The Geology of Sedona
“The most beautiful place on earth” is a phrase you’ll come across if you read about Sedona, Arizona. This title is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but during our visit, we came to respect its being at the top of anyone’s list! The geology of Sedona has gifted this standout place with spectacular red rock formations that are guaranteed to be awe-inspiring!
This town of 10,000 is an easy, two-hour drive north of Phoenix or an hour drive south from Flagstaff through the beautiful Coconino National Forest. Sedona is at 4,350 feet of elevation, with its’ tallest peaks topping out around 7,000 feet. The south rim of the Grand Canyon is only 100 miles away, making this northern Arizona region an excellent vacation spot.
330 Million Years Ago
The area’s journey to its present-day magnificence began 330 million years ago. At that time, it was at the bottom of the sea, accumulating the shell remains of unimaginable numbers of sea creatures. Time and pressure transformed them into ever-increasing layers of limestone. Rising and falling sea levels transported sediment, further building up layers which eventually formed sandstone, mudstone, and conglomerate rock. Iron in these layers combined with oxygen to form the iron oxide, or rust, which washed into the layers below, coloring them red.
Plate Tectonics and their Role in the Geology of Sedona
Plate tectonics worked to build mountains from this seafloor. As the Pacific plate plowed eastward, it pushed this newly formed rock beneath the North American plate and uplifted it creating new mountainous continental land. Over millions of years, wind, rain, and snowmelt eroded those mountains forming the breathtaking buttes, canyons, and plateaus we enjoy today.
Take a Hike to See the Geology of Sedona Up Close
Hiking is extensive in Sedona, and for good reasons. Over two hundred trails will get you off-road to adventures ranging from easy to probably way too challenging! Immerse your senses in forests with their aromas of juniper, pinyon pine, and cedar, the sounds of running water, and dizzying views as you look up from the base of enormous rock formations. Many trails are also designated for use on bicycles and off-road vehicles.
Some highlights of our visit which we would recommend include:
Courthouse Butte Loop
Courthouse Butte and Belle Rock(also a butte) are some of the first sights that you’ll see if you enter Sedona from the south. A butte is an isolated hill with a flat top. The top of a butte has a rock cap. This cap of hard sedimentary rock is resistant to weathering and erosion, but the area around it wasn’t. Underneath the cap, are softer layers of sedimentary rock. The layers under the cap remain relatively intact, while layers around the cap erode away, leaving almost vertical sides.
The Courthouse Butte Loop is an easy 3.9-mile hike. It is relatively flat and takes you around Bell Rock. If you are like us, you might attempt to climb up Bell Rock. This is challenging and will add on more mileage of course! There are other interesting formations, areas where water flows, cactus, and other wildlife along the trail.
West Fork Oak Creek Trail
This 7.8-mile out-and-back trail follows a stream and magnificent cliffs through lush forest. The trail crosses the stream many times, so count on getting wet feet. This is considered moderate in difficulty. Parking can become limited, so get there early.
This great sandstone arch spans some forty feet and towers five stories above the ground. Sandstone arches, including Devil’s Bridge, are quite rare. According to the website Sciencing, both chemical and mechanical weathering create arches. Acidified rainwater dissolves carbonate rock over millions of years. Then, the wind blows the grit away. Sand grains on the surface of the remaining rock are under tremendous pressure. These grains lock together and become more resistant to further erosion, causing the arches we see.
Devil’s Bridge is a popular site for hikers to walk out on for a photo op. Count on this hike taking about two hours. Most of the trip involves an easy hike, but the 400-foot climb in elevation to the arch requires some pretty steep climbs up a rocky trail. As you ascend the path, you will be treated to some of the most beautiful vistas anywhere. Get there early to take advantage of limited parking.
These were the three hikes that we did during our three-day visit. There are many others that I am sure we will be back to enjoy.
Other than the Geology of Sedona
If the only attractions in Sedona were the trails and unbelievably beautiful red rock formations, it would be well worth visiting. Add in all of its social and cultural interests and proximity to other world-class places; we have to recommend this as a bucket-list vacation destination!
Visit the Village of Oak Creek
Unique geologic formations also surround this easy-living little town. It offers excellent shops, restaurants, and pubs. Here’s a tip for a great way to start your day. Desert Bakery and Bistro! If you will be hiking all day, it’s not hard to justify indulging in their excellent pastries!
Tlaquepaque Arts& Shopping Village
Designed after an authentic Mexican village, this array of high-end galleries offers art that is different from what you typically find. There are a variety of eateries in this shopping village, ranging from classy little cafes to high-end restaurants.
Exposures International Gallery
We’ve had the pleasure of visiting art galleries in cities around the world, and Exposures is up there with the best of them!
If you want to teach your students about geology and landforms our Teachers Pay Teachers shop has a variety of resources.