Interstate 17, also known as the Old Black Canyon Trail, takes you past small towns and lovely scenery. As you approach Cordes Junction, you'll pass signs for Bloody Basin, Big Bug Creek and Bumble Bee. In the 1800s, these mining towns were filled with gold prospectors who settled here during their quest for wealth. Today, the stagecoach stops are empty and these mining outposts have become quiet ghost towns. Visitors will find few amenities, but the ramshackle buildings offer some photo opportunities -- and maybe even ghost sightings.
Take a detour at Exit 289 and visit Montezuma Castle National Monument. These preserved cliff dwellings were once home to the Sinagua people over 1,000 years ago. The 20-room apartment, etched into the side of the limestone cliffs, is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America.
Right before the junction for Route 179, you can experience more of Arizona's rich history at the V-Bar-V Heritage Site. This Verde Valley petroglyph site is a great example of Beaver Creek Rock Art dating back to the Southern Sinagua from 1150 to 1400 AD. The well-preserved rock art is spread out over 13 panels and includes more than 1,000 unique petroglyphs.
Hop back on the highway and proceed until exit 298 where you will find the Arizona 179N junction to Sedona.
It's no surprise that State Route 179 is also known as Red Rock Scenic Byway; the towering sandstone rocks frame this state highway on the road to Sedona. In about 7 miles, you'll come to the Village of Oak Creek (or Big Park) where the Bell Rock formation rises from the landscape. Bell Rock is known among New Age-types as one of Sedona's important vortex sites, or a spot where the Earth gives off unique energy. Courthouse Butte is another popular formation in the area.
Continue on 179 to Sedona and use the town as a home base for your adventures.
Explore the Great Outdoors
Now that you're at your destination, let someone else take the wheel and sit back and enjoy the scenery on a jeep tour. Pink Jeep Tours organizes 3 excursions in the Sedona area, combining stunning nature and geology with an overview of the area's Native American culture and history. These off-road adventures travel into deep canyons and along bumpy roads to deliver you to the towering red rocks.
If you want to get out of the car and stretch your legs, try a horseback ride with M Diamond Ranch, a classic Arizona cattle ranch that welcomes guests for some cowboy fun. Horseback riding trips are limited to just 15 people and traverse Sedona's Red Rock District in Coconino National Forest. Dine with the ranch hands during the Cowboy Cookout breakfast or at dinner events overlooking the Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim.
Indulge in some old-fashioned fun and cool down at the natural water slides at Slide Rock State Park. Water chutes have been carved into the rocks over time making for a rocky slip and slide into the creek.
Sedona has all of the makings of a great small town, including excellent restaurants, galleries and shopping, all with a charming southwest vibe. Search for unique souvenirs at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a beautiful outdoor shopping district with quaint arches and porticoes and shaded cobblestone streets. Artisans sell their goods in galleries and boutiques including hand-blown glass creations, stunning photographs and cool jewelry.
If you enjoy breakfast for lunch, swing by the Coffee Pot Restaurant on 89A between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. for all-day breakfast. Leave plenty of time to peruse the menu as patrons can choose from 101 omelet concoctions. Much of the menu reflects a Mexican influence with omelets stuffed with salsa and ground beef and huevos rancheros served with guacamole and tortillas.
Pick up a take-out lunch at the Heartline Café on 89A to eat later under the great rocks. The market is stocked with fancy cheeses and gourmet grab-and-go options including hearty salads, sandwiches and veggie dishes. For dinner, there's a feast of small plates like smoked potato and grilled corn chowder with blackened shrimp or warm red cabbage alongside entrees such as pecan-crusted trout or slow-cooked pork osso bucco.
Whether you choose to spend the night in town or head back to Phoenix, be sure to stick around for a sunset. The red rocks are even more dazzling as the sun goes down.