Until you catch your first glimpse of the famous red rocks as you drive into town on Highway 89A or 179, you might start singing Eagles tunes about dark desert highways. To the uninitiated, it looks like you’re in the middle of nowhere with nary a convenience store or gas station for miles
How did this tiny town of just over 10,000 residents come to be? Here’s your chance to learn more about how the city of Sedona arose.
The Original Sedonans
The first Sedona residents were the Native Americans, who must have felt like they hit pay dirt when they found this oasis amid the high desert heat. The earliest known residents were the Hakataya, who were soon joined by the Hohokam and Sinagua people. If you get lucky when out hiking, there’s a good chance you could find an arrowhead or another artifact from as early as 700 AD.
You can also see how the first people lived by visiting one of the many preserved cliff dwelling and rock art sites that dot the region. Perhaps the most well-known are the Palatki and Honanki ruins. The site is open to visitors for a nominal fee, although you should take a 4WD vehicle to access the dirt road leading to it.
Sedona’s first residents took much of their food from the rich variety of plants that thrive in the region. They were also prodigious hunters, using a throwing device called an atlatl to bring down small game.
Eventually, the Sinagua people left, although no one knows exactly why. They were followed by the Yavapai and Tonto Apache people, whose influence you can still see all over the city today.
The First Europeans
The first Europeans to lay eyes on the now-famous red rocks were members of a Spanish expedition in search of mines. The town began as a remote ranching settlement in 1876, when John James Thompson, the first permanent resident, laid down his stakes.
You can hike the trail named after this initial resident and take in sweeping views of Snoopy and Steamboat Rock along with Thunder Mountain. Fortunately, Jim wasn’t lonely for long. By the early 1900s, several families joined him in the region.
In 1902, Theodore “T.C.” or “T. Carl” Schnebly petitioned the U.S. post office for a new station. He named the town in honor of his wife, Sedona, who risked societal disapproval to join her mate in the wild, wild west.
If you visit Slide Rock State Park on your visit, you’ll notice several well-preserved historical structures. These were once the property of Frank L. Pendly, who planted apple and peach orchards along Oak Creek — they still bear fruit today.
In the 1950s, western movies became popular, and Hollywood discovered the most breathtaking backdrop imaginable for filmmaking. Of course, with all those big shots coming in to shoot on location, the need for lodging and dining arose. The beginnings of the town’s thriving tourist industry arose from the silver screen.
Some notable films you may have seen featuring our jaw-dropping scenery include the following:
“Broken Arrow” featuring Jimmy Stewart
“Blood on the Moon” starring Robert Mitchum
“Starman” headlining Jeff Bridges
Today, tourism remains the number one draw keeping the town thriving. While travel restrictions might keep you from jetting off to Europe — at least until you get your vaccine passport — why not put this spot on your bucket list? Most health experts agree that outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones if you avoid large gatherings, and you’ll find no shortage of hiking trails here to lose yourself in blissful solitude.
If you happen to spy yours truly out and about, stop and say hi. I always carry hand sanitizer, and I’d love to snap a couples pic for you so that you can leave the selfie stick at the hotel.
Sedona: A Town With a Rich History
Sedona is a city rich in history. It’s one where the past meets the present and Native culture is celebrated. Now that you know how the town came to be, isn’t it time to start making your travel plans?