Ruined – The Northern Arizona Pueblos

Pooped. That’s what we were after backpacking the Grand Canyon. Unable to find a room in Flagstaff (the snowy New Year’s hotspot that drops a pine cone), we started driving south towards lower elevation and a few degrees warmer weather.


Even the rocks are filled with love in Sedona.

After speeding through Oak Creek canyon we arrived exhausted, cranky, and tired at La Vista Motel in Sedona, AZ.  The motel is a great spot with an excellent staff. The desk clerk (owner?) had the lights off and his bag on his shoulder, ready to close for the night, when we strolled in. He welcomed us with polite chit chat and not a hint of agitation. We knew we were in a special place. Our room was clean and smelled of soap. Though it was a 2 room suite, the clerk gave us a discount since it was just the 2 of us.
Suddenly, after entering the room, Luke got a sudden burst of energy. He just had to take a walk through the lit-up street of Sedona. The town was dead. Ten o’clock on a Saturday night and not a person in sight.

Since Sedona was not on the agenda, we had to consult our guidebook for adventure ideas. What did we learn? Sedona is a hotbed of vortexes (was this the source of Luke’s energy boost last night?). A wonderful revelation for us. A vortex is a spiraling of spiritual energy that can be masculine or feminine; Sedona has 4 recognized vortexes although the entire area is considered sacred by many Native American tribes. Now Luke and I had a mission: we would without a doubt go to all 4 vortexes and leave Sedona more centered, spiritually.


Climbing the pinnacles around Sedona.

The Vortexes

The four vortexes are: Boynton Pass, Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock. All four are popular with the tourists and can be reached with short hikes. Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock present some climbing for those so inclined. Luke was much inclined while

I, the more reasonable of the couple, absorbed the vortexes from lower down.

Another attraction of Sedona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. An architecturally interesting chapel built into a hillside. However, parking was an absolute nightmare and since we are not religiously inclined, we drove up and turned right around, admiring from the comfort of the car.


The Seven Dwarves Sampler at Oak Creek (and no, I don’t have an earring).

Beer and Food

All the spiritual uplift made us both hungry and thirsty so we headed to Oak Creek Brewery & Grill. A wonderful surprise. They had an awesome vegan burger that we chowed down on while drinking our delicious beer sampler.  The nut brown ale was Luke’s favorite while the vanilla, orange-blossom seasonal was mine. Overall, we were very satisfied with our spontaneous stay in Sedona. The town was clean, spunky, and set in a beautiful location. This place may have even made it onto our list of places to live. There are innumerable trails in the surrounding national forest for hiking, backpacking, and biking.

Red Rock Area

If you’re in the area, you’ll need a Red Rock Pass ($5/day, $15/wk) or your America The Beautiful Interagency Pass to park at many trailheads. Passes can be purchased at the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, a worthwhile pitstop with friendly staff waiting to answer all your questions. Sedona is a go to place for the active, adventurous type. Shall we go back? Perhaps.


Bedtime light show.

Honanki Heritage Site: Coconino National Forest

After a night sleeping in the national forest, we were set for 2 days of exploring Native American Ruins. We started at Honanki Heritage Site in Coconino National Forest. The site is open 9:30 to 5 so we got to sleep until sunrise. Honanki was a short walk past the remains of a cliff dwelling adorned with fading petroglyph. Palatki Ruin is near Honanki but requires a reservation so we skipped the site and moved on to Tuzigoot National Monument.


The brown smear towards bottom left is the location of the ancient bathroom.

Tuzigoot, Montezuma, V-bar-V Petroglyphs National Monuments

Tuzigoot is a hilltop dwelling that you can get up-close and personal. The museum is educational and the ruins are partially reconstructed. Next onto Montezuma National Monument. Montezuma Castle was AWESOME. A large cliff dwelling that can be seen from the paved trail. There are some other ruins along the short walk as well but the castle draws the eye immediately. This national monument is a 2-parter. Montezuma Well is an additional drive to an interesting hole-in-the-ground that is filled with water. It is a geological phenomenon. Some ruins are also in the cliff. A good additional spot to stop.

V-bar-V Petroglyphs are very near the well but we unfortunately ran out of time as it closes at 5PM (most sites do). So off we went back to Flagstaff for a beer.


More impressive sky.

We stopped in at Beaver Street Brewery. There were not many vegan options but Luke found a portabello burger that he enjoyed and I found some chips, which I very much enjoyed. The bartenders were very nice and found time to make small talk despite the busy bar. The beer was good with the Lumberyard IPA and Red Ale being the best of the brood. The one advantage is that they can their beers so naturally we bought a couple of six packs. A little hint, the restaurant can get packed at dinner so head next door to the billiards pub that is also part of the brewery.


Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki, Sunset Crater, and Walnut Crater National Monuments

For New Years Eve, we were planning on hitting up 3 more national monuments; Wupatki, Sunset Crater, and Walnut Canyon. The first two 2 sites are connected by a 32-mile scenic drive with national forest intervening, this is where we pitched camp for the night. Both national monuments have several, short trails. It was a lot of in and out of the car as we drove from one ruin to the next. The Citadel was Luke’s favorite. I would certainly recommend seeing all the ruins and not skipping any. The trails in Sunset Crater are longer (ranging from .5 mile to 8 mile round trip). We saw both sites in one day but if you plan on doing ALL the trails without running them, you might want to allocate 2 days to see both monuments. For those without and Interagency Pass, one entrance fee covers both Wupatki and Sunset Crater.


Walnut Canyon Ruins.

With time running short, we made our way to Walnut Canyon, though we couldn’t resist pulling off the road when road signs indicated Elden Pueblo. Being under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service and not the National Park Service, this site was not as well publicized, but fairly large and well preserved. Our last stop, Walnut Canyon, turned out to be our favorite of the ruins. The river carved gorge was filled with hundreds of dwellings built under natural ledges in the canyon’s walls.

With one more night in AZ, we headed out in search of a room along Route 66. Back in Flagstaff we went to New Jersey Pizza Parlor and had an AMAZING pizza. The staff was friendly and the food organic, local, and delicious.


Getting our kicks.

We celebrated 2013 with a beer while sitting in our room watching TV in the Historic Route 66 Motel in Seligman. We enjoyed New Years Day by driving down the historic road all the way to the AZ border. Possibly the most interesting stop along the way was the mining town of Oatman, where wild burros roamed the unpaved main-street, threatening to bite any tourist foolish enough to get close.

We stopped in Lake Havasu City to see the London Bridge. Brought over from London many moons ago. We were greatly unimpressed and upset that all coffee shops were closed for the holiday (except Starbucks but we would rather suffer withdrawal than drink there). Back in California, we relished the warmer (though not much) weather.

Check out our Grand Canyon National Park Adventure!

For more national park adventures, visit our National Park Service Guide.

  • Sedona sounds really pretty! Love the pictures. I want those beers. 🙂