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Exploring Arizona with a Red Rock Road Trip

Sedona to Flagstaff in Ford Mustang Convertible!

Got a bucket list? One of my bucket-list items was to drive across the desert and see the epic flatness, red rock passes and endless desertscapes of the wild west. Conjuring images of old westerns watched with my dad, I imagined the good guys and the bad guys hiding in the canyons and bluffs for the ambush. While visiting Phoenix, Arizona, I took a 400 mile, 9 hour road trip from Phoenix through Sedona to Flagstaff, on to Meteor Crater, via Route 66 to "Standin-on-the-corner" in Winslow, Arizona and back cross-country to Phoenix ... in a Ford Mustang Convertible!

my Ford Mustang convertibleDoesn't the top-down freedom of wind in your hair, the endless sun of Arizona at 70 miles per hour in a convertible sound like a perfect daytrip? If historical landmarks are your thing, Montezuma's Castle's for you. If it's the grandiosity of the red rock wonders, Sedona's yours. Prefer upscale shops and boutique getaways? Sedona's got what your chasing. Camping or kid-friendly desires? Slide Rock or Red Rock State Park is the thing.

epic Arizona desertscape

First Stop ... Montezuma's Castle

Taking Highway 17 north from Phoenix towards Flagstaff first takes you to Montezuma's Castle (in the Cape Verde area). Over a thousand years ago, the Sinagua people lived here in an ingenious 45-room dwelling high up on the cliff face - Montezuma's Castle100' off the valley floor. Etched under the overhang of the cliff face is a 6-storey architectural wonder (remember this was all created 1000+ years ago) housing hundreds in this community. As I explored the valley area below, seeing the remnants of their agricultural and hunter/gatherer lifestyle on the banks of the Verde River, I thought how peaceful and idyllic a location to have as an ancient homestead.

Entrance is $5 and the walk to the ruins is an easy 1/3 mile with a circular path of the valley under ½ mile. If you're in the area interested in other early native American sites, check out Montezuma's Well and Tuzigoot.

Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock & Red Rock State Park

It's easy to stay on route 17 direct to Flagstaff and see Humphrey's Peak, but GoGirlfriend suggests an exit strategy. Take highway 179 through Oak Creek and into Sedona as a side venture into Red Rock State Park. You will not be disappointed with this 40 mile detour.

Bell Rock - Red Rock State ParkWithin the first few miles you'll be rewarded with the first blush of Red Rock beauty. There are many stopping points along the drive beginning just after the Village of Oak Creek where you can soak up the grandeur and the power of these rock formations. Behold Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, followed by Cathedral Rock, the Mogollon Rim and many, many other breathtaking rock formations sculpted by the elements over millennia.

Onwards to Sedona

Sedona characterDriving into Sedona, I was unprepared for the cultural character and destination beauty of this red rock city. Quaint shopping zones, world-class resorts and hotels and activities for everyone - tours, mountain-biking, spas, shopping and a rich cultural scene influenced by the natural surroundings. Driving through this small city made me want to return, to linger longer, to enjoy the area more fully.

[GoGirlfrind recommendation] During off-season, many of the resorts and hotels offer a price break respite to encourage seeing Sedona as year-round destination.

canyons and switchbacks - Midgley BridgeHeading north out of Sedona towards Flagstaff, you'll notice the distinct elevation change from the Phoenix area (1200 ft above sea level) to Flagstaff's 6900 ft above sea level. The highway is a thrill to drive, but the scenery is strictly for passengers. Switchbacks, corners and canyon drops require a drivers focused attention. Thankfully, pull-offs are built into the road to make it easier for drivers to stop and enjoy the natural beauty too.

Slide Rock State ParkSlide Rock State Park - this naturally created rock slide and water chute (10 miles north of Sedona on Highway 179) in the Oak Creek Canyon allows for a fun family diversion, especially if you're camping at one of the many State Park campgrounds. Enjoy the natural sandstone water slides, wade in the pool formations or hike up the creek to explore more of the natural rock beauty of the area.

Humphrey's PeakAs the elevation rises (towards 6900' above sea level) and the temperatures cool (Phoenix 90+'F to the 60's in Flagstaff), you'll see the snow-capped San Francisco peak's (or Humphrey's Peak as the highest) in the distance. Great hills like the Arizona Snowbowl and Nordic skiing at the Flagstaff Nordic Center are home to equally great resorts. Phoenix'ians tell me they escape the heat of the desert by a day-trip to the lakes in and around Flagstaff. Sounds like a beautiful plan to me.

My tour didn't take me into Flagstaff, but instead towards the Meteor Crater impact site east towards Winslow, Arizona. For that side of the story, check out my Phoenix to Winslow east loop road trip.

What to do in Arizona

Other attractions in this corridor (courtesy of the Arizona Tourism Board)

Have you stayed in Sedona or visited the breathtaking rockscapes and vista's of Arizona's Red Rock State Park. We'd love to hear your stories, like the one from one friend who named their childhood dog Sedona after a trip to the area. Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook and let's talk! 


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We rented a Ford Mustang convertible and drove around the Nevada desest a bit one day. Went to the red rocks that we could see from our hotel room in Vegas. Made a few stops along the way. It was an AMAZING day. I'd love to go back and journey a bit more. Great post.

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