For the past six or seven years, Sedona has been part of our annual winter wanderings in Arizona. I must say that at first I was definitely not smitten with this area, but over the years I have really become taken with the beauty and history of central Arizona.

Despite some cool and rainy weather, my husband Ron and I had a wonderful week in the Sedona area in late March. As I love to do, we discovered some new sights to see, hidden gems and outstanding restaurants. We camped in the town or Cornville, which is perfect for avoiding the crowds in Sedona, and central to the wineries, hiking trails and historic sites nearby.

If you love ancient and western history, the Sedona area is a gold mine. This year we visited Montezuma Well, a fascinating site documenting thriving Native American settlements spanning at least 1,000 years. Here is a desert oasis with a peaceful pond containing 15 million gallons of water. The pond is replenished with new water daily from deep underground, with the overflow passing through a subterranean waterway into Beaver Creek. Ruins of multiple cliff dwellings, a pit house and an ancient irrigation canal can be viewed along the peaceful trails that lead from the harsh desert environment to this small miracle site that sustained ancient people.

Next stop: Fort Verde State Historic Park in the town of Camp Verde. From 1871-1891, Fort Verde was an operational military installation. Today, the park is the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars-period fort in Arizona. The park ranger gave us an excellent introduction, making history come alive. There is a fine museum with interesting exhibits, three historic homes furnished in the 1880s period, and the obligatory parade ground. It is easy to imagine what life was like living at this frontier outpost that served settlers and Native Americans.

The historic mining towns of Cottonwood and Jerome are delightful places to wander, shop and eat. The rather harrowing drive up to tiny Jerome is not to be missed. The road zigs and zags up the side of a mountain, and the streets appear to hang precariously on the steep slopes.

On previous trips we have visited Native American ruins at Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle, Palatki and Honanki. All are absolutely fascinating with cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, pit houses and other ancient dwellings and artifacts. All of these sites are a fabulous destination if you are interested in ancient Native American culture.

Of course, a big draw of the Sedona area is the hiking! This year we took long hikes on two wonderful, uncrowded trails that were a bit off the beaten track. Girdner Trail meanders down into a lovely canyon that is likely even more beautiful when the creek is running. The trail winds through mesquite and evergreens along an easy trail that teases hikers to anticipate the beauty around every bend.

Another day we hiked through Carroll Canyon. Although this year it is very dry in Arizona, the beauty of the red rocks is continually outstanding. Sedona hikes always offer magical light, sprawling vistas, and gorgeous rock formations with colorful layers and mystical shapes. Be sure to watch the direction signs on this hike, as we had to double back at one point. (Sorry, Ron!)

Now, if there is one thing I love to do while on vacation it is find wonderful places to dine. On my birthday, we returned to Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria in historic Cottonwood. Go there! The staff is friendly and well-informed, the wine is mellow and the food is outstanding. We started with always fun wine tasting. A tasty dinner followed including a complimentary large serving of tiramisu for my birthday treat. I recommend the gnocchi — it is absolutely delicious.

Another day we had lunch outside under an enormous, sheltering tree at the Farm a GoGo Cafe in Cornville. Peaceful and delicious. Almost next door to the campground we discovered Up The Creek Bistro Wine Bar, a very popular gourmet restaurant. We could only get a reservation at 4:30 p.m. So despite my protestations that we weren’t ready to join the “early-bird special” crowd, we went anyway. The restaurant overlooks a tree lined creek, where we were entertained by colorful birds eating from multiple feeders. We had a bottle of chilled Viognier, mushroom tart and barbecued pork quesadilla — divine!

A few other destinations we enjoy are the outdoor Tlaquepaque Shopping Village, Deadhorse State Park, town of Prescott, Oak Creek Canyon and any of the numerous scenic hiking trails. The Sedona area continues to draw us back annually. Maybe there is something to the theory that Sedona lies in a vortex, or “swirling center of energy conducive to healing, mediation, and self-exploration.”

Libby Kinder is a freelance writer and retired clinical mental health counselor. She and her husband have lived in southwest Colorado Springs for 16 years. Contact Libby with comments and travel ideas at suchafinesight@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

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