May 14, 2011

Arizona, Day 4: Sedona Red

April 21, 2011: My fourth day in Arizona began with a drive along one of the most scenic byways in North America: Route 89A. Towering on both sides with magnificent rock faces and thick woods, this stretch of road starts in the high elevation near Flagstaff and winds its way down through Oak Creek Canyon, going through a series of hairpin turns and often clinging to the edges of deep ravines (protected only by a metal guard rail). It offers some of the most spectacular natural beauty that I have ever seen. I've traveled quite a bit and I must say that only the purple mountains of Alaska come close to matching this place in scenic wonder. In all, this drive would take about 35 minutes, though I stopped frequently to take photographs and explore some of the many trails and overlook points that riddle the byway. Route 89A ends in the city of Sedona; a place that bustles with activity, surrounded by incredible red rock formations in every direction (each with a unique name: Sphinx Rock, Teapot Rock, Steamboat Rock, Chimney Rock, etc.). Let me say upfront that visiting Sedona was my favorite part of the entire Arizona trip.

Perhaps the most enjoyable place that I found while in Sedona is an arts and crafts village called Tlaquepaque. Featuring some enchanting Southwestern architecture and design, this community consists of over 40 shops, galleries, and restaurants. I spent most of the morning walking through its many courtyards and alleyways. At every corner, I would find graceful arches, winding stairways that led to hidden verandas, plazas adorned with hand-painted tiles and statues, secret gardens, and glistening fountains. It is a place that absolutely exudes charm and offers comfort.

After leaving Tlaquepaque, I took a drive up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This lovely structure is tucked into the top of the terracotta-hued hills and requires a bit of a hike from the parking lot; though, once reached, it offers unparalleled vistas of the surrounding region. It is definitely a must-see in Sedona.

Next, I visited another hallowed landmark: the Amitabha Stupa. Stupas are an old form of sacred architecture used by Buddhists to enhance spiritual deepening, prosperity, health and, peace. Said to be the "physical embodiment of Buddha's enlightened mind," this beacon of light emanates waves of compassion to all creatures. While I am not a Buddhist, I really enjoyed trekking to the mountainside on paths of dusty russet to visit this serene place. I have hiked on many a nature trail, but none quite like this.

Next, I stopped for lunch at the Barking Frog Grille. I ordered a prickly pear cactus margarita and papaya shrimp. With the patio doors open to let in the sweet Arizona breeze, I chowed down on this delicious meal. If you're ever in the Sedona area, do check out the Barking Frog. The food is great. The ambiance exudes southwestern flair and warmth. Easily the best restaurant I visited on this trip. Yummy!

To round out my fourth day in Arizona, I paid a visit to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park. This place offers an authentic Serengeti experience aboard a giraffe-painted bus. The tour rolls through dense bush where guest encounter zebras, giraffe, rhino, lions, ostriches, and much more. At one point, I even got up close and personal with a camel! LOL! I must say that this park is very well done and I really had the feeling of being on an African safari. Also featured is a Tiger Splash show that is lots of fun...

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, forbearance, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Against such things there is no law."

~Galatians 5:22-23