Dom stared bleary-eyed at the eight open tabs of destination websites on his laptop. Hawaii was out—too much travel time and cost for a three-day trip. The romance of wine country quickly faded for two people who have never, in 10 years of marriage, polished off a bottle before it turned to vinegar. A road trip through Oregon sounded awesome until we started to wade through the logistics of rental cars, B&Bs and distance calculations.
We’re writers. Math is not our strong suit.
I always assumed we’d celebrate our 10th anniversary in New Orleans. When our destination wedding got blown away by Katrina six weeks before the event, I hung my hopes on renewing our vows at St. Louis Cathedral a decade later. But as much as I love (shoving my gullet full of oysters in) the Crescent City, I found myself craving a calmer, quieter place to decompress from the two things that require the most from me: my child and my computer.
After opening a few more tabs, Dom suggested Sedona. Staring at a bunch of big red rocks in Arizona didn’t sound sexy, but I said I’d think about it. A few weeks later, after hiking through a canyon to a secluded pool of clear mountain water, I couldn’t believe we thought about going anywhere else.
Sedona is possibly one of the last remaining small tourist towns that hasn’t sold its soul to Olive Garden. Best I can tell, its residents are either wealthy retired hippies or charismatic Pink Jeep tour drivers. It was settled in the late 1800s, but its history began about 500 million years before when wind erosion, volcanic activity, down faulting and other geological events I don’t understand created the things that draw more than 4 million visitors a year …
Red Rock Formations
Turns out, they are sexy. And impossible to capture in photos, though it didn’t stop us from trying. Sedona’s red rocks are layered, gorgeous reminders that the earth was here long before we arrived and will continue being badass long after we’re gone. Seeing them was a grounding, humbling experience—the kind you can’t get by lounging at the pool, scrolling mindlessly through your Twitter feed. There’s plenty of time for that later at …
Amara Resort & Spa
I was a tad concerned this boutique Kimpton property would be a hangout for the hipper than thou, but, if the hot tub demographics are any indicator, their clients range from retirees and newlyweds to gabbing ladies on girls retreats. Amara sits a few hundred feet down a steep drive below Sedona’s main drag but feels a million miles away from that string of old-lady shops and mediocre Mexican restaurants. (The better shopping, by the way, is at the incomparable and unpronounceable Tlaquepaque Village.) Amara’s rooms form a horseshoe shape around a courtyard that includes a café, lounge area with fireplaces, Adirondack chairs and infinity-edge pool—all of which face a massive red rock in the distance. It gives the place a very communal feel and we turned many strangers into friends while playing cornhole and oversized Jenga. There’s free tea, coffee and hot chocolate in the mornings, free wine in the afternoons, free valet parking and a free shuttle to and from any place in a one-mile radius, which includes …
Best advice we received before the trip: Hit Elote Café on the first night because you may want to dine there twice during your stay. The space doesn’t have a grand presence—it’s hidden in a corner of the Arabella Hotel—but it won me over immediately on three fronts: a walk-up margarita bar specifically for patrons on the wait list, complimentary bowls of spicy popcorn at said bar and the two cornhole boards in the outdoor waiting lounge, essential amenities since the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Start with the namesake elote—fire-roasted corn mixed with spicy mayo and lime—then try a tequila flight while waiting for your buffalo mole poblano and discuss your favorite parts of the …
Pink Jeep Tour
Now look: I avoid tourist tours like deadlines and flu shots, but this one is worth it. The Pink Jeeps have access to roads others don’t and are ridiculously cool machines that think nothing of scaling a massive rock formation while everyone tries to keep their lunch safely in their stomachs. The tour is a smart way to start a trip to Sedona, as it offers a nice combination of history, rock identification (Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Rock, etc.), real-life information about the town and brain-bending facts.
For example, Arizona is home to an insect called the tarantula hawk. This freaky thing finds tarantulas, paralyzes them with a sting and lays its eggs on the tarantula’s belly. Then, when the babies are born, they have fresh food.
Best part? The sting of the tarantula hawk is the second most painful for humans and medical experts advise people to drop and scream if you get stung so you don’t run into something out of sheer pain and knock yourself out.
About three seconds after our guide told us this story, a tarantula hawk landed on the antenna 2 feet from my face and I died a thousand times in my mind. I also defied death at …
We heard about this hike in the Wet Beaver Creek wilderness from a 20-something valet who shuttled us to dinner one night; we had boots on the trail the next morning. It’s four relatively flat but completely unshaded miles to a natural pool fed by surrounding mountains—and a gathering place on the weekends for inner tube-toting, beer-drinking locals who YouTube themselves jumping off the high dive rock overhead. On the weekday we went, however, we had The Crack to ourselves. On a lower-level rock, Dom and I held hands, jumped in and both came up wide-eyed and shouting, not expecting the water to be so fantastically frigid.
The way back was a bit less exhilarating, thanks to some drinking water miscalculations and the sudden separation of Dom’s sole from his hiking boot. I’ll be honest, the whole thing looked a lot less rugged after we jury-rigged it together with my pink ponytail band. Undaunted, Dom flapped along by my side, both of us daydreaming out loud about all the liquids we’d consume at the first gas station we saw driving back to the resort. And that, my friends, is what love looks like, 10 years down the road.