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Arizona: Then, Now and Forever
Story and photos by Leigh Cort - American Roads Travel Magazine

An amazing geological wonder...Sedona's grand red rocks. You can almost touch them!

A Dazzling Kaleidoscope..

Where old habitats are lost and new ones created

The reason I chose Arizona for a vacation was everything I had heard for a lifetime: the miraculous geological wonders of Arizona’s landscapes, scenic roads that seduce travelers to wander off and climb a mountain, the dazzling spectacle of red rocks and mountaintop ranches, even Western movie images of Tombstone. I shivered with excitement as I studied travel guides, watched videos and tried to learn about the adventures that might fill the days & nights. I knew a week in Arizona was going to taunt me back forever, but I tossed my concerns to the wind and boarded the plane.

First stop: Sedona and the Canyon Villa Inn.

Prepare your eyes for the splendor of Sedona’s red rocks; the grandiose views of its dramatic beauty guarantee that you won’t take a bad photograph. 4,000 years ago, the Hohokam (Pima word meaning ‘those who vanished’) Indians migrated up the Verde River settling in the valleys and cliffs. The symbiotic relationship of sandstone, limestone and mudstone that formed the higher part of the pinnacles and buttes of the stunning red rocks was unfolding as the first white settlers found the miraculous beauty of Arizona and its mysteries. Sedona (not an Indian word) and her husband T.C. Schnebly, were the first official settlers of the town in 1902.

Canyon Villa Inn nestled in Sedona's Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte

The Canyon Villa Inn is a stunning ‘hacienda’ to call home during your Sedona visit. Hidden away from the rest of the visiting crowds, it blends flawlessly into the tall shadows of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte whether you’re anticipating a romantic interlude or eco-adventure. Both are recommended! An inviting fireplace and luxurious contemporary furnishing await you at the end of your day whether you’ve explored hundreds of art galleries and Native American handcraft shops or taken a guided hike up the Schnebly Trail. Owners Peg and Les Belch make their Inn worthy of its AAA Four Diamond designation, the first to be awarded in Arizona more than 10 years ago!

Nothing begins the day like a great breakfast at the Canyon Villa Inn in Sedona, AZ

With eleven scenic accommodations, each opening to a private balcony or walled patio, they capture every possible brilliant view of Sedona’s kaleidoscope of colorful landscape. (photo of inn) The 3 hour drive from Phoenix prepared my appetite for Peg’s daily 5:00pm hors d’eoeuvres presentation, a time for guests to relax by the pool, share the day’s adventures or indulge in Les’ well-stocked library. Their international clientele have returned time and again to spend a few days or a month; it’s clearly for adults only and each day’s conversations with newly formed friendships were a highlight!

Sedona boasts an abundance of restaurants, but one stood out...Dahl & DiLuca’s Cucina Rustica. The experience was extreme enjoyment, from the deluxe Mediterranean décor and Spanish guitar music to the stunning service. A perfect blend of rustic Mediterranean cuisine with a Southwest twist, the first dinner of Shellfish in a white wine and garlic sauce over linguine and succulent lamb chops paired beautifully with robust red wine. Lisa Dahl and Andrea DiLuca’s first Sedona restaurant, Dahl & DiLuca, was our choice for the following night, their ‘ristorante Italiano’ serving equally memorable cuisine, service and exquisite old-world ambience.

A trip to Sedona should include at least one adventure with Mike Krajnak, creator of Southwest Outside Tours. Driving on narrow 2-lane roads takes practice, so allowing Mike the wheel of his comfy SUV as he pointed out the archaeological wonders gave us an opportunity to relax and absorb the scenery. If you’re a hiker, he’s a renowned, seasoned private guide/ hiking expert with a confident yet careful approach to exploring the trails and reservations of Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

Only an hour drive from Sedona, if you have the courage to drive carefully and face the challenge of hairpin turns traversing the huge mountains of the Black Hills, you’ll never forget the journey to Jerome. I loved this city with an amazing story dating to the late 1800’s when it was a settlement of simple tents, growing to a roaring copper mining town. Once known as the ‘wickedest town in the west’...it’s a true story of mines, men and money; today it’s a great outdoor ‘museum’ dedicated to its own amazing story of the picturesque town and powerful industrialists making it one of the most dominant copper camps in America.

Charlie Piper with the Sedona Museum, a true Arizona cowboy

I knew there had to be someone in town that could talk about the Hollywood films of yesteryear when John Wayne and the cowboys thrilled us with gunfights, brew halls and fantastic scenery. By chance, we met Charlie Piper, an amazing gentleman with a fascinating story, now a docent with the Sedona Heritage Museum. His family lived and often appeared in many of the movies during the decades they were camped in his hometown, years long before the roads and highways could access the sleepy Southwest. He entertained us with stories and photos of ‘Broken Arrow’, ‘Johnny Guitar’, ‘Apache’ and ‘3:10 to Yuma’. With a proud wink and occasional tear to his eyes, he explained the evolution of ‘his town’. When we left to return to Canyon Villa, we felt as if we had struck gold!

Early the next morning, I once again stepped out onto my balcony, blinking through the sunrise at the red, orange and dappled mountains that reminded me why Sedona was so captivating. I could smell the cinnamon buns and coffee enticing us to breakfast. Missing one of Peg’s breakfasts was against the rules, although warm cookies served before bed the night before were also too tempting to overlook...the ones we ate poolside under the western sky!

As we said goodbye, I knew I would return one day to discover the spiritual side of Sedona...where people travel to better understand its enchantment and their own place in the world.

Hidden Meadow Ranch

Rustic Beauty and Fine Linens...

Where you can Escape from Everything but Luxury!

Our stunning log cabin at Hidden Meadow Ranch in Greer, AZ. It's an elite ranch, for sure.

If the ultimate luxurious mountain lodge is something you’ve only dreamed about, Hidden Meadow Ranch in Greer, AZ (settled by Mormons in 1879) must go to the top of your list. It’s worth the journey to an elite locale like this. High into the Apache National Forest, the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine surrounds numerous small towns nestled in the highland valleys while Elk Crossing signs kept me company on the drive. Descendants of Hispanic settlers, European pioneers and the Apaches joined together in a rare experience, where a simpler less hectic America now embraces four breathtaking seasons: cool summers with wildflower meadows, autumns framed by the glow of golden aspen trees, snowy sunshine-filled winters and springs full of budding trees

My warm welcome to the ranch was Alan on horseback, guiding me to a luxurious log cabin/lodge that was custom designed for discriminating guests…a distinctive retreat including gourmet dining for a select few, personal horsemanship instruction, fly fishing on a spring fed trout pond, tranquil canoe rides, Apache-guided nature hikes and swinging in a hammock surrounded by serenity.

Strawberry Cactus's cozy fireplace

Strawberry Cactus, one of 12 cabins, was spacious... 2-bedrooms, stone fireplace, premier rustic furnishings, fine linens and authentic western artifacts. The old-fashioned porches had limitless views of pine forests and meadows, welcoming throughout the day. As the sun tiptoed through my lodge windows each morning, I awoke to a crackling fire and the cool mountain air.

Hidden Meadow has created a luxury lodging experience that perfectly complements the stunning seclusion... with fabulous service! They anticipate every need, from towels at my cabin door to wipe off boots, unobtrusive turndown service and firewood neatly stacked throughout each day. I treasured the nightly hand written notes on my pillow and the subdued lighting when returning from dinner.

Planning for this vacation means packing light; recommended attire is blissfully casual. Even if you’ve forgotten your boots, they offer a vast collection for you to borrow for horseback and hiking! The Mercantile cabin is more than a sundry shop: hats, boots, country clothing…blending an old-fashioned general store feeling with comforts of the 21st century.

Taking a ride into the Apache National Forest on sure-footed horses is what Hidden Meadow Ranch is all about.

In an era of generational vacationing, Hidden Meadow Ranch is a great destination for sharing; Parents, grandparents or couples in love cherish the pleasures of each other’s company whether fly-fishing, currying horses, making a leather belt or dreaming by the campfire. Don’t even think about TV as you open your daily list of things to do that arrives on your doorstep before breakfast.

With pride in its rustic heritage and wilderness location, Hidden Meadow’s sophisticated dining includes meals graciously served in the Ranch House, a cavernous thick-beamed lodge with wildlife trophies and plush leather sofas for relaxing by the huge stone fireplace. The heartiest appetites (or most selective) can indulge in Chef Robert Murphy’s Mountain Cuisine for breakfast, lunch and romantic candlelit dinner. He knows how to wow his guests with regional creative cooking. "Cooking for my guests is a personal experience for me and only the best matters". The first evening we dined on Elk, tender and flawlessly presented with roasted fingerling potatoes and Vidalia onion served in a mini bellini pan. We shared Cornmeal Crusted Golden Trout, dressed with crispy threads of magenta spinach, followed by a warm, dark chocolate soufflé and Port.

A few favorite dishes were

*Pan-seared Lump Crab Cake with Avocado Corn Salad

Roasted Poblano & Tomatillo Soup – with lime crème fraiche & manchego cheese

Chili-Rubbed Pork loin Sandwich with cinnamon spiced apple and melted brie

Roughing it in style means taking care of little wranglers too. The 5:30 seating is for small children and activities to keep them busy throughout Mom & Dad’s quiet dinner. Menus change seasonally with Southwest specialties prepared daily... from weekend campfires to their famous ‘S’mores and Snifters’... yummy for the kids and ‘warming’ for the adults!

If you’re fond of riding the best horses either for novice or expert rider, you’re in for a treat. We spent an unforgettable morning with Erin, whose professional horseback introduction to the Apache National Forest was a highlight! She discussed aspen groves, elk signs, the remnants of bear claws on Arizona White & Ponderosa Pine. Canero Lake was worthy of the 3-hour ride on ‘Freckles’ and ‘Cowboy’. Surefooted enough so that we didn’t have a care in the world, our mounts took us through steep rocks and forests. As a midday storm approached, risky for two city slickers, Erin’s guidance and horses from their stable of Appaloosas, Quarter and Arabians, made us feel that we were in capable hands. Guests choose from blazing untamed mountain trails, riding The Knoll and Strawberry Canyon or simply riding through the meadows looking for bald eagles, coyotes, elk. (photo of Erin & Jay)

As I bid Hidden Meadow Ranch goodbye, I knew I would always recall a feeling of forever....the grand mountains and spirit of adventure that made the pioneers our heroes. Settling back into the plane trip home, the quietude was comforting and all I needed to remember was how it captured a part of my spirit and passion for America like no other love before it.

Canyon Villa’s Sweet Onion Cheese Dip

Everyone’s favorite at cocktail hour!

3 large sweet onions coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove minced

2 T. butter

2 C. shredded Swiss cheese

1 C. mayo

½ t. hot sauce

½ C. Shredded parmesan cheese

Sauté onions and garlic until tender. Remove from heat. Add cheese, mayo and hot sauce. Transfer to baking dish. Bake 350 for 20 minutes until lightly browned. Serve with crackers. Makes 5 Cups.

Crab Cake with Avocado Corn Salsa

1 lb. Cleaned fresh Blue Crab Meat

2 T. Celery, minced

1 Shallot, minced

1 Lemon, zest

½ Lemon, juice

½ t. salt

4 T. olive oil

4 C. Panko breadcrumbs

(reserve 1 C.)

4 ½ T. Mayonnaise

Gently mix all ingredients (except 1 C. breadcrumbs). Mix into 8 small round portions and roll in breadcrumbs. Heat a Teflon pan over medium heat for 1 minute, add olive oil and crab cake. Sear for 1 ½ minutes and turn over, cook for 2 minutes until nicely browned. Serve on top of avocado corn salsa.

Avocado Corn Salsa

1 Ripe Avocado, peeled, pitted and diced medium

1 Ear of Fresh Corn, roasted...remove kernels

½ Shallot, minced

1 Lime, juiced

¼ Red Bell Pepper, small diced

1 T. Cilantro, chopped

1 Garlic Clove, minced

Salt & Pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients well. Make into a ‘round’ on the plate and place crab cake on top.

Garnish with additional fresh cilantro leaves.

Canyon Villa Inn of Sedona

Hidden Meadow Ranch
Greer, Arizona






Leigh Cort is one of America's specialists in representing distinctive destinations & people in the travel, dining, art and entertainment industries. As Public Relations and Party Director for New York City's distinguished Trump Tower, she produced galas and promoted their significance to the international 'rich and famous'. Leigh's enthusiasm for travel & food prompted her to launch TableTalk, a Travel/Culinary publication from Savannah to St. Augustine. Her journals are her obsession, writing about travel, food, chefs, themed parties, coastal adventures and intriguing people. She's also a member of North American Travel Journalists Association and Int'l. Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association
Leigh Cort's Website: www.leighcortpublicity.com/

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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