Rubies in the Dust: Sedona & the Land of the Sinagua

Touring the national monuments of Montezuma Castle, Well and Tuzigoot I too was fascinated by the enigma of the long-departed Sinagua tribes. Perhaps they foresaw the coming of vortex tour groups, Hummer drives in the desert and strip malls and realized that escape was the smart thing to do.


Rubies in the Dust: Sedona & the Land of the Sinagua

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by sararevell on February 23, 2009

The Sedona Red Rocks are quite a spectacular sight. Turning a corner in the road, an oasis of red hits you, as the earth suddenly turns from dusty desert brown to the colour of Uluru in Australia.

It’s almost enough just to marvel at the Martian rock formations dished up around Sedona. The landscape is ever changing not just by your own movement, but by the shifting of the sun too. Wide-angle lenses jostle at the Airport Road lookout to capture the quintessential Sedona sunset photo and whilst I could have happily kicked all the tourists over a cliff just to get a minutes peace and solitude, I was a guilty participant too. Sedona at sunset is a must-see and if you’re not at a viewpoint at that moment, you may as well have stayed at home.

Ironically, all the places we visited were highlights in my mind, with one standout exception: the centre of Sedona itself. What I wished to be a sleepy, authentic western town is in fact a tourist blotch on the landscape.

Sedona is a small town and is guilty of being home to a multitude of tacky souvenir shops, a string of uninspiring shopping malls and numerous 4x4 Jeep tour companies. The crowning glory however is the Hummer shop, which offers Hummer tours to anyone devoid of brain cells. In the midst of a landscape that offers the best in natural beauty, here is a company that offers the worst in the tourism and automobile experiences. But of course it appeals to some so for those in search of a desert run in a Hummer or a pink Jeep, Sedona’s your town.

Jerome on the other hand, was what I had hoped Sedona would be. A charming old mining town with brick-fronted buildings, many retaining what looked like their original signs. Sure we found our share of art galleries and souvenir shops but overall the standards of aesthetics and authenticity were notably higher than anything we had found in Sedona.

Finally, visiting the national monuments of Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well and Tuzigoot turned out to be exceptional experiences not just in terms of educational value, but in that all three places have been sensitively and well preserved. In addition, all three are well priced at just $5 per adult and they’re all within easy reach of Sedona. ${QuickSuggestions} Unless you really want to be in the thick of it, I’d highly recommend staying in Jerome rather than Sedona. From what we saw, Jerome had some charming hotels with plenty of cafes and restaurants to keep you fed and watered. And from its hilltop location, Jerome also has its fair share of breathtaking views.

That said the Sky Ranch Lodge at the end of Airport Road in Sedona was certainly a better option than the slew of chain hotels multiplying like rabbits on the edge of town. Not only do the rooms have some of the best views in town, but there’s also an attempt at retaining some modesty and character in the landscaping of the grounds that’s usually lacking from more modern structures.

If you happen to have someone in your group that’s over the age of 62, it’s definitely worth buying a $10 Golden Age Passport. They’re sold on location at the monuments and allow free entry to all properties administered by the National Parks Service. The free entry extended to three guests (even if you’re under the age of 62), which we were able to take advantage of on our trip. ${BestWay} Unless you really want to be in the thick of it, I’d highly recommend staying in Jerome rather than Sedona. From what we saw, Jerome had some charming hotels with plenty of cafes and restaurants to keep you fed and watered. And from its hilltop location, Jerome also has its fair share of breathtaking views.

That said the Sky Ranch Lodge at the end of Airport Road in Sedona was certainly a better option than the slew of chain hotels multiplying like rabbits on the edge of town. Not only do the rooms have some of the best views in town, but there’s also an attempt at retaining some modesty and character in the landscaping of the grounds that’s usually lacking from more modern structures.

If you happen to have someone in your group that’s over the age of 62, it’s definitely worth buying a $10 Golden Age Passport. They’re sold on location at the monuments and allow free entry to all properties administered by the National Parks Service. The free entry extended to three guests (even if you’re under the age of 62), which we were able to take advantage of on our trip.


Sky Ranch Lodge

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by sararevell on December 16, 2007

The Sky Ranch Lodge is the hotel that time may have forgot. Whilst construction and development continues unabated in the valley below, the Sky Ranch is a modest two-storey motel-like resort that could easily pass as a retirement community. Accommodations are spread out over six acres and while the website boasts of their pool, spa, gardens and proximity to the airport, Sky Ranch’s real coup is that it sits 500 feet above the town and offers panoramic views up to 75 miles away.

We arrived on a busy Saturday afternoon and after checking in, drove around the corner to our room. We unloaded and walked up the exterior stairs as our room was on the second level. The lodge offers three genres of rooms: Red Rock views, Partial Red Rock Views and Garden Views. Ours was technically a Partial Red Rock View room out the back from our balcony but if you opened the front door it was pretty much a full Red Rock view all the way.

Our room was large and comfortable as was the bathroom, but the interior was noticeably dated by muted 1980s era wallpaper. Outside the buildings looked overdue for a paint job.

As we only stayed at the lodge for one night it was unfortunate that we didn’t have time to check out facilities such as the outdoor swimming pool and the pretty gardens. In the time we did have we were preoccupied with hiking down the hill to a vortex spot and making it back to the lookout in time for the sunset.

About a ten minute walk down the road is a hill that not only affords great views across the valley but it also touted as an energy vortex. When we arrived a couple of people were sat cross-legged in meditation and we somewhat tactlessly proceeded to step around them, snapping photos in every direction. We sat for a while but couldn’t honestly say that we felt any kind of different "energy" flowing through us. After ten minutes of energy searching, we sped back up the hill to join the multitudes watch the sunset. If you’re looking for a romantic spot, I’d advise staying in the spot down the hill where you have 10, as opposed to 100 people for company. There was also an old gentleman at the larger lookout accepting "donations" from people that went towards the upkeep of the viewpoint area. It seemed a bit of a swindle to try and charge for the upkeep of a view but it’s not mandatory and it’s easy enough to enter the area from the side as opposed to the centre where the collection box is.

Back in our room we got ready to head back into Sedona for dinner, which is about a five-minute drive from the hotel. I slept well that night in the expansive king bed and the next morning I was relieved to discover that activity at the neighbouring airport didn’t start until around 8am.

Sky Ranch Lodge
1105 Airport Rd
Sedona, Arizona, 86336
(928) 282-6400

Oak Creek Brewery & Grill

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by sararevell on December 16, 2007

At the entrance to Tlaquepaque market is the Oak Creek Brewery. The restaurant entrance on the second level is inviting, with bright Mexican blue and yellow tile work leading you up the stairs. We arrived for lunch and with no reservations made, we had a 20-minute wait for a table. Unless you’re looking for family style dining, or you have a large group and need an easy-to-please menu, I would recommend looking elsewhere for lunch.

Oak Creek Brewery is divided into a long bar area on one side, and the restaurant with booths along the other side. The interior is almost what I’d expect of a chain steakhouse and was far less attractive than the Mexican pueblo exterior of Tlaquepaque village.

We waited at the bar for our table, dodging busy wait staff running in and out of the bar. Once we were seated the service was fairly even, which was impressive considering the fast and continuous turnover of customers. The food was all American and we ordered BLTs, a Reuben and a Brewmaster Bomber sandwich, which consisted of a locally made Bratwurst, simmered in Gold Lager and served up in a roll with sauerkraut and mustard.

Being a brewery, it seemed unfair not to check out their beer menu. They offer some 7 beers plus one seasonal ale. If you want to try them all, "The Seven Dwarfs" is a presentation of all 7 beers served in miniature 5oz steins. We opted for a pint of Doc’s Pale Ale which actually very good.

The food was true American-sized when it came to portions, served up with sides such as "Painted Desert Slaw" and "Fries in a Cone". There was no room for dessert and later in the day we wondered if we would even need to eat dinner.

Oak Creek Brewery is well set up to cater for large groups. Two booths across from us held around 8-10 people with most other booths holding groups of 4. The long bar is a good place to sample their ales and is probably what I’d advise doing as the food overall was fairly mediocre. It’s an extremely popular place though so you can ignore my recommendation if you’re looking for a big plate of all-American food. On the lunch menu they also serve pizzas, salads, a long list of appetizers and a half-pound Tlaquepaque Burger.

Whilst the service was friendly for the most part, it was clearly quite a stressful environment to be working in, exemplified by a waitress openly scolding a frazzled busboy for not clearing the correct table. I admit I felt a bit sorry for him as he was helping a fellow colleague clear up a mess of mayonnaise, lettuce and other delicacies from the floor under another table. There’s so much food to go around at this place it’s not surprising that some of it ends up on the floor.

www.oakcreekpub.com

Oak Creek Brewing & Grill: Tlaquepaque
336 Highway 179
Sedona, Arizona, 86336
(928) 282-3300

Javalina Cantina

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by sararevell on December 16, 2007

Don’t be fooled by the commercial location or chain restaurant appearance, Javelina Cantina serves incredibly good food. Tucked in at the end of the Hillside Sedona Shopping Plaza, Javelina Cantina may be a large restaurant, but it’s also very popular so it definitely pays to call ahead and make a reservation. We were only a party of four but would have had a long wait had another group ahead of us not foolishly forfeited their table by not showing up when their name was called.

We had a minute to order drinks before we were seated and opted for Mexican beer and cocktails. We were shown to a table right next to the bar, which I initially thought might be a bit annoying but there wasn’t too much bar traffic and in fact we were able to have a relaxing meal without any disturbance from our drinking neighbours.

In spite of my large lunch, I couldn’t quite resist the Salmon Tostada. I have to admit that living in the Pacific Northwest I also didn’t expect it to be as tasty as it was. The grilled 6 oz. filet was crunchy on the surface and very tender on the inside, which is just how I like my salmon cooked. The fish was served with black beans and mango salsa topped with a very generous helping of fresh avocado. Again the meal was large but by holding back a bit on the rice and beans I didn’t feel too guilty afterwards.

The thing I liked most about Javelina’s is that many of the ingredients looked and tasted fresh, often a rarity in these large family style diners. Despite being very busy the service was very efficient and cheerful. At the bar, some of the customers looked so comfortable they could easily have passed for regulars. It seemed like a place that had something for everyone – groups, couples, families and those in search of drinks only. It’s also an environment that’s geared towards tourists who don’t want to stray too far off the beaten path with their holiday cuisine. The interior is big and bright, verging on garish with the colours, and at the front desk they sell an abundance of "Javelina" themed items. For anyone who’s never seen one or even heard of them (myself included), the Javelina "is the only wild, native, pig-like animal found in the United States. Called Javelina because of their razor-sharp tusks, Spanish for javelin or spear." For our part, we shamelessly picked up a fridge magnet with a photo of a very cute mother and baby Javelina.

I can’t say that Javelina’s is excellent value for money as the entrees are moderately priced but the meals are large and definitely better quality than the Taco Bells of the world.

www.javelinacantina.com

Javelina Cantina
671 State Route 179
Sedona, Arizona, 86336
+1 928 282 1313; +1

Montezuma Castle

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by sararevell on December 16, 2007

In an attempt to immerse ourselves in some local culture, we ventured out to Montezuma Castle and the nearby Well. The Southern Sinagua people lived in this part of Arizona from around the 6th century and at some time during the 1400s, they abandoned their villages here and at Tuzigoot for reasons that still remain a mystery. Speculations include disease, conflicts or a change in weather patterns, but after their disappearance, the desert ensured that their homes and history were well preserved.

The word Sinagua comes from the Spanish words, which mean "without water". In the 1100s, the Southern Sinagua farmers began building a five-storey, 20-room cliff dwelling, which explorers later assumed was Aztec, hence the inaccurate naming of Montezuma Castle.

We visited on a mild, sunny November day and I was immediately impressed by the modesty of the visitor’s centre. There are no gaudy signs or high tech audiovisual guides, just a simple historical exhibition and some well placed information plaques as you walk around the grounds.

My in-laws purchased a Golden Passport, which gave my husband and myself free entry to Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot. Even without this luxury, the entrance fee is a very reasonable $5 and the website advises that a discounted rate of $8 is offered for entrance to both the Castle and to Tuzigoot.

We picked up a leaflet, which gives a brief history of the monuments. The short path winds through a leafy garden of sycamore, walnut and mesquite trees on one side, and the burbling Beaver Creek on the other. Within seconds, we were looking up at the Castle (which isn’t technically a castle either), which stands 100 feet above the valley floor. Sadly it isn’t possible to actually enter the monument. It was open to the public up until 1951 but closed due to safety and preservation concerns. On the nps.gov website, there’s a pretty good virtual tour where you can see photos of the interior of the Castle, but standing in its shadow you still get a good idea of the impressive construction feat that it is.

The path follows a loop, where we enjoyed many different vantage points for taking photographs. There are also rangers who occasionally patrol the path and were more than happy to stop and answer questions from inquisitive visitors.

The small but comprehensive visitor centre included an exhibition on the Sinagua people at Montezuma and included beautiful artifacts such as weavings, clothing and jewelry. There’s also a useful diorama along the trail outside that shows a cutaway of the Castle and what life may have been like there during the time it was occupied by the Sinaguan people.

To the left of the main construction are ruins from another pueblo, a smaller 6-storey, 45-room dwelling, which was mostly destroyed by a fire in the late 1400s. The path actually cuts closer to this remain and you get a good look at the foundations of the lower level rooms.

Tel: 928.567.3322

www.nps.gov/moca

Open 8am-5pm/6pm



Montezuma Castle National Monument
2800 Montezuma Castle Hwy Off Highway Southeast Of Oak Creek
Camp Verde, Arizona, 86322
(928) 567-3322

Montezuma Well

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by sararevell on December 16, 2007

A short 11 mile hop from Montezuma Castle is Montezuma Well, a 55ft deep, 368ft wide limestone sinkhole formed by the collapse of a large underground cavern that still pumps through 1.5 million gallons of warm water a day.

The Sinagua people were known to have practiced a rudimentary style of irrigation to keep farm plots watered and at the backside of the well, you can explore a 1,000 year old irrigation channel that is still utilized by locals today.

There is no visitor centre at the well but a ranger’s hut at the start of the trail provides leaflets and information. Entrance to the well is free and unlike the trail at Montezuma Castle, the path to the well is fully exposed to the heat of the sun so a hat and sunscreen are probably a good idea for the half-mile loop. The path takes you around and down to the edge of the well. Cliff dwellings are visible at the top of the well and graffiti from 18th century visitors can be seen lower down on rock overhangs. There are additional cave dwellings at the base and indications of Sinagua life, such as fire-blackened roofs that are still visible.

As we ascended back up and around the well, we followed a path that splits off from the main loop and follows the irrigation channel, which is dug into the tranquil, shady cliff side. I wished that the trail followed the water channel further as it really is quite a picturesque scene.

The warm water flowing into the well exits through a cave that empties into the irrigation ditch. The water has a large carbon dioxide content, meaning that while no fish can survive in the well, unique species of leeches are able to live there.

There were far fewer visitors to Montezuma Well than at the Castle, which made for a really relaxing stroll around. It’s not a very hard or long hike down to the well and as long as you have comfortable walking shoes or even sandals, it’s pretty manageable in spite of the steep drop. The steps down are very sturdy and it’s well worth the short hike to see the cave dwellings and different perspective.

After visiting the irrigation channel it’s a short walk through the cacti back to the car park.

Tel: 928.567.3322

www.nps.gov/moca

Montezuma Castle National Monument
2800 Montezuma Castle Hwy Off Highway Southeast Of Oak Creek
Camp Verde, Arizona, 86322
(928) 567-3322

Tuzigoot National Monument

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by sararevell on December 16, 2007

If you’re left with any frustration about not being able to poke your nose around inside Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot is a great place to satisfy some of that curiosity. About 20 miles northwest of Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot offers a more personal experience of Sinagua life, allowing you to explore the ruins up close.

Meaning "crooked water" in Apache, Tuzigoot was built between 1125 and 1400 by the Sinagua people. Originally two stories high and with 77 ground floor rooms, this village has a commanding view over the surrounding area and it’s possible to see up to the nearby hillside town of Jerome. The entry fees are the same as at Montezuma Castle and while the exhibition within the visitors centre is a little more rudimentary, it still makes for fascinating reading as it illustrates the Sinagua trade routes, the preservation of Native American Indian heritage as well as examples of pottery, axes and weaving.

Walking around the monument doesn’t take very long as the trail is only about 1/2 mile in length, but you have the opportunity to look directly into the ruins and to walk up through one reconstructed room to the rooftop. Entry to rooms for the Sinagua was traditionally by way of ladders through openings in the roof but the well-paved paths and short staircase make it an easier ascent for modern day visitors. For preservation purposes, visitors are not allowed to climb over the walls into the open air rooms but the one room at the very top where visitors do have access gives a commanding 360° view of the valley. From here you get an excellent overview of the construction of the village and arrangement of its many rooms.

As at Montezuma Castle, signs along the trails offer interesting factoids about the Sinagua and the area they inhabited. Below the monument, one board explains how Sinagua "trash" sites have yielded valuable clues about their day to day life, such as the fact that they planted squash, corn and bean crops and used wild grasses for dyes, medicines and weaving materials. Sinagua adults rarely lived beyond the age of forty. When they died, their bodies were wrapped in cotton cloths and they were buried in the hillside with a few personal possessions. At Tuzigoot, 408 such burial sites have been found.

As at Montezuma Well, Tuzigoot is fully exposed to the sun so you’d be wise to wear a hat and sunscreen here too. On our way out there was line of pots containing examples of local flora; including a squash plant that looked a little worse for wear. A printed sign explained the party responsible for its demise: "Look at what the Javelina did to my squash plant."

Tel: 928.634.5564

www.nps.gov/tuzi

Tuzigoot National Monument
100 Main St
Clarkdale, Arizona, 86324
National Park Servic

A Walk Through Jerome

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by sararevell on December 16, 2007

We were starting to run short on time and almost decided to bypass Jerome, but I’m relieved that we didn’t. 27 miles from Sedona and within view of the Tuzigoot national monument, Jerome sits proudly on the wind beaten cliffs overlooking the Verde Valley. Reaching Jerome involves ascending a series of sharp switchbacks and it’s a road most definitely best traveled by car. It’s a small town and we found parking fairly easily despite its understandable popularity with tourists.

Jerome seems to be set up for tourists in a way that is a lot more tasteful and true to its roots than Sedona. Buildings have been carefully preserved and plaques incorporating black and white photography hang on walls, explaining the history of the town.

Founded in 1876, Jerome sits 5,200 feet atop Cleopatra Hill, which offers outstanding views across the valley. The town began life as a copper mining camp and grew to a population of 15,000 in the 1920s. At its peak, the mine produced an impressive 3 million pounds of copper per month. The Depression took its toll on the community and economy. After a short revival in copper demand during World War Two, production again decreased and the mine eventually closed in 1953. Today, Jerome is home to around 450 people making a living from the art and tourist industry.

Jerome has an extremely laid back air about it. We wandered up the zigzag roads and poked our noses into arts and crafts shops with offerings of bizarre trinkets and expensive artwork.

I especially enjoyed the history lessons along the way from the aforementioned building plaques, which are funded by the Jerome Historical Society. One explains the origin of "Husbands’ Alley", derived from Jerome’s historical red-light district, which was mostly located on Hull Street. In 1913, an ordinance was passed that restricted brothels from being located on the street. As a mark of disdain, citizens named the alleyway that ran from Hull Street to Main Street "Husbands’ Alley".

The plaque on what is now the post office talks about its history as a motor company building, originally built in 1918. It changed hands in the 1940s and was home to a market until the US Post Office moved in.

Jerome also has a modest number of cafes, hotels, restaurants and it even has its own winery. There’s also a museum dedicated to its mining history and occasionally it’s possible to sign up for a ghost walk, which I’m sure holds testament to its claim as being the largest ghost town in America.

I would definitely recommend making a longer stopover in Jerome. In the hour that we spent there, I felt that we barely skimmed the surface of all that this town has to offer. I’m sure too that we would have had a richer (and possibly spookier) stay had we spent the night in Jerome instead of in Sedona.


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