Northern Arizona is a spectacular region with juniper, pinon, and huge ponderosa pine forests. It boasts gigantic canyons, desert riparian areas, and incredible rock formations. This high desert region is unique because of the Colorado Plateau, an enormous, thick table-like crust which rose up approximately 3500 ft above the surrounding area. Without this unique formation, the beauty of Sedona would not have been uncovered.
The Extremes of Elevation
At an elevation of 4500 ft Sedona sits roughly at the base of the famous Colorado plateau, which rises steeply to the north. This is known as the Mogollon Rim. Flagstaff, only 45 miles north, sits at an impressive 7000 ft, firmly on the plateau and surrounded by volcanic mountains. From the resulting cliffs, creeks like Oak Creek, Clear Creek, and Fossil Creek burst from the freed aquifers, hydrating an otherwise desert climate, and creating a unique and spectacular region.
Before the Colorado Plateau shifted upwards, volcanos had erupted, leaving a layer of lava basalt still clearly visible from Sedona. You can literally see the edge of the basalt at the top of the rim! The upward lift of the Colorado Plateau broke through the basalt, exposing the ancient sedimentary layers below. The extreme elevation change began the process of erosion through the exposed sandstone The sandstone is very soft compared to other layers, eroding quickly, carving the many canyons that the area is famous for.
An Impressive List
The sandstone of Sedona is iron rich from centuries past as an ancient sea bed. This same qualities can be seen up on the Colorado Plateau at Grand Canyon and into Utah. The result is a spectacular view into the past, forming the beauty of nine National Parks like Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Petrified Forest. Among the Colorado Plateau’s 18 National Monuments are Bears Ears, Rainbow Bridge, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Wupatki, Sunset Crater Volcano, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Natural Bridges, Canyons of the Ancients, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the Colorado National Monument.
Wupatki and Walnut Canyon are close to Sedona and showcase the human history of the area as well as the geology. Sunset Crater showcases the amazing volcanic history.
The gorgeous red rocks of Sedona were formed by a layer of rock known as the Schnebly Hill Formation, which is a thick layer of red to orange-colored sandstone found only in the Sedona area. Fault lines running across the Sedona area further opened up areas of erosion. Some layers erode faster, some slower, leaving tall pillars. Each layer of stone can be studied for unique fossils, telling a history billions of years old.
Experience it Yourself!
Doe Mountain Trail is great for showcasing the entire Sedona area, as well as seeing first-hand the importance of the plateau-effect for Sedona geology. Jim Thompson is interesting because it is set right below the Mogollon rim and at times the lava Basalt cap of the Mogollon rim can be seen up on Wilson mountain and surrounding cliffs. It the the dark layer at the very top, like a dark layer of icing on a cake. It appears very different than the red sedimentary layers below.