Planning a summertime get-away from Santa Monica? Well, consider visiting the mystical red earth of Sedona, Ariz.

With spectacular sandstone cliffs to the north and east and awesome red-iron-rich weathered rock formations to the south, Sedona stands on the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau on the Mogollon Rim.

An incredible variety of species abound as desert vegetation meets woodlands and montane forests. Over 500 types of plants, 55 different mammals, 180 species of birds, 35 snakes, lizards and amphibians and 20 species of fish can be found. So Sedona is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and experience an amazing diversity of ecosystems and geologic formations.

The climate of this region is semi arid. It receives approximately 17 inches of precipitation a year and some of it falls as snow because Sedona is 4,000 feet above sea level. The bulk of the precipitation occurs as monsoonal rainfall in July and August. Tropical air from the gulfs of California and Mexico converges over central Mexico and is sucked northward over the dry deserts of the southwest. The result is monsoon-like summer thunderstorms in Arizona and New Mexico.

The magic of the red rocks of Sedona recounts the story of 320 million years.

The rocks are red because each individual sand grain is coated with red iron oxide — the remains of the ancestral Rocky Mountains. As these grains were laid on the earth they attracted iron-rich solutions from ground water. Eventually erosion over millions of years exposed the red rocks and created Sedona’s breathtaking landscape.

Of all the rock formations in the Red Rock Country, Bell Rock is considered the magnet. Its energies attract many people out of their cars without hiking boots or water right up the slopes. By all means, do explore this magnificent rock, but remember to take water, wear appropriate footwear and don’t forget to use sunscreen.

Twelve miles north of Sedona is the Sterling Spring. It taps into the ancient aquifer below the Colorado Plateau, providing the water to the Oak River and in turn creating the fertility of the Verde Valley. It’s surrounded by the breathtaking Mingus and Woodchute mountains.

The majestic Arizona sycamores, alders and Fremont cottonwoods of the Oak River provide important shade creating habitat for wild critters.

They also help slow spring flood waters. Riverbank trees have a crucial role to play in maintaining the vitality of the ecosystem.

They remove chemicals and organic pollutants from the water by reducing the sediments from entering the river.

The hillsides overlooking the Oak River are dotted with clumps of woodland pinyon pine and juniper trees. This tenacious ecosystem occurs throughout the Southwest encompassing over 75,000 square miles.

These woodlands provide habitat and food for many critters including native bark beetles and endangered bighorn sheep. The pinyon pines rely upon the pinyon jay to open cones and disperse their seeds throughout the woodlands. The pines provide food for the birds that occasionally forget where some of the seeds are cached. In the springtime those forgotten cached seeds are able to draw moisture from the top organic layer of the soil where the birds have planted them, and they’re able to germinate. With any luck, the seedlings become saplings and eventually mature trees thus perpetuating the woodland forests. The pines feed the birds and birds plant the trees ¬ó it’s an elegant, life sustaining partnership.

Higher up on the hills precipitation increases and Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine forests form a closed canopy. These mountain forests have evolved to contend with the natural occurrence of lightning-induced fires. Their 1-foot thick bark and ability to hold the branches 20 feet above the ground are two important adaptations that allow these trees to tolerate fast burning surface fires (between the forest floor and 9 feet above the ground).

Sedona is an interesting way to spend a few days outside investigating the natural world or browsing the art and curio shops of northern Arizona.

Dr. Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are: “The Insatiable Bark Beetle” and “The Incomparable Honeybee.” Contact him through

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