Less than two hours north of, and on average 30 degrees cooler than, scorching hot Phoenix is Sedona, Ariz. The town known for its amazingly beautiful red rocks, vortex tours and pink Jeep safaris is one of the top tourist destinations in the state.
However, for history buffs like me, the drive time from Phoenix to Sedona can easily double as one makes stops along the way at points of interest such as Montezuma’s Castle National Monument and Montezuma’s Well.
Montezuma’s Castle is an incredibly intact and well-preserved example of cliff dwellings built thousands of years ago. The main structure is five stories high and has 20 separate living spaces that were literally carved from the face of the sandstone cliff. The dwellings were built and used by early ancestors of the Hopi Indians around AD 700. When first discovered in the 1860s, they were mistakenly named for the Aztec emperor Montezuma, based on the incorrect assumption that followers from his kingdom had been responsible for their construction.
Just a mile or so from Montezuma’s Castle is Montezuma’s Well, another mistakenly named national historic site. It is believed that the “well” was used by the original inhabitants of Montezuma’s Castle; however, it is actually a sinkhole that developed as a result of a collapsed underground cavern. More than a million gallons of water a day flow through the crater-like pond continuously and produce an oasis-like environment that is in stark contrast to the surrounding desert. The well and the surrounding area are home to a variety of aquatic plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. In an effort to determine the source of the water, which has never been definitively explained, in 1948 the United States Parks Service used scuba for the first time to explore the well.
Sedona is just three exits north of Montezuma’s Well and a short 10 minute drive from Interstate 17. As travelers round the first curves of the winding two-lane road, spread in a magnificent display ahead are the famous red rocks that wind, blowing sand and rain have carved. Each one a work of natural art, the formations all have names based on their appearance and include Coffeepot Rock, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Chimney Rock, Courthouse Butte, The Mittens, The Cow Pies, Rabbit Ears, Eagle Head Rock, Twin Nuns, Mother and Child Rock, Three Golden Chiefs and Capitol Butte.
Though a relatively small town, Sedona has a large number of fine art galleries, tourist attractions and dining options but surprisingly few hotels, motels or B&B establishments. It has recently undergone a rather dramatic redesign of the road system and now has a series of eight roundabouts leading into town; which, in my opinion, greatly detract from the once pleasurable experience of driving the windy two-lane road.
The natural beauty of Sedona is the true attraction, and it is abundant in every direction. This spectacular scenery is a must-see for anyone traveling through northern Arizona.
Approximately 30 minutes south of Sedona on state highway 89 is another little town that is a complete opposite of Sedona in many ways. The small town of Jerome was first settled by Anglo inhabitants in 1876 and was literally carved into the side of a mountain with commercial and residential structures appearing to be precariously close to toppling forward. It had been a mining town even prior to that when early Native Americans found brilliantly colored stones. Spanish explorers from Mexico seeking gold then came to the area, however instead of gold, they found deposits of copper.
In 1883 the United Verde Mining Company began commercial mining of the vast copper deposits and the town grew quickly. In Jerome’s boom years as a mining town, the population was a mix of Indians, Mexicans, Americans, Croatians, Irish, Spaniards, Italians and Chinese, according to the Chamber of Commerce website.
The population eventually grew to an estimated 15,000 in the 1920s. In 1953, the mining operations ceased, and it became somewhat of a ghost town with an estimated population of 50.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, elements of counter-culture discovered the natural beauty and serenity that Jerome offered and began to re-establish the town as a haven for writers, artists and other like-minded individuals. Jerome was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1967.
Today Jerome is a bustling town of approximately 1,500 full-time residents and boasts an active schedule of festivals and events centered on all things artistic and creative.
One of the most interesting places in town is the Jerome Grand Hotel, perched high above Main Street at an elevation of 5,400 feet and overlooking hundreds of miles of valleys and mountains. The Jerome Grand first opened in 1927 at the United Verde Hospital and was regarded as an engineering marvel due to its 30,000 square feet of poured concrete walls that were constructed on a 50-degree slope.
The hospital closed in 1950 and sat deserted until purchased in 1994. Today many believe that the facility is haunted by ghosts of patients past and has been featured twice on The Travel Channel’s Paranormal Activity show. Guests can arrange for guided ghost tours of the areas of the hotel that have over the years reported the most activity. According to their website, the most common apparition is of a nurse dressed in white and carrying a clipboard. She is said to often be seen stopping at doors along the hallways and appears to be writing notes. Guests have also reported lights and televisions being turned on and off and smells of flowers, dust, cigarettes and whisky.