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Sedona: Arizona's Gorgeous Red Rock Country - History and Lore

Guest Contributor: F. Ruth Jordan


Sedona Vista

Sedona Vista

Elizabeth R. Mitchell
The Creation of the Famous Sedona Red Rocks

Massive red-rock monoliths bearing the descriptive names of Bell Rock, Courthouse, Church House and Steamboat stand as sentinels guarding the town snuggled under the dominating and awesome Mogollon Rim, the southwestern boundary of the Colorado Plateau. This rugged, geological uplift, dotted with stalwart volcanic cones reaching nearly 13,000 feet in height, speaks of eons of cataclysmic activity. Fossilized sea shells and dinosaur tracks, embedded when the sandstone was merely mud, leads one to imagine how the area appeared during a much wetter period and to conjecture on the forces that shaped this magnificent and stunning locale.

The Ancient Ones Inhabit Sedona

It is believed that among the first human beings to wander into this breathtaking setting were those from a sub-culture of the Ancient Ones, (Anasazis) approximately 1100, A.D. These Sinaguans, inhabited the area for about 300 years, building cliff houses, farming, hunting and gathering native plants for substance and clothing. Although there are several theories, the cause of their mysterious disappearance has never been explained to the complete satisfaction of historians. Sometime, following the Ancient Ones’ departure, other groups filtered into Oak Creek Canyon and the adjoining Verde Valley. They became known as the Yavapai and Apache Indians, and continue to be there today. Although varying ideas of their background and origin exist among scholars, both tribes were definitely roaming and inhabiting the same places, even using some of the same farming spots and irrigation ditches developed by those who had gone before. Remnants of this early civilization can still be viewed by visitors to the ruins of cliff dwellings which continue to display rock-art carved on the walls by these first inhabitants.

Discovery of Beautiful Sedona

Although the Spaniards passed near by in the late 1500s and the Mountain Men "barely stuck their toes" into the northern edge of the territory during the 1800s, J. J. Thompson was the first "white man" to actually settle here. In 1862 he began homesteading, upstream from the current town, in the breathtaking chasm of Oak Creek where, even in today’s "tech world" a certain aura of wilderness and tranquility remains. A fertile patch of ground with spring water for thirsty plants became a site for the raising of his crops, the same spot previously farmed by the Singuans and Yavapais.

More Pioneers Arrive and Sedona is Named

A few years later other pioneers moved into the canyon and surrounding territory, including T. C. and Sedona Schnebly who arrived from Colorado in 1901. When names for the planned post office were rejected by the U. S. Postal Department, T. C. and his brother, Ellsworth, submitted the name Sedona, who was the first postmistress. And so it has remained for over a century. One of the Schnebly granddaughters refers to her grandfather as the town’s "First Chamber of Commerce President." Even in early years when horses were the mode of transportation, he would stop and talk with any person he didn’t recognize as living in the area. He invariably brought them home for tea and Mrs. Schnebly’s gracious hospitality was likened to present day "Bed and Breakfast."

Schnebley's Road

Another contribution accredited to the Schnebly’s was the first “real road” built up the mountains to Flagstaff. It was an arduous journey, be it wet and muddy, or dry and dusty. None-the-less, a road which wagons could actually maneuver was a great improvement over bringing everything down zig-zag trails so steep that they were referred to as ladders. With some slight changes, it is still navigable in the 21st century by most vehicles.

An Agricultural Paradise

Cattle ranchers, orchardists, and artists were among those who continued to find this bit of paradise, to settle down, and to make it home, bringing with them diverse skills, talents and dreams. Gradually a community formed, a school was opened, and a Sunday School organized drawing folks into joint activities and plans.

Sleepy Sedona Becomes Famous

Among memorable happenings in Sedona are: the filming of numerous movies, a majority being westerns, and becoming the location of the founding of one of the country’s most successful art organizations: Cowboy Artists of America. Sedona now boasts a wide variety of cultural opportunities; tours and excursions, including those to Indian ruins; Sedona Arts Center, housed in a former apple packing shed; Sedona Heritage Museum, located at Jordan Memorial Park, registered as an Historic Farmstead and depicting “life as it used to be;” numerous outdoor activities, biking, hiking, horseback riding, birding, tennis, etc.; along with all of this, enormous choices of shopping, dining, and many types of lodging, including exquisite resorts.

From Hopi Ancestors to a Bustling Tourist Mecca

Palakwapi, the Hopi word for "place in the red rocks," has emerged into a town with stop lights and at times more people than the streets can accommodate. Even so, it still fills one’s senses with awe when viewing the picturesque red cliffs accented by trees of deep green framed against a backdrop of azure sky. Sedona is, and always will be, unique, inspiring and breathtaking!

The Beauty of Sedona Designated #1

Sedona, sitting at the edge of the babbling brook of Oak Creek, is known throughout the world as a unique place that has become a tourist mecca. A recent survey in USA WEEKEND Magazine called Sedona "The Number One Most Beautiful Place in America!"

About the Author: Author F. Ruth Jordan (Jackson/Van Epps), author of Following Their Westward Star, was born and raised on a farm in Sedona, Arizona. As an adult she lived and worked among the Navajo and Hopi for a number of years. After returning to Arizona State University to earn her masters’ degrees in education and counseling, she began teaching college courses in Arizona history and conducting historical tours of the State. She started Following Their Westward Star in 1992, as a memorial to her father and to her beloved aunt, Helen Jordan, whose paintings illustrate the book.

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