Sedona, Ariz.: 'GMA' Most Beautiful Place in America

Sam Champion visits Sedona, Ariz., a "GMA" Most Beautiful Place in America.

ByABC News
August 4, 2011, 3:20 PM

Aug. 8, 2011 -- intro: Where else in American can you explore hidden canyons, hike on red rock trails, shop in a recreated Mexican village and then relax in a legendary spa? Only in Sedona, Ariz.

That's why visitors to this Western U.S. city, tucked inside northern Arizona, often ask, "Is there no end to Sedona's attractions?"

And that's why "GMA" viewer Robert Fruggiero of Schertz, Texas, nominated Sedona for the "Good Morning America" search for the Most Beautiful Places in America.

"This place is magical, with the red rocks, desert landscape and those beautiful twisted juniper trees," he wrote in his submission, inspired by a visit to the area. " I think everyone who visits Sedona leaves with a different sense of nature's beauty. I did feel a little more alive while out there."

Often called "Red Rock Country" after its most famous, natural landmark, Sedona is a four-seasons playground with something for everyone, from the spiritual and metaphysical to more hardcore pursuits such as mountain biking and hiking.

"It's not just one beautiful place, but three or four of them smashed together," Dennis Andres, travel author and the city's resident expert, also known as "Mr. Sedona," told "GMA." "In just a day you can go from a lush zone by the river, into places with autumn foliage, into places with open red rock that make you feel like you're on another planet."

That diversity, along with the area's natural year-round beauty and abundance of things to do, attracts nearly 4 million visitors per year, on top of Sedona's 10,000 year-round residents who wonder why visitors ever leave.

If you're lucky enough, as with "GMA" viewer Robert Fruggiero, to travel to Sedona, here are five activities and landmarks you should not miss.

quicklist: 1title: Red Rocks of Sedonatext:Sedona's main attraction is its stunning array of red sandstone formations, known as the Red Rocks of Sedona. The Rocks are formed by a layer of rock known as the Schnebly Hill Formation, a thick layer of red- to orange-colored sandstone found only in the Sedona vicinity.

Most of Sedona's Red Rocks formations are 5,000 to 7,000 feet high, so to really appreciate them you have to get off the ground and take a tour by helicopter or hot-air balloon. You will especially want to go in the air to see the most famous landmark of all the formations, Cathedral Rock, named for its sharp spires that rise high into the sky and resemble those of a classic cathedral.

On the ground, Sedona natives and visitors alike keep active on the rocks' hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, all while enjoying the beautiful scenery. The location's serene, majestical nature also inspires many to use the setting as a one-of-a-kind, breathtaking backdrop for spiritual pursuits, from yoga and meditation to ceremonies.

Whether you choose to be active or stay reflective, make sure you visit the rocks at their finest, during a sunrise or sunset, when the formations appear to glow in brilliant orange and red against the sun.

media: 14233666

quicklist: 2title: Bell Rocktext: Bell Rock stands out as one of the most well-known of the Red Rocks formations because of its legend as one of the most prominent Sedona vortex sites. Legend has it that the Vortex is a spiraling, whirlwind-like energy that exists throughout all of nature. Believers rub their hands together with relaxed arms and shoulder to feel the energy, and then hold out their hands, palms up, to feel the energies enter down through their palms. While in Sedona, people are also encouraged to sit or lie on the rocks to soak up the energy.

The "youngest" rock you'll find on Bell Rock is the Fort Apache limestone at the very top, a mere 272 million years old. People say that when they hike Bell Rock's trails, they experience an electrical charge throughout their bodies and can hike for hours without noticing how much time has passed.

media: 14240070

quicklist: 3title: Palatki Ruinstext: You can't take in the grandeur and beauty of Sedona without appreciating the area's original settlers, Native Americans, who built homes in the area's craggy cliffs more than 1,000 years ago.

The Palatki Heritage site is a particularly popular Sedona destination, located in the nearby Coconino National Forest. Built right into the red rock cliffs, the ruins belong to the Sinagua, descendants of the Hopi Indian Tribe. The word Palatki means "red house" in the Hopi language.

Palatki and its sister site, Honanki, were the largest cliff dwellings of the Red Rock country between 1150 and 1300 A.D. They were first described by Jesse Walter Fewkes, famous turn-of-the century archaeologist from the Smithsonian Institution, who gave them the Hopi names of Honanki (Bear House) and Palatki. Some experts claim to have found pictographs and petroglyphs as old as 5,000 to 6,000 years old among the ruins.

The Palatki Ruins are open to tourists year-round, seven days a week, and include not only hiking and walking trails but also interactive exhibits that give a better view and background of the pictographs and petroglyphs there.

media: 14233656

quicklist: 4title: Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village text: If you want to bring a piece of the Red Rocks magic home, your Sedona experience must include spending time at the internationally renowned Tlaquepaque, a one-of-a-kind, only-in-Sedona, arts and crafts village that will make you feel like you've stepped back thousands of years into the city's Native American roots.

This Sedona landmark was opened in the 1970s but its vine covered stucco walls, cobble-stoned walkways and arched entryways give you the feeling that Tlaquepaque has been around for centuries. The shopping and eating destination was designed as an open and airy, traditional Mexican village, and it's not uncommon to see a well-known sculptor working on his or her latest piece right in one of Tlaquepaque's more than 40 galleries and shops.

And, if you're really lucky, you might even have the chance to see a couple saying their "I Do's" in the village's famous Chapel, a special place for Sedona locals with its stained glass windows, hand-carved leather pews, stunning mural over the altar and white-washed adobe walls.

media: 14240480

quicklist: 5title: Oak Creek Canyontext: Don't forget to bring your swim suit, hiking shoes and fishing pole for this last Sedona must-do, a visit to Oak Creek Canyon.

The canyon, actually a river gorge, is often described as a smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon because it's just that beautiful, so don't miss it. You can find this hidden gem within the Coconino National Forest, along the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona, halfway between Sedona and its neighboring city, Flagstaff.

Beyond the usual campgrounds, hiking trails and picnic spots, the canyon offers some water fun too at Slide Rock State Rock, home to a natural water slide. There's also 49 fishable miles along the creek where rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and can all be found.

media: 14240282