vegetarian sandwich and salad. The food was good and the prices reasonable. After, we visited the shop next door, Garland’s Indian Jewelry, where we browsed a wealth of beautifully crafted Native American baskets, jewelry, leather goods, vases, Kachinas, and etc.  


Jeep tour in Sedona

Arizona Safari Jeep Tours

We scheduled a jeep tour at 5 p.m. Though the Sedona Pink Jeep tours were sold out, we found a tour with Arizona Safari Jeep Tours. All their tours have ratings, like rugged, easy, etc., so we booked appropriately. Our tour from 5 to7 p.m. gave us a chance to see the color changes that come to the canyon at sunset. 

Our tour guide took us into Boynton Canyon. He explained how the red rock and earth of Sedona comes from the rust, or iron oxide, that formed from over 300 million years of volcanic eruptions and weathering of the elements. There is a high amount of iron oxide in the Sedona soil, which produces the red color. When combined with large deposits of quartz, this creates an enormous amount of magnetic energy in the area, and many people believe that this kind of energy is centered in the vortexes. Our guide stopped the jeep and used metal rods that bent down when they were hovering above an iron oxide and quartz rock, demonstrating the magnetic pull. It was fun and, as the sun began to set, we saw the red hills change to a beautiful golden hue.


Arizona Safari Jeep Tours in Boynton Canyon in Sedona, Arizona
Arizona Safari Jeep Tours in Boynton Canyon in Sedona, Arizona

Dinner in Sedona

Saltrock Southwest Kitchen    

After our jeep tour, we headed to dinner at Saltrock Southwest Kitchen at the Amara Resort & Spa. It’s upscale, but people dress casually. We sat outside, hoping for a clear evening to look up at the stars. But it was chilly. The accommodating staff brought us a heat lamp and warm blankets to wrap up in. There were no stars, but the excellent food included Blue Crab Empanadas, a Tiger Shrimp Tamal, and a fantastic Poblano Relleno. Again, sharing made the price for such good food and service quite reasonable. Try to eat here during the day when you’ll enjoy a fantastic view.


Day 3

Jerome, Arizona

glorious sky and Susan in Jerome, Arizona
glorious sky and Susan Eisen in Jerome, Arizona 

We left Sedona the next day and headed to nearby Jerome. Once a booming copper-mining town, its population now is about 450, and it’s sometimes referred to as a ghost town. The sky here is glorious; it is right up there with the best sky I ever saw in New Mexico.  Streets wind around on hills filled with shops that remind me of the hippie days. Parking is difficult, so we wound up heading back to Tucson for lunch.

Iris Miller Stetson on Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, New Mexico
Iris Miller Stetson on Airport Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Iris Miller Stetson lives in Oakland, California. An avid nature lover, she enjoys gardening and daily hikes. Iris is the author of “The Voice of Acceptance: A True Story About Abuse, Disability, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

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