Sedona: The most beautiful place on Earth?

First of all, I know that there are many, many gorgeous places that I have yet to see.

I’ve been around a bit, but I am under no illusion that I’ve seen it all!

Still, I have to wonder: Could there be any spot in the world that can top Sedona, Arizona on a hot, clear summer day?

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I know this is entirely subjective and open to all kinds of debate. And I’ll admit to being a little biased. Sedona – just an hour-and-a-half drive from where I live – is a place I visit often and know well.

IMG_0399But as I hiked two Sedona-area trails over the weekend, the vibrant colors, diverse landscape, and drop-dead-gorgeous rock formations kept striking me again and again.

On this given Sunday in early July, Sedona was in its full glory. Lush greenery, cobalt skies, cottony clouds all served to set off the main feature – red rocks as far as the eye could see. In my humble opinion, Sedona simply blows away the competition. Here are the few of the reasons why:

  1. Devil’s Bridge – The photos don’t do it justice. I had seen plenty before I decided to visit Sedona’s premier arch. Even so, as I topped the last rock staircase and rounded the final bend in the trail, I wasn’t really prepared. Spread before me was a thin rock span topping an expanse of…nothingness. Peeking through the cavernous gap below the bridge is a delightful mix of pine trees, endless red cliffs, and spiky cacti.

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For good reason, Devil’s Bridge attracts plenty of visitors. On the busy July 4 weekend that we visited, a steady parade of hikers came around the bend, mouths hanging open at the first glimpse. You might have to take turns to get a picture on the bridge, but the wait will do you good. Just soak it up!

  1. West Fork – One of my favorite hikes ever, the creek-side West Fork or Call of the Canyon trail delivers every time. Located along Sedona’s famous Oak Creek Canyon (Highway 89A), the trail offers the perfect combination of water crossings, lush foliage, and rock formations.

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While the water running along the trail is usually crystal clear, it was fairly murky this past weekend – likely owing to the monsoon rains. It didn’t detract overly from the experience, though. In fact, the recent moisture seemed to pump up the vegetation along the creek, making for a jungle-like experience – right in the middle of arid Arizona.

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  1. Cathedral Rock – Perhaps Sedona’s most iconic rock formation, the majestic Cathedral Rock is visible from countless spots around Sedona. Regardless of the vantage point, though, the red sandstone formation is recognizable – whether it’s framed by pine trees, agave cactus, or the lovely waters of Oak Creek.

For those who want to get up-close-and-personal with the rock, the steep Back O’ Beyond trail will take you through a crevasse and up to a saddle that offers endless views. It’s a precarious climb, and not for everyone, but for those who can do it, the pay-off is priceless.

  1. Bell Rock – technically in the nearby Village of Oak Creek, Bell Rock is close enough to Sedona to qualify. Its pretty bell shape is also instantly recognizable and visible for miles around.

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A series of moderate hiking trails around the rock formation will take you through the rugged red-rock country, and as close as you want to get to the bell. An added bonus: Stellar views of the nearby Courthouse Rock.

  1. Wilson Mountain – Just north of Sedona near the picturesque Midgely Bridge, Mt. Wilson dominates the terrain along Highway 89A. At a 2,400-foot elevation gain to the top, Wilson is a fairly tough hike. But oh, the views!

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In fact, it can be difficult to make hiking progress with all of the photo opportunities – from tempting glimpses of Oak Creek, to the far-off red-tinged cliffs. Plenty of desert vegetation adds to the bonanza.

  1. The ubiquitous views – From virtually anywhere in Sedona and Village of Oak Creek, you will be on sensory overload from the views. Rock formations – all with very accurately descriptive names – are sprinkled throughout the community.

When hotels or restaurants advertise “red rock views,” they mean it. They can hardly avoid it!

  1. The amazing light – OK, the sunlight everywhere in Arizona is notable. But in Sedona, it seems to glow. Take pictures along any of the trails in this picturesque community, and you will hardly experience a bad-exposure shot. The sun just seems to light the red rocks from within.

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  1. Oak Creek Canyon – Fair disclosure: The traffic will almost certainly drive you crazy. The drive north from Sedona to the West Fork trail this past weekend was a gauntlet of slow-moving vehicles, cars wedged alongside the roadway, and parents with kids and baby strollers (no kidding!) walking alongside the narrow highway.

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It’s easy to see what is attracting them, though. As its name implies, the route follows the winding waters of the stunning Oak Creek. And it’s home to the popular Slide Rock State Park – a spot that everyone should experience at least once. There are plenty of pullouts where you can stop and get a better view (hence, the traffic).

9. Uptown Sedona – The warning on traffic and parking also applies here. Road construction right down the middle of Main Street makes it even tougher going this year. Even so, Uptown Sedona has a touristy charm that makes it kind of irresistible. Also, see #6: You’ll almost certainly have red-rock views while drinking your sangria and eating your street tacos!

10. The sweeping vistas from virtually any of the rocks – While the rock formations get most of the attention in Sedona, what lies in-between is equally amazing. The vantage points are really endless. Just pick one, and plan to sit for while, simply gazing.

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