cliff atop Cathedral Rock

Taking on Cathedral Rock, Sedona

Remember how a few posts ago (before my computer crapped out on me and had to be sent away for repairs, leaving me unable to edit photos) I mentioned that I was remaking the rounds of almost every destination in Arizona I had made with my parents a few years ago, now once again with Matt in tow? One can not miss destination on that list was Sedona.  Having first visited this town four years ago while my brother and parents, I couldn’t let Matt miss out on it’s displays of red rocks and beauty.

Because my dad was still working most of the days during our visit, we needed to wait for the weekend to come before we had a full day to drive out.  Getting an early start on the day, I was happy to still have my body in sync with the Eastern Time Zone, so when it was time to wake up at 7:00 am, by body was thinking it was 10 and was ok with rolling out of bed that time.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

A  few hours later we pulled into a gray and wet Sedona, and after having taken in the traditional breakfast stop of The Teapot, a restaurant with over 101 omelets on their menu, we were perusing some guide books in the lobby on how to spend the rest of our afternoon there.  Of course I had originally found Devil’s Bridge on Instagram and I wanted one of those apparent death defying photos to add to my own account, although once we had the chance to read up on it, it turns out our vehicle was not suited for the short cut and it would be a 1.3 mile walk each way.  I don’t think anyone other than myself was up for such a hike, just to get that perfect shot for social media (although I’m sure it’s beautiful to see without a camera in front of your face as well), but it was not going to be in the cards and we needed to make another decision.

Flipping through a few more pages I focused on the ‘easy hikes’ section and came across Cathedral Rock. A nice description and a hike that would amount in less than a mile round trip.  Pulling out my tablet and searching for directions, we were back on the road and ready to take in some sights.  Since nowadays everyone and their mother, including mine, is quick to pull out their phone or tablet to research anything and everything under the sun that catches their interest, it was her that let us know, while enroute, that  this ‘easy’ hike may not be as easy as we were led to believe.  From what she had found online, it was in fact a very short distance, its just that most of it happened to be vertical.

“No, that can’t be right”, I responded.  “It didn’t mention anything about it in the guidebook.”

“I’m just telling you what I’m reading here.  It says that the hike is 600 feet of vertical trails, and it says its a strenuous walk.”

“But….the guidebook was on hiking.  All the hiking trails in Sedona.  This was listed as easy.”

“We’ll have to see when we get there, but I don’t think its a flat trail.”

As I’ve learned over my last 33 years of existing, my mother, as usual, was right.  As soon as we found the road leading to Cathedral Rock, the tall red stone jutting out of the earth made it very apparent that it would indeed be a steep climb.  One my parents were probably not willing to make.

road to Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, ArizonaHaving come on a Sunday, we found that we were not the only ones in search of a little beauty and adventure on this particular weekend, and the lack of available parking spots had us taking a few unscheduled detours past private homes perched on hills, before circling back down and snagging a spot in the front row.  Since we had made the drive all the way out there, we couldn’t just stand at the base and stare up at it without attempting to scale it.  At least for Matt and I.  Like a kid looking to leave a candy store with a fist full of goodies, I looked up at my parents, my eyes asking for permission to leave them behind while the two of us did a little exploring.

They of course let us go, and we promised them we should be back in less than an hour.  30 minutes up and 30 minutes back right?  And so Matt and I quickly ran away while we left my parents behind in the car. Don’t worry, we left the windows cracked for them.

base of Cathedral Rock, Sedona

overlooking Sedona, Arizona

Sedona ArizonaAlthough we had been experiencing some blustery conditions at breakfast and I had been very happy to have on my jeans and fleece, they were quickly becoming unnecessary as we just as quickly began passing people at the base of the rock.  Because I somewhat expected this I had left my fleece behind, having traded it for a cardigan, but even that was tucked away in a little bag and my jeans were already starting to glue themselves to my leg.

Passing people left and right, we scampered up the red rocks, trying to keep to our timelines so my parents wouldn’t worry and call the rangers on us once our 60 minutes were up.  Or least, that was my excuse for rushing.  Matt just likes running up mountains.  We did stop every now and then to take in the views as well as a few photos.

Although the climb didn’t seem hard, it was becoming never ending.  What I thought was the top of the trail only led to more trail heads off to the side and more climbing.  Just when I was sure that we’d already been up there for nearly an hour and would have to run back down now, a few couples passed us on their decent and not only let us know that we were so close to getting to the top, but the views were absolutely worth the effort to keep going.  Luckily they were telling the truth that it really was only a few more minutes of climbing, and also, the views were definitely worth the effort.

At the top we were greeted with a cliff that had a small walkway wedged out over a fairly sheer drop, and views of the valley from the opposite side of the rock we had come up. The popular thing to do was have your photo taken at the edge of the cliff, and because that’s what everyone seemed to be coming up for, we had to wait in line a few minutes before I was able to make my way over for my own photo shoot.

top of Cathedral RockTop of Cathedral Rock

cliff atop Cathedral Rock

Taking in a few more side trails before we made our way back down, we were once again a little bummed that we didn’t have a full afternoon to devote to our climb here.  I really should do my research better.  Given my parents a free pass to go out and enjoy a winery without me, and pick Matt and I up a few hours later, instead of making them sit at the base and wait for us.

Grudgingly making our way down, we were also making up for lost time by basically skipping and jumping the entire way.  Most people will tell you that the most difficult part of a climb is the descent (and we found that to be true at Machu Picchu), but in this case it was incredibly easy.  Even grace-challenged moi was able to jump and leap without any fear of tumbling down the face of a mountain.  Although there were one or two areas I was forced to do a butt crawl because of the steep angles of the rock and improper footing.

What seemed like 10 minutes later we were back and the bottom and taking the trail to the parking lot, searching for my parents and hoping they weren’t worried like crazy.  Turns out they were just fine without us.  They had taken a nice little walking trail at the bottom for 45 minutes or so, and then went back the car to enjoy a few drinks while using their binnocculars to watch us and others make their way up and down.  They had no worries about us at all.

top of Cathedral Rock trail

balancing  rock, Sedona

coming down Cathedral Rock


And although we never made it to Devil’s Bridge where it would have looked like I was teetering on top of the earth, I think I ended up with my Instagram worthy photo anyway.

Sedona….It Used to be Apple Orchards, You Know

Sunday April 8, 2012

It’s a good thing my body was on Michigan time or I would never have been able to force myself out of bed at 6:30 to attend 8:00 Easter mass with my family.  It was supposed to be a really warm day in Mesa, over 90, and by the time we got in the truck at twenty to eight it was already closing in on 70.  Which felt 10 degrees warmer to me and I was immediately loving it there.  The church my parents attend is very large and can get quite crowded between the months of October through April when all the snow birds are in town.  We were put into an overflow chapel and somehow snagged the last four seats together in the back.  I was relieved to see the overflow chapel did not have pews and I wouldn’t have to spend half the service kneeling.  In the seats directly in front of us was a family with an adorable baby girl that had some of the best bedhead I’ve ever seen.  Throughout the service she’d look back at us and giggle and coo.  Just in front of her was a baby boy that was trying to out-cute her, and a battle of the cuteness ensued for about 20 minutes before bedhead girl won with a few sneezes.

When service was let out we all rushed home to change into more comfortable clothes and get ready for a day trip to Sedona.  Packing coolers with pop and water we got back in the truck for the two hour drive north.  My parents had used their timeshare up there the year before and told us there were too many beautiful sights to miss out on while we were so close.  Even though I’d been to Arizona before I’d never been to that area so weeks before I even left I’d Google images and look at the large red rocks that seemed to glow in the sun.  As we were making the drive I kept waiting for us to come up on these large mountainous rocks but all I could see out my window were dirt hills covered with with bushes and a few cacti.  Even without the awe inspiring views out the window we were still enjoying the drive with my dad’s GPS, watching the elevation climb higher and higher until we were in the 4,000 ft range.  I was getting worried as we were taking expressway signs into Sedona and I was still not seeing the red rocks out my window but my dad who seemed to be reading my mind mentioned that you didn’t come upon them until you were just a mile or two away.  Sure enough we turned a corner and all you could see were the giant red rocks I had been waiting for against a blue sky, looking just like a scene from a Western movie.

Our first stop of the day was a hiking trail my parents had found when they were visiting before.  I changed from my comfy Toms into sneakers and put on a hat to protect myself from the desert sun.  Although Sedona is usually 10-15 degrees cooler than Mesa due to the elevation, the 75 degrees that was reading as the outside temperature felt like it was 90 once we stepped out into it.  There was not a breath of wind around.  I had a feeling we wouldn’t be walking around for too long with all the other plans we had for the day and didn’t bother to take a bottle of water with me even though I could tell I would be getting thirsty before too long.  As the four of us crossed the uneven dirt road that brought us here onto the burnt red path of soil and sand beneath us there were instantly rocks and hills to start climbing up and around.  Nothing strenuous but enough to keep a klutz like me eyeing every step of the path ahead.  There were little trail markers of rocks filled inside chicken wire and I could see why because it was not always obvious where the trail was going.  We ventured off it a little bit to climb a large flat rock and get some good pictures of the scenery.  I would have loved to have the whole day to spend on these trails alone walking around and discovering new things.  One of my favorite things to do at home with Matt is just hike through woods and trails for hours with no destination in mind.  Back on the trails in Sedona, with the heat of the day coming upon us now and so many other things to see  we turned back around after making it a half mile into the trail, seeing the gorgeous sights that surrounded us and getting all of our pretty pictures.

Getting back out to civilization there were a few other sights to see before we got into the heart of Sedona.  First we stopped at Bell Rock but just got out in the parking lot to take a few pictures instead of doing any hiking in that area.  When we were driving past the other side though you could see the little white t-shirts of people who were making the climb.  Again I was a little jealous of these people who were able to make the climb up the immense rock,  but I know I have a ton of that coming up in my future in many exotic locations so I can’t complain.  Our last stop before lunch was a Frank Llyod Wright structure called Chapel of the Holy Cross and it’s built right into the rock on a Sedona hill.  As we came up on it from the road I was surprised to see how small it was.  I guess I was expecting some large wandering cathedral, but what I saw was just a small simple structure. As we drove up the winding road through the crowds we found a parking spot near the top and walked the rest of the way up.  I don’t know if it was always busy here or if it was because it was Easter, but most of the crowds were on the outside walkway and we were able to sneak inside to sit on the pews and look around.  The chapel itself, from what I could see, had pews lined against each wall on the inside and then 6-8 rows through the middle with an aisle in between.  At the front was where the priest would stand to give service, and right behind there were the large floor to ceiling windows overlooking the rocks in the background.  Going back outside we squeezed our way into an open spot for some photos of the family and the views surrounding us.  Just below the chapel on the main road to get in was Nicholas Cage’s Sedona home (one of the ones that didn’t foreclose, I think) sticking out like a sore thumb.  It was large and gaudy and didn’t fit into the landscape at all.  Plus there would be absolutely no privacy there at all.  From where we were standing you could see his whole yard plus the pool and decks.  If I had that kind of money it wouldn’t be my first choice of homes, but I guess when you have so many you can give up little luxuries like privacy at one of them.

Getting back in the truck the four of us were starving and ready to get lunch.  Acting as tour guides my parents brought us to a restaurant which I’m assuming is pretty famous in the area, The Coffee Pot.  It’s located near a rock formation shaped like a percolator and has 101 omelettes on their menu.  We walked in about five minutes to two, happy to see it wasn’t overflowing with an Easter brunch crowd.  Sitting down my dad asked the hostess what time they closed and she replied, “2:00.  So don’t worry, you just made it”.  All of us felt terrible for walking in just before close and making a poor server stay about 45 minutes later because of us, but we were all so hungry and the food sounded so good that we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.  Looking at the menu I knew I couldn’t visit a place like this and not choose one of their 101 omelettes so I started scanning the list as quick as possible so we could get our food order in right away.  There were many appetizing options and part of me was craving just a good old Western or Veggie omelette but at the same time I wanted to choose some crazy combination that I knew they didn’t serve back at home.  With a few really good options narrowed down with choices of crab, avocado, and zucchini among them (not all together), when the server stopped by to take our order I went with number 64, the cream cheese, sliced ham and asparagus omelette.  Since we were practically the only people in the restaurant our food came up within minutes and I started scarfing it down like there was no tomorrow.  In addition to the omelette itself I also had a side of cottage cheese and a biscuit so I didn’t get too far and there were some to-go boxes being passed out at the end of the meal.  While having lunch there I’d totally forgotten that I told my friend back home I’d send her pictures of the mountain views and before I could forget I made sure to snap this photo for her.

I’m such a smart ass

So many omelettes!!

After our delicious lunch we began to head back to town as the next thing on our agenda was to take a Jeep tour through areas not well accessible in regular vehicles.  We had a flyer printed out for Pink Jeep tours and went to look for a parking spot near their shop on the main strip.  It was a popular day to be out there and all the street spots were taken.  Trying the public parking lots there we also had no luck and were forced to park on the street a few blocks away.  Walking back to the main strip we were weaving through little shops trying to find our way to Pink Jeep.  Once spit out on the main street we were directly across from Red Rock Jeep Tours, the people my parents had used when they were here before.  They hadn’t wanted to take the same tour as they did last year which is why we were headed to Pink Jeep, but we decided to walk in and see what else they offered.  While my parents had gone on a very bumpy off road 4×4 kind of trail before we found another one that would bring us through Dry Creek Basin and to and old cabin used to make moonshine in the 1800s.  That tour was leaving within 10 minutes so we all stuck by the door until our guide came to get us.  His name was Larry and he was very friendly and outgoing.  He led us back to their parking lot along with another couple from Pittsburgh.  We climbed in the back and buckled ourselves in as Larry had us all introduce ourselves and he began to describe the areas we were about to see.  Pulling out onto the strip he made his way up some side streets to a residential area and began the tour with a history of the area.  He explained that what was around us were not actually mountains and asked if anyone knew what they were.  I replied ‘rock formations’ which was correct.  Gold star for me!  Then he started speaking about flat topped rock formations called mesas and asked if anyone knew how they got their name.  I answered that mesa was the Spanish word for table.  Right again!  (Thank you, Spanish Behind the Wheel)  Just as I was feeling like I was on a game show where I might win a prize he continued on pointing out different rock formations and how they got their names, usually because of the shapes they formed.  There was ‘Coffee Pot, Elephant, Snoopy’, and many more that I can’t remember.  Larry then began to tell us the history of Sedona, how it was named after the founder’s wife’s middle name and how all this area around us used to be apple orchards.  Leaving the residential area he had brought us to see these rocks formations we drove down the strip to another road and began to go up it while Larry told us he was taking us to an airport on top of a Mesa.  We stayed up there in the Jeep for a minute before heading down again and then going to another street that housed the library so he could show us a statue of Mrs. Sedona Schnebly.

At this point I was beginning to wonder why we had just dropped so much money to travel roads that were open to the public and we’d have no problem getting to when Larry turned to us and said that we were his last tour of the day before his weekend and he was giving us an additional tour on top of what everyone else got to see.  It was at this time we pulled into an area with rocky roads leading back to more rock formations through 4×4 trails.  Finally.  We bumped along the roads and made our way further from civilization.  The sun had ducked behind some clouds which made for  comfortable temperatures but was also hiding some of the brilliant colors of the red rocks.  We came up to an area called Devil’s Bridge which was a little walk from the main trail and sounded very interesting, but we kept plugging along after getting a little narrative on it.  We headed deeper and deeper into the creek, aiming for Van Derin Cabin.  We were told this is a place where moonshine used to be made until the moonshiner was gunned down.  Then it became the residence of the Van Derin’s who expanded to make two rooms under one roof with a breezeway, and raised their five kids.  Even though it is surrounded by private land (and a golf course in the middle of nowhere that I believe went bankrupt), the cabin is now property of the State Forest.  It was used to make a few Western movies, including ‘Blood on the Moon’ back in 1948.  Getting up to the cabin from the trail we did get good use out of the Jeep as it was literally climbing up rocks and not a trail.  Once there we got out to do a little walking around and tour the two room cabin.  It was interesting to see how people used to survive normally back then.   The cabin was two rooms around 10×15 ft and had dirt floors.  That was it.   I’m sure it would have looked slightly different back when it was being lived in, but to me it didn’t look like much of a step up from living in a cave.  Ahhhh, frontier days.  Ignorantly blissful for those who didn’t know any better.

Loading everyone into the Jeep again we began to take the trail back to the main road.  When we were getting to the spot where the knotted and gnarly pine trees were sitting and Larry had described many people believed it was due to a mystical vortex in the area, I received a sudden and sharp shock on my collar bone.  No bug that had pelted me through the lack of windows and nothing touching the area except my shirt.  Guess I was touched by the vortex.  When we were back on pavement Larry took us by the Beverly Hills area of Sedona and showed us the gated communities while rattling off all the celebrities who had homes there and which ones you might find wandering around town.  We were dropped back off in the parking lot around 5:30, making for a two and a half hour tour when it was only supposed to be two.  It wasn’t quite the thrill ride of off roading that my parents experienced on their first tour without us, but that’s not what this one was meant for and I really enjoyed the steady pace through the trails and the history of what was surrounding us.  Not that I would have turned down a few minutes of climbing up more rocks at 60 degree angles or gunning it and flying down 10 foot cliffs though.  I don’t think the tours actually do that second part….but they do have Jeeps to rent out!

With our last hour of sunlight the four of us made our way across the street to sit in an outdoor patio area to enjoy a drink and relax.  While my mom and brother enjoyed beers, my dad and I got a glass of red wine which I didn’t know why I did since we weren’t staying for dinner because I’ve been known to take two hours to drink one glass at home.  Red that is, white and blush go down much quicker.  We reflected on the day and talked a little bit about our plans for the next day, a trip down to Tucson.  This is another place my parents had spent a day or two at visiting in the past few years but more importantly it was a place the four of us had visited back in 1997 on a road trip through the southwest.  We were going to recreate our trip there by visiting Sebino Canyon, Tucson Mountain Park, and even getting our picture taken in an Old West photo shop.  Once our drinks were done (and yes, I did have to chug the last half of my glass) we piled in the truck for the ride home and just like when I was ten years old I layed my head on a pillow while sprawled out in the backseat bundled under a jacket and slept the car ride home.  Some things never change.