Weekend Wheeling in Sedona
Sedona to Flagstaff
Beginning with road routes, a glance at a state highway map will quickly clue you in to all that's offered. First, there's the required 56-mile (total mileage) out-and-back between Sedona and Flagstaff, the latter being the real hub of real people in northern Arizona.
Four times larger than Sedona (which has a population of only 14,000, many of whom are artists, retirees, and self-proclaimed "resident nature lovers"), Flag, as it is called by locals, even looks like a real town. It has a scruffy-at-the-edges downtown, a neat campus (Northern Arizona University), and an "auto row" of aging motor courts that in the Fifties served the Chevrolet and Studebaker crowd as they drove US Route 66 west from Chicago. Sedona, by contrast, is an amorphous collection of homes and shops and other businesses stretched out along the intersecting highways, giving me the feeling each time I'm there that "there's no there, there."
However, before you head up (and "up" it truly is to Flag, a climb of almost three thousand feet), get some breakfast into you. There are worse (and far less memorable) places to start the day than Sedona's Coffee Pot Restaurant, which has 101 omelettes on the menu.
Head out early to avoid the traffic on the narrow US Route 89A as it winds through Oak Creek Canyon. Drivers will be staring at the dramatic red rocks and green forest, and catching occasional glimpses of Oak Creek, just as you will be when you have the chance. So watch out.
The Jerome Extension
If the climb to Flag (and the great downhill-zoom return) has you roadies still in the mood for altitude, grab some shuteye and another omelette, and turn your handlebars south and west toward Jerome, only 30 miles away and a thousand feet higher in elevation (though you'll drop another thousand on the way and thus have to climb two). If you want even more, you can choose to fall (and I do mean fall) down the mountain a few miles further south and west (toward Prescott), and then to pedal back UP to Jerome and on to Sedona. It's a bear. You would do best to spend the night in Jerome and enjoy this burg whose homes and businesses cling to a mountainside and to life itself.
In the old days, Jerome was called the "wickedest town in the West" due to the number of saloons and brothels. Its buildings have burned up (three times between 1897 and 1899) and slid down (when underground mine explosions toppled them) so often that at one time insurance companies refused to accept houses there as collateral for loans. Once the fifth largest town in Arizona, Jerome had a population of 15,000 in the Roaring Twenties, although the Great Depression and later mine closings almost transformed it into a ghost town in the early 1960s. From a population low of 50 souls, the ever-flocking artists and some tourist-trade entrepreneurs moved in to preserve what remained of this unique Victorian setting.
You can caffeine-up at Macy's European Coffeehouse and Bakery before riding back toward Sedona. Spend some time checking out the Indian ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument on the way.
An Alternative Loop
Another way to see both Flag and Jerome is to combine them in a long-ranging loop that will be easy to see on your state highway map. My suggestion would be to climb to Flagstaff for a half-day visit and maybe an overnight, and then to follow County Road 3 southeast to Mormon Lake (where I once camped on a solo winter ride and awakened with frozen-solid water bottles inside my tent) and then on south to Arizona Route 87. Pedal Route 87 to Arizona Route 260 (with visits to Fort Verde State Historic Park and another ancient Indian ruinMontezuma Castle National Monument) into Cottonwood, where you hang a left to Jerome. An about-face at that point will take you back to your start at Land-of-Oz Sedona.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication