Motorcycle Classics

Destinations: Sedona, Arizona

Nestled in the heart of Arizona’s Red Rock country, Sedona is a beautiful area with many surrounding points of interest. Lying almost dead center in the middle of Arizona, Sedona’s 4,500-foot elevation makes it noticeably cooler than the deserts to the south, and the mountain roads that climb into Sedona make for great motorcycling. The city is known for its tourism and brilliant red sandstone formations, but for motorcyclists, the real attractions are the roads and the outlying areas.

There are several ways to get to Sedona, but heading south from Flagstaff on Arizona’s Highway 89A is, by far, the most scenic. Sedona straddles the Coconino and Yavapai county lines, and as the county names suggest, there is a rich American Indian culture. The town is named after the first city postmaster’s wife (Sedona Miller Schnebly). Legend has it that the initial two choices for the town’s name were too long, and when the postmaster suggested his wife’s first name, it was a natural fit.

From Flagstaff, grab I-17 south for a couple of miles and then pick up state Route 89A south. Arizona’s Route 89A goes through the Coconino National Forest, Oak Creek Canyon and Slide Rock State Park. The road and the scenery are stunning. There’s a vista point about 25 miles north of Sedona at the northern end of Oak Creek Canyon in the Coconino National Forest, and stopping there to take in the views is a must. Slide Rock State Park lies farther to the south. It is particularly beautiful, with Route 89A winding through bright pink pastel rock formations. Bring a camera; the area is so beautiful it almost looks as if it were somehow faked by a Hollywood animator. If you get a sense of déjà vu, it’s almost certainly because you have seen these areas before in many Western movies.

Continuing south along Route 89A drops you into some of the most stunning vistas in the world, with beautiful pine forests and visually arresting red rock formations. This is what Sedona is best known for, and the views through Slide Rock State Park with its bright pink and red sandstone formations are especially dramatic along this stretch of Route 89A just north of Sedona.

Sedona’s sandstone formations are unique in the world. The formations emerged during the Permian period, and several are named for cartoon characters and other things their shapes suggest (Snoopy, Lucy, Coffeepot Rock, Bell Rock, the Mittens, the Cow Pies, Rabbit Ears, etc.). For a photographer or a motorcyclist, it’s a gold mine.

Sedona offers many diverse activities, including hiking, Jeep tours, first-class dining and hotels, galleries, museums and shopping. The main drag through town is heavily tourist-oriented, and staying in Sedona can be expensive. It’s the surrounding regions that really make this area interesting and fun, and traveling even farther south makes for more great views.

After leaving Sedona, continue south on Route 89A and watch for Arizona’s Historic 89 (this is another Route 89). Historic 89 winds through a couple of interesting towns (Clarkdale and Cottonwood), and then it becomes Route 89A again as it twists its way up into the mountains and on to Jerome. Jerome appears to be a blend of an old west mining town and a tiny European mountain village. The town has a series of tight, climbing 180-degree switchbacks with buildings packed along the streets. — it’s an interesting place. Route 89A out of Jerome offers yet more mountain twisties and great views.

Continue on to Prescott (pronounced “presskit”), about 70 miles south of Sedona along Route 89A. Prescott is a worthy destination in its own right, as the city has superior restaurants, hopping-good entertainment and an interesting downtown area.

If you’re headed south when you leave Prescott, take state Route 89 (not to be confused with 89A or Historic 89). This winding road through the Prescott National Forest is magnificent, and the area has the largest stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world.

The Skinny
Sedona, a mystical place in the heart of Arizona’s Red Rock country.
How to Get There: From points north, pick up state Route 89A at the eastern edge of Flagstaff and head south. From points south, pick up state Route 89A north of Prescott. From Phoenix, take I-17 north to state Route 179 north.
Best Kept Secrets: Prescott, just 70 miles south, is a worthy destination in its own right and has a great nightlife. Jerome is an interesting old Arizona mining town along Historic 89A. The Open Range Grill & Tavern in the center of Sedona’s tourist district is highly recommended (try the High Noon chili!).
Avoid: Speeding (they use speed cameras on the freeways), deer, stopped cars (the scenery, especially in Slide Rock State Park, is so beautiful it is not unusual for people to just stop their cars in the middle of the road), mispronouncing Prescott (it will brand you as a non-savvy outsider), and not understanding that state Routes 89, 89A and Historic 89 are three different highways.
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  • Published on Jul 31, 2009
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