Monday, July 27, 2009


My family is taking the scenic route to my cousin's wedding next weekend in California; the first stop on our itinerary is Sedona, Arizona. Our plane landed in Phoenix, a city that could serve as an epitome of all that's wrong with the way Americans live. Acre after acre of poorly built and unnoteworthy subdivisions, many of them vacant, punctuated by big-box stores and the occasional megachurch, stretched along the interstate leading north from the airport. Only the temperatures and the occasional cartoonized petroglyph set into the concrete of an overpass reminded us that we had arrived in the Southwest.

Within an hour we had passed through the outermost circle of exurbia into the desert. Great saguaros stuck up out of the ground, branching off at improbable angles, and little scrubby bushes sprouted out of the ground every once in a while. Dim ranges of mountains rose in the
distance; at one point the interstate passed through a sloping trench to run along the top of a mesa. And above the whole scene loomed black clouds, lit up within by lightning, that
stretched down to the horizon ahead of us and increased the unearthly impression of that wind-blasted plain.

But soon enough we were in Sedona, a town of unsurpassed natural beauty whose population of moneyed retirees and graying Aquarians has taken steps t
o ensure that the town's booming development of the past 20 years has not significantly spoiled the view. (The McDonald's in town sports turquoise arches — the color yellow was thought to be out of keeping with the place's southwestern charm.) At the beginning of Sedona's rise as a second-home destination, a developer — I'm told — gave prospective buyers tours of the area in his pink jeep, until, realizing people would rather take tour the land than buy it, he converted his enterprise into the Pink Jeep Tour Company. My family took a tour with them; these pictures (I hope) capture something of the grandeur of this corner of the world.

This formation, known as the Kissing Rocks, is just one of the countless unusual rock formations in the ranges around Sedona. Most of them have whimsical names; there are nuns, movie cameras, Snoopy, a witch's hat, an elephant, and so on.

The rock around Sedona is a type of pale sandstone, that in most places has formed crystals with rust. The resulting stone is known as the Schnebly Hill Formation (Schnebly having been the first postmaster here), and is found nowhere else on earth. Veins of other minerals running through the rock create patterns like the one above, and the erosion of the millennia has imparted a deep red color to the soil.

The prickly pear is found everywhere here, restaurant menus not excepted. It can be grilled or fried and tastes like soggy zucchini.

The unusual formations of the rocks here allow for all kinds of perspective tricks.

The specially-modified jeeps used on the tour can manage impressive slopes; as the guide enjoyed saying, "Just because they're pink doesn't mean they're pansies."

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