After spending a few days in Phoenix baking in 100 degree temperatures, it was time to head up north to Flagstaff. On the way, we stopped at a National Park and detoured through one of the prettiest towns in the US. We decided to take the easy way up to Flagstaff by using Interstate 17. However, if you have time and prefer a more scenic route, use State Route 89. A mostly mountainous road takes you through Prescott, Arizona’s former territorial capital, and many small defunct mining towns such as Congress and Yarnell. One of my favorite small towns, Jerome, lies on State Route 89, a mile high on the side of Mingus Mountain. Literally, you round a mountain curve and there is Jerome. It is no longer a mining town, but its history is still preserved through museums and its designation as a National Historic District. Since my wife doesn’t like driving on mountainous roads and next to steep cliffs and since I had already taken that route in the past, we opted for the Interstate.
Interstate 17 is mainly an uphill climb in elevation. Phoenix is about 1500 feet and by the time you reach Flagstaff, the elevation is close to 7000 feet. Roadside signs warn motorists to turn off the A/C to prevent overheating. Our first stop took us to the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Located a few miles off of Interstate 17, we were greeted with the Cliff Castle Casino. This area is owned by the Yavapai-Apache Nation Indian Tribe and the casino seemed to be the first sign of life and recreation since leaving Phoenix. We headed down a service road that took us to the visitor center.
The Montezuma Castle National Monument preserves the cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people dating back to 700 AD. The five story, twenty room dwelling was carved out of the Verde Valley Cliff. Standing at the base and gazing up I began to think what these people had to do to build this house. It was hard to fathom how these people climbed that high to carve a house out of a cliff. It made you think how these early people overcame and adapted to their surroundings.
After spending an hour at the park and taking a nice break out of the car, it was now time to head up to one of the prettiest towns in the US, Sedona, also known as the Red Rock Country. We turned onto State Route 179 or otherwise known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. After a few miles, you can begin to see the large red rock buttes and mesas on the horizon. The landscape just seems to change in an instant to these massive rock formations with its beautiful colors of red and orange. We made a quick stop at the Coconino National Forest visitor center. Besides getting information on the area, it offers great picture opportunities of the beginnings of the Red Rock District.
We passed through the small town of Oak Creek Village, which is a small bedroom community for the much larger town of Sedona. A few miles later, we entered the city limits of Sedona. The scenery around the city is something to behold and because of this, it has become a tourist destination. The town itself is very artsy and very wealthy. Shopping is one of the tourist draws, but beware the prices can be very expensive and most of the items can be found cheaper elsewhere.
We grabbed lunch at an overpriced Mexican restaurant in town. After perusing the shopping scene for a while, we headed out of town toward our final destination. Leading out of town are numerous scenic stops for picture taking. A short distance outside of town, we entered Oak Creek Canyon. It’s referred to as a smaller cousin to the Grand Canyon and is the second most visited tourist site in the state after its larger counterpart. We began the drive for about thirteen miles beside the Canyon and after a series of hairpin turns around the mountain, we eventually met back up with Interstate 17. State parks and overlooks are interspersed throughout and many people can be seeing fishing or just taking a swim in the creek.
Since it is only a two hour drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff, it makes all the more sense to visit Sedona and the Red Rock Country. By not visiting this area, you will be missing out on nature’s beauty that can only be witnessed here.