Most people recognise the US state of Arizona by the red dust and cacti dominating the landscape. But in Sedona, a neighbouring city to the capital Phoenix, LYNN ELSEY discovers an oasis that will turn you green with envy.
Driving the two hours from Phoenix to Sedona across the US state of Arizona is a good way to reset your mindset. The highway winds its way through a classic wild west landscape – iconic saguaro cacti as far as the eyes can see, deadmen’s gulches galore, and ancient cliffside dwellings in limestone cliffs. Then, suddenly, you turn a corner and emerge in an oasis.
Sedona is a real-life desert nirvana. At 1326 metres above sea level, cooler temperatures, splendid plant life and dramatic red cliffs shimmer against a crisp blue sky. It’s an idyllic scene that has been attracting seekers of renewal and rejuvenation to the area for decades.
Locals call it a cathedral without walls. And whether you are seeking physical relaxation or mental solace, Sedona fits the bill.
Nature lovers have long relished Sedona’s majestic red rock formations, towering mesas, dazzling buttes and meandering trails. In recent years, however, a new-age mysticism has added a drawcard to the weather-beaten geologic shrines. Those seeking alternative healing can immerse themselves in aura-reading, crystal therapy or – the Big Kahuna – a “vortex experience” with the red rocks, which are said to emit special spiritual and cosmic energy. Twisted trees indicate the presence of this natural electromagnetic earth energy.
The Amara Resort and Spa is an ideal base from which to maximise your enlightenment – whatever your leanings. For starters, it favours an almost secret location, just below Sedona’s bustling main drag. This makes getting out and about remarkably painless as you conveniently bypass the hordes of American and international tourists.
Once you arrive at the front entrance, the town disappears – it’s replaced by a soothing, friendly ambience. The resort was designed with a focus on Sedona’s iconic landscape in mind: the ever-sublime red rocks. The rooms, restaurant and infinity pool all face outward toward the most popular of the city’s majestic rockfaces. The babble of Oak Creek, at the base of Amara, adds a soothing background theme. You can connect further with Sedona’s soul via the resort’s activities. Explore the landscape with mountain bikes and outdoor summer stargazing or settle into slower-paced activities like free yoga classes.
After a long morning of driving and exploring, the resort’s creekside suites are a welcome way to revel in the creek and red rocks without any distractions. Amara’s resort-wide design focus on Native American heritage adds another layer of calm, from the hand-crafted headboards made from local fallen trees to the muted earthy colour scheme. It would be easy to curl up with a book or enjoy a glass of wine on the patio. But there’s more spiritual awakening to tick off first.
We opt for a short hike – because Sedona is a hiker’s nirvana. Google “Sedona’s 10 best hikes” and you see the problem – there really needs to be a Top 10 of the Top 10. Our choice, Soldiers Pass, was apparently divined by the hiking gods: stunning vistas, a winding red dirt trail, a cosmic sinkhole. It’s like we are walking through a film set – except it is real.
Back at the hotel, we are torn between succumbing to the outdoor jacuzzi or visiting the spa’s relaxation room and steam room. Maybe both. My husband is working up to trying out the agave-based drinks menu with a quick dip in the infinity pool. All before we check out the hotel’s array of Southwest-inflected dinner options. Luckily, it’s still warm enough to dine al fresco out on the twinkling terrace.
Time to ponder tomorrow’s schedule. Hot air ballooning perhaps? Or we could explore some of the more unusual alternative health shops; salt therapy sounds weirdly entertaining.
Wine tasting is another unexpected option. Although Arizona is renowned for its desert climate, the elevation and arid climate of the nearby Verde Valley are grape-friendly. Pacific cold fronts and late summer monsoons ensure that enough rain comes through the region each year for dry red wines to flourish.
But further communing with nature wins out. We head north out along the highway, which twists its way through impossibly stunning scenery, and prepare to set out on another hike. Alas, the plethora of soulful distractions have resulted in a financial faux pas. When we arrive at the trail head, we’ve forgotten to bring any money and can’t pay the entrance fee. Instead of turning us away, the man at the toll booth asks where we are from. He’s truly delighted that we have come all the way from Australia and waves us through. When we later return to pay our belated fees, he’s still beaming – another enchanted Sedona soul. Our complete moment of Zen.
Although Sedona has a small airport, most visitors travel from Phoenix Airport, a two-hour drive north. Renting a car is essential.
There are numerous daily flights to Phoenix from Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Creekside spa rooms start from US$464 (approximately AU$627) per night.