Red Rock region offers natural monuments to Arizona's high county

September 03, 1995|By Bob Willis | Bob Willis,Special to The Sun

In our mind's eye, Arizona produces a wide-angle image of endless vistas, chuck wagons and campfires, mysterious mountain ranges and tall, stately saguaro cactus silhouetted against spectacular peach, pink and purple sunsets. The face of Arizona is as varied as the magazines and movies that have helped create that image. Arizona's personality and scenery change drastically from south to north, from the low-lying desert areas near the Mexican border to the northern high country regions near the Grand Canyon.

If you want to really capture the heart of Arizona, head north into the high country, toward Sedona and Jerome.

Sedona is two hours north of Phoenix on U.S. 17, in the heart of Red Rock Country and the Verde Valley of Oak Creek Canyon. You've seen Sedona hundreds of times in auto commercials showing sexy new trucks and cars rolling past towering red-rock formations.

American-Indians believed this was sacred land. There was something spiritual about the towering red rocks and the energy the area exuded. According to Indian legend, Sedona was a favorite meeting place. Indians splashed in the hot springs up and down Oak Creek, fished, hunted and practiced their religion.

Many of today's visitors still seek such spiritual rejuvenation. New Agers come seeking the power of the Earth's vortex, which they believe is present in the Red Rocks region and provides energy and enlightenment.

Hollywood discovered Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona more than 60 years ago. Zane Grey came to Oak Creek and was inspired to write "The Call of the Canyon" which was later filmed here. Film stars from Henry Fonda to Jimmy Stewart and Gene Autry to Elvis have been on location in Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.

Aside from beautifully sculpted mesas and natural monuments, the canyon features spectacular towering walls. After you leave Sedona and its shopping areas, most of the residences are tucked away in private places.

A focal point in Sedona is "Tlaquepaque," a village of arts and crafts patterned after a lovely Mexican village situated outside Guadalajara. The name means "The Best of Everything." When creator Abe Miller brought the 4.5-acre tract in the heart of town, on the banks of Oak Creek, he was secretive about his project. He was so dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the area that not a single tree was disturbed during construction. Mr. Miller took numerous trips into Mexico to buy antiques, building materials and other items. The result, 10 years later in 1982, became a walled village dedicated to arts and crafts. Small gardens, plazas, fountains, a chapel and lots of restful places are the hallmarks of Tlaquepaque.

The narrow, winding road that links Sedona to Flagstaff offers some of the most photogenic sites in Arizona. Oak Creek splashes alongside a road dotted with parks, campsites and rustic lodges amid tall trees. About 20 miles outside Sedona, there's a scenic overlook where Native-Americans sell handmade jewelry made from turquoise, silver and other stones.

In southern Arizona, they call Tombstone "The Town Too Tough to Die." This unruly border town was the western home of the Earp brothers, Doc Holliday (who studied dentistry in Baltimore), the Clantons and McLaury brothers, and their famous gunfight at OK Corral. But, if you really want a tough town in Arizona, look 20 miles west of Sedona to Jerome, a town named after mining baron Eugene Jerome.

Both Tombstone and Jerome were well-known mining towns. Both flourished in the late 1800s. And both were filled with hard-working, hard-drinking and hard-playing miners, and both have fascinating pasts.

Perched on the side and across the top of Mingus Mountain, nearly a half-mile high, Jerome's vistas stretch across the desert more than 50 miles in every direction, from Verde Valley to the San Francisco Peaks, from the Red Rock country to the Mogollon Rim.

For at least 1,000 years, Native Americans came to this mountaintop to collect the blue azurite with which to adorn their bodies and pottery.

The first copper claim was staked in Jerome in 1876. During the next 72 years, the mountain mines yielded more than $800 million in copper, silver and gold. But Jerome's fortunes were not always rosy.

Jerome's rich copper ore needed to be processed by a smelter to separate impurities, and a smelter required fuel that was not readily available. The fuel was coke, which came by ship from Wales to San Francisco. From California, the fuel was sent by rail to Ashford, Ariz., where it was transferred to wagons for the final 60-mile journey to Jerome. Despite the richness of Jerome's natural ore, substantial financial support was necessary to get a finished product to the marketplace.

In 1882, that financial support came in the person of Eugene Jerome of New York. In exchange for capital, the miners agreed name the camp after him. Within a year or two, his United Verde Copper Company of Jerome was paying handsome dividends.

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