Time has a way of changing things, including my memory. The last time I was in Sedona was almost twenty years ago. I was drawn to the area and convinced my partner at the time that we should take a trip to the southwest during our Christmas holidays. I remember approaching Sedona from Flagstaff to the north and descending down Oak Creek Canyon. It was a very steep, narrow and dangerous drive. We were travelling in a truck and camper at the time. I swore that if I ever came back to this area again, I would never approach Sedona from that direction – certainly not hauling an RV. But that’s exactly what I did.
As soon as I started the descent, I remembered what my mind forgot–the hair-pin turns, the narrow and steep seemingly bottomless canyon below, towering mountains and looming rock cliffs, and a thick forest of coniferous trees crowding the road not only robbing me of the remaining daylight but also casting blinking shadows across my vision each time the sun peeked through the heavy clouds. There were sharp broken edges of pavement, an eroded shoulder with hardly any place to pull over, and patches of fresh snow and black ice on the edge of the road. I realized my mistake. I felt trapped. There was no way to turn around as I approached the steepest section of the canyon road.
I white-knuckled the wheel for approximately five miles while I dropped in elevation almost 2,000 feet, a drive that seemed endless. Even with the Buick’s engine groaning in second and third gear for the entire descent, I still had to continually apply the brakes. I thought about the weight of all my worldly possessions packed away in the trailer behind me pushing the car over the edge at any moment. I prayed a lot. I also thanked God for blessing me with four brand new brakes on the Prowler. Several times I felt the trailer slide going around a corner while Arizona’s rush hour traffic from Flagstaff kept pushing me to go faster. Car after car appeared behind me and took chances to pass with no available pavement ahead. Once I tried to pull over to let a line of cars go by, but I scraped the bottom of the trailer as I dropped sharply off the edge of the pavement into a not-so-visible dirt pothole. I finally gave up on concerning myself with what was behind me and focused instead on the harrowing drive in front of me. I had to remind myself to breathe, as blood pumped through the arteries and veins of my neck making it difficult to swallow. I sighed with relief when the canyon started to open up and I saw the “Sedona City Limit” sign stuck in the side of a cliff.
Then something magical happened. I looked up over the steering wheel to witness the giant colourful rock formations so characteristic of Sedona’s “Red Rock Country”. They radiated a warm rich glow from a late afternoon sun that was now shining through the parting dark clouds. “I’m finally here,” I thought. “How fitting that the sun start to shine just as I arrive,” I said out loud. Even though I had seen all of this many years before, I surprised myself with the intensity of my excitement in seeing these magnificent rock structures again. I felt tingles over my whole body. I was euphoric. I wanted to get out of the car to take pictures, but again, there was no place to pull over. By this time I was still only moving 15 or 20 mph, but the giant red rocks seemed to pass way too quickly on my left. But as I continued driving, there were more red rocks—and more–around every bend. But that wasn’t the end of the magical descent.
As I began to see the first signs of Sedona, I looked above the road ahead and saw a brilliantly coloured rainbow beaming down in the direction of the town. But this rainbow was different. It came straight out of the parting clouds without even the slightest bend and was very wide, as if it were right in front of me. “How magical! A straight rainbow,” I thought. Within seconds of seeing this beautiful and surprising anomaly, I finally reached the wide red earthen brick sidewalks of Sedona. I manoeuvred my trailer carefully around the sharp bends and traffic roundabouts, a stretch of driving that seemed pale in comparison to what I had just driven through in the canyon. Gawking tourists stepped haphazardly out onto the street on their way to and from the rectangular-shaped adobe restaurants and shops.
As I drove on, I was surprised by the amount of traffic. I realized how Sedona had grown. I remembered twenty years prior a small town with one main street and a few shops, mostly within walking distance. But now the main street is a far-reaching three-lane highway with side streets that zigzag and stretch their way up the canyons and hills that surround the town. In fact, it is a sprawling bustling city, not the quaint little town that I remembered.