Red Rocks of Sedona 
Are a Place for Play

When we heard the rattle our boots skidded in the dirt like a cartoon coyote’s. The diamondback sat directly in the middle of the trail, and we had its full attention. I’d seen them alongside trails before, usually basking in the sun, but this one wasn’t doing any basking; it was coiled and ready to strike.

We’d hiked a few miles through Manzanita and piñon forests into a box canyon called Boynton, which is located just a few miles northwest of Sedona, Ariz., and has a reputation for “X-Files”-level phenomena. In other words, it’s where earthbound aliens supposedly hold their VIP parties. We figured Mr. Diamondback was probably the doorman, and he clearly wanted to keep us outside the velvet rope. With no way around, we turned back and simply found another beautiful trail to hike.

Sedona is the epicenter of a vast 250-mile trail system in the Coconino National Forest that is entirely interconnected. It is a source of tremendous pride for locals who have worked alongside the U.S. Forest Service to build and maintain it. According to District Ranger Nicole Branton, the Red Rock Ranger District logs the highest number of volunteer hours of any ranger district in the Forest Service.

But the trail system is not built purely for hikers. Mountain bikers have also played a big part in creating the trail system there, and they made sure to include everything they love. Looking for single track? They’ve got miles of it. Slickrock? It’s everywhere. You want a trail that skirts the edge of a 400-foot cliff? They’ve got that too.

Colorado mountain bikers may only dream about getaways to Moab or Fruita, but mountain bikers from Phoenix, Tucson and southern California all plan their vacations in Sedona. Every major mountain biking publication tests their bikes in Sedona, and several world-class racers train there. If you don’t know where to start, check in with my friend Jim Monahan at the Bike and Bean. He’ll send you in the right direction, and make you a great cup of coffee to get you revved up for the ride.

Of course, Sedona also has a reputation for mysticism, which in some ways is well deserved. You can buy crystals in practically every store in Uptown, and there are many stories of alien activity that get passed around. Then there are the vortexes, as they call them. There are six in the Sedona area, and the local chamber of commerce will even provide you with maps in case you want to do a tour. They are thought of as places of power, and some people spend hours at them in deep meditation. The fact that some of the vortexes are located at Sedona’s most famous attractions — like Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock — is beside the point.

The main attraction of Sedona, though, is the extraordinary beauty of its red rocks. They are geologically the same layers of sedimentary rock as in the Grand Canyon, and are every bit as awe-inspiring. Go ahead and hike Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock, because those places are extraordinary. But if you want a hike that’s just as beautiful but less crowded, hike up on Doe Mountain or Brins Mesa, or into Boynton or Fay canyons. If you’re looking for a hike with a big vertical gain, go up Bear Mountain, or find a local to take you up the unmapped Thunder Mountain trail.

But beware: The Arizona desert is extremely rugged, and everything you encounter can either poke you, scratch you, bite you or impale you — so wear long pants. It’s also extremely hot and dry from March to November, so take plenty of water, a good map and wear good boots. And always keep your ears peeled for the chilling sound of Mr. Diamondback’s rattle.

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