A natural reaction to a polar vortex is to look south, think south, and dream south. There are fewer places to contemplate warmth and sunshine than Sedona in central Arizona.
South of Flagstaff in an area renowned for its red rock formations, Sedona is named after the wife of the city's first postmaster—whose name is claimed to have been chosen by her mother because "it sounded pretty." Sedona’s natural beauty certainly reinforces the story, whether one believes it or not.
Sedona's human history began with the Clovis culture but today is known as a center of spirituality and recreation — it's easy to see that association when viewing its stunning surroundings. The ancient red sandstone (deposited during the Permian period) is the chief instigator of open-jawed stares from visitors. A member of the Supai Group, the red- to orange-colored rocks are known as the Schnebly Hill Formation and are only found in the Sedona area.
Sedona's semi-arid climate usually means its sights are displayed in brilliant sun-soaked clarity. But in December, the chance to see falling snow and running water in the desert compels immediate outings to Sedona to experience these rarities firsthand.
Just north of Sedona is Soldier Pass, which resides within the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest. Soldier Pass Trail heads directly north and is flanked on both sides by rising sandstone formations, such as the Sphinx and the Mitten to the east and the unmistakable columns of Coffee Pot Rock to the west.
Arizona cypress, yucca, and a variety of cacti populate the trail, contrasting sharply with the snowy ground and rocks that loom westward. The impromptu streams that cascade down the rocks (and fill the nearby Seven Sacred Pools) evoke comments such as "deserts don't have waterfalls, right?" from gawking Pink Jeep tour groups who troll the nearby forest service road up the pass.
Though difficult to see in a snowstorm, Soldier's Arch looms overhead to the east farther up the trail– leading to Brins Mesa Trail and onward towards the Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness. From the crossroads of Soldier Pass Trail and Brins Mesa Trail, looking south affords a view of iconic Bell Rock and its rippled sandstone.
It is striking how the slightest decrease in elevation can make it seem like the snow never existed. This is certainly the case when taking Route 89A north of Sedona toward Slide Rock State Park, yet before reaching the popular bathing and sliding spot, Wilson Canyon deserves a pitstop to see the bridge over the canyon and also to hike to the base of Wilson Mountain. Winding its way north toward Flagstaff, route 89A eventually rises out of low-lying Oak Creek Canyon to the snowy highlands of Oak Creek Vista, where winter reigns once more.