It's impossible to view the red rocks of Sedona without becoming acutely aware of the passage of time. Geologists say the spectacular sandstone cliffs, arches and spires began to take form 300 million years ago, when a shallow ocean that covered the land began to recede.
Yet the city of Sedona is a relative youngster. Incorporated in 1988, it struggles to balance its unique and priceless natural resources with a boom in land development - and 4 million tourists a year.
Golf courses, art galleries, posh resorts and outstanding shopping and dining have turned Sedona into a world class vacation spot. Jeeps, helicopters and hot-air balloons are popular ways to tour the rock formations. A martini bar and adjacent cigar shop opened recently.
Traffic is increasingly troublesome on the two highways that bisect the city. But true fans of red rock country find ways to ignore the congestion. The Sedona they love is best discovered the way prehistoric cliff dwellers likely came upon it: On foot along the ancient paths that wind around cliffs and canyons and past serene and beautiful Oak Creek.
But the next significant settlement was not made until the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1901, homesteaders Theodore and Sedona Schnebly arrived and settled on 80 acres. Theodore submitted the name "Oak Creek Village Station" to the government for a post office, but it was rejected because it was too long. In 1902, the community got its post office, which was named for Theodore's wife, Sedona.
The area's famed red rocks were introduced to the world in 1923, when Zane Grey's book "Call of the Canyon" was filmed there. Since then, hundreds of Hollywood films, television shows, commercials and music videos have been shot in Sedona.
The community remained sleepy and unincorporated, a haven for artists, hippies and retirees, until the early 1980s. Then Sedona boomed, drawing upscale galleries, posh resorts and, naturally, real estate agents.
The 1990s were a decade of rapid growth. The Sedona Cultural Park, with a 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, opened in 2000 and serves as home to the popular Jazz on the Rocks and Sedona International Film Festival. Four million visitors annually make tourism Sedona's main industry.
Geologists say an early form of the breathtaking scenery was created 300 million years ago, as warm, shallow salt water receded, leaving exposed layers of sandstone and limestone. Over the centuries, water and wind eroded the rocks, leaving the colorful spires, arches and rugged patterns seen today.
One of the best ways to tour the red rocks is by jeep it seems as if there is a jeep tour company on every street corner in Sedona. Guides narrate the trips, pointing out unusual rock formations and taking passengers to Sinaguan petroglyphs and archaeological ruins that are difficult to reach by foot or mountain bike.
Flagstaff, a 30-minute drive north, is a skiing capital, and Sedona occasionally also gets snow. Bring a jacket and warm clothing if you visit during the winter.
The highs during June, July and August reach the 90s F so if you visit during summer bring cool clothing, sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Summer afternoons can be stormy and summer nights can be cool, however, so prepare to dress accordingly.