Sedona’s Beauty Blends Movement, Reflection and Nourishment
Alex Reichek escapes to Arizona’s spiritual place to hike, heal and indulge
Story and photographs by Alex Reichek
Before 2020, I never had the time to sit with my feelings for long without distraction. There’s always been a wedding, a weekend adventure, a birthday party or music festival to jaunt off to. I’ve spent much of the pandemic trying to give my wandering thoughts a break with proven habits like swimming, which is meditative for me, and new ones like exploring the nearby trails and Hill Country, which warms my heart. This first moment to practice mindfulness and staying present (and close to home) has been an unexpected gift, and I’m grateful for it. That said, I missed the escapes.
As the year ended, I booked a last-minute trip to see the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, with one of my best friends from NYC. On our five-night getaway, we hiked, set intentions for the new year, met a raw chocolate maker, drank prickly pear margaritas at an outdoor spa, participated in a healing energy and body work experience and more. In Sedona, I truly felt the mindfulness and sealed the connection with my body that I had been practicing.
I chose my destination for the spacious and off-the-beaten-path Enchantment Resort. I later found out Sedona is known for its healing energy and vortexes. It seemed like a guiding light had beckoned me and that I really am on the right track with all I have learned. Plus, winter is a great time to visit. The sun was out during our hikes and we were able to explore and bask in the beauty of the town while feeling safe and distant at all times.
Here’s my guide on where to stay, hike, eat and relax in Sedona, which is a two-hour flight from Austin to Phoenix and a two-hour drive from the airport.
Where to Stay
The 70-acre property is called Enchantment Resort for a reason. Your mind and body feel exhilarated yet safe as you take in 360-degree views of the surrounding canyon and its tall trees. Wild javelinas roam the grounds. You can sometimes hear a flute player at the top of the rocks. A few of the best hikes are accessible with the hotel key card. Tennis courts, spa and a beautiful pool are also available to guests. You can even eat all your meals here if you desire – but I’ll get back to that.
Most of what I loved about this trip was due to the gorgeous, private setting that surrounded our casita and the great hospitality of the staff. Waking up to the crisp air every morning and walking to breakfast as the sun rises is a joy. The spa, Mii Amo, was undergoing renovations during our stay, but treatments were offered elsewhere on property. For the Intentional Aromatherapy massage, I received a dry body brush exfoliation and a light massage with a blend of oil to match my intention: I am Passionate I Attract Love. On an outdoor labyrinth meditation walk – guided by a leader who explained how life is like a maze with unplanned twists and turns – my friend and I chose what we wanted to take in and leave out in 2021.
Where to Hike
While the hiking seems endless here, we used Enchantment Resort’s Trail House, a standalone center with digital maps, iPads, 3D models and friendly staff to help you find what you are looking for in terms of difficulty level, time and distance. We covered 24 miles in four days. They also offer guided tours, which we did at night!
Cathedral Rock: Our first hike, with its weeping views, was the only crowded one. Known for its feminine energy vortex at the top, this was supposed to be healing. I felt a sense of calm hearing the winds whistle. That alone took my breath away. There is a steep scramble and a deep crevice on the way up, so take your time. Be careful of the ledges up there! Once you see a sign that says, “END TRAIL,” take a left and explore the area. We took 90 minutes up and back. After this rocky and sandy hike, I went to The Hike House in town to get a pair of Merrell boots – a must if you plan to do more steep and rocky trails, and we were just getting started.
Boynton Canyon Trail: This hike is accessible through Enchantment Resort. The trail is covered in deep sand which feels like the beach at times, though there are hills. It ends in a narrower canyon than Cathedral Rock. I loved the views here. It felt more private and personal. We covered just under six miles in about two hours.
Bear Mountain: A seven-minute drive from the hotel, we were told this is the toughest hike in the area. Naturally, we had to do it! Yes, it was! It took us two hours to reach the summit. It seemed like each step was over a giant boulder and through sand. White markers helped keep us on track and reach the top, where we could see all of Sedona and more. Two peaks on the way up can trick hikers into thinking they’re done, but there is more mountain to climb. Bring at least two water bottles. My favorite view was about halfway up because I liked being close to the red, jagged rocks with trees around me more than seeing the area from a bird’s eye view. I’m so glad we took on this lose-your-breath challenge. The elevation is 6,000 feet at the top. It took us four hours at a fast pace for about five miles.
Chimney Rock: I love a good adventure and have experienced how the sky at night can change the perspective, so we booked a two-hour, full moon hike with a German guide named Chris. We were lucky to go on an evening of clear skies that were full of stars as the full moon emerged from behind the rocks. The moon was so gigantic; I felt like I could almost hear it moving up the sky. We learned about the vortex history, topography, geology, how Sedona was founded in 1902, that the iron in the rocks make them red and why this place is so healing and traps people from leaving.
Kachina Woman/Vista Trail: We had access to this 1.2-mile trail through the resort. It’s easier than the others without giant rocks on the path but still gains in elevation. We went at sunrise to see spanning views of the hotel canyon as well as miles and miles beyond. We saw hot air balloons rising, and I realized I liked this view best! There is said to be a balance vortex at the top of both feminine and masculine energy.
Where to Eat
If there is one chef to know in town, it’s Lisa Dahl. This powerful woman boss runs four of the most popular restaurants. Catch her at any of them sporting glitzy Gucci accessories that sparkle just like her personality. She is also working on a new hotel project in town to open next year, which gives me an excuse to come back.
Here are some of my favorite meals while visiting:
Mariposa: This is Dahl’s Latin-influenced restaurant, where everything is cooked on wood. Its dining room is lined with huge, cozy booth and has fantastic views of the rocks. This was my favorite meal of the trip. Everything felt healthy yet indulgent, earthy and perfectly charred. The flavors there are unlike any other restaurant I’ve been to. They are familiar but with a distinct Arizona vibe.
What to Order: Baby Octopus, Sea Scallops, Lisa’s Chopped Goddess Kale Salad (the fresh white cheddar cheese adds a perfect salty touch), Empanadas, Filet Mignon Center Cut, Lobster Mashed Potatoes. To finish, the Flourless Chocolate Cake is the way to go. I’d almost call it fudge.
Chocolatree: This sacred spot reminded me of my favorite macrobiotic place in Austin, Casa De Luz. The menu is gluten-free and 100 percent organic with holistic and Bali vibes. The homemade raw chocolates and nut butters made my taste buds perk up. Radhika Jen Marie is the founder and an experimental gardener and Ayurvedic chef. The restaurant has a market where they sell tinctures, oils, bags of cacao, nuts, kale chips, chia crackers and chocolate. The backyard garden is self-seated with copper water jugs and mugs and a utensil station. You can even grab a blanket to keep warm. Each item on the menu is made from scratch, seasonal and local. The water used in the food prep comes from an artesian, spring-fed source free of chlorine and fluoride.
When I made my way past the door labeled “The Chocolate Room,” where the cacao magic happens, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting chocolate maker Kelly Johnson. Of course, he’s from Texas and had a signed picture of Willie Nelson on the wall. He taught me about the cacao beans and how he doesn’t heat them to high temperatures to preserve their benefits. The beans come from Ecuador, and to sweeten them Kelly only uses natural sugars like maple syrup, honey and agave.
What to Order: Saffron Coconut Dahl; Corn Enchiladas with Spicy Tomato Wrap, Organic Stewed Corn, Basmati Rice, Tomato Sauce, Guacamole, Hot Sauce. The Avocado Herb Sandwich is made on onion flat bread (which they sell in store and online) with cream herbed pate, avocado, tomato and greens. It was hearty and very healthy. The Turmeric Latte was the best golden milk I’ve ever had. They used coconut oil and maple in it as well. For chocolate, try the Salted Caramel Heart and Smooth Raw Vanilla Chocolate Bar.
Dahl & Di Luca: This is Lisa Dahl’s first Italian restaurant that she opened 25 years ago. It’s more intimate, perfect for special occasion – especially with its giant sparkling chandelier.
What to Order: Caprese d’Amore is a mozzarella appetizer paired with tomatoes and portobellos, Brutus Cesare, Eggplant Parmesan. Do not miss the Limoncello Cheesecake!
Picazzos: This healthy, Italian kitchen has pizza, too. It’s super casual. We got curbside pick-up, and I loved everything we ate, even out of little to-go boxes in our hotel room.
What to Order: Sweet Potatoes with Yellow Thai Curry, Sustainable Salmon Picatta, Eggplant Parmesan – yes, another one!
Since Sedona is known as a healing, creative and energetic place, you’ll see a lot of rock shops, psychic signage, healers, breath work and the like. I didn’t want to meet a psychic, but I was interested in a neuromuscular massage and a little spirituality. A friend from Next Level recommended Steven Jaggers in Phoenix (DM him in Instagram for appointments).
The theme of my trip – and throughout the pandemic – has been to slow down, feel and receive more. I needed to balance my giving side and tendency to always try to make others comfortable. I wanted mobility and the special Sedona touch, which is how I ended up in Steven’s studio. When I showed up, I told him I was looking for a combination of breath and body work. He asked me to pick something I wanted to let go of and something I wanted to fill myself with in return.
He began massaging my diaphragm with instructional deep breathing. After about 10 minutes, my hands were numb and tingly, and I couldn’t control the movement. My head felt elevated and high — similar to how I feel after a mile swim in Barton Springs. I wasn’t sure what was happening as I started to shake. Steven advised me to let it out, to let go of the body armor and stop putting so much pressure on myself. It felt wonderful, and the release in my hips through his massage was helpful after all the hiking. I enjoyed his energy, gentleness and new perspective. It was a feeling I’d never experienced with other massages, and I needed a minute after to come back down to earth – in a good way.
I was so relaxed and free, and it was the best ending to my exploration in Sedona. Steven is planning to make a trip to Austin sometime soon (fingers crossed for summer) and works with Aubrey Marcus and the Onnit team as well. I can’t wait to go back and continue to work on my balance.
Alex Reichek is a hospitality and lifestyle consultant and marketer. Her personal site, Chekmark Eats, is filled with recommendations on where to dine, drink and experience the best of Austin, where she lives now, and New York City, where she lived for eight years after attending UT, as well as discoveries made on her travels around the world. This year, with COVID-19 changing up everyone’s plans, Reichek is staying close to home, exploring the Texas Hill Country and sharing her nearby adventures with Tribeza readers. Be sure to visit Chekmark Eats and follow her on Instagram.