In 2008, one of my most memorable destinations was the heart of Arizona, which of course, is Sedona. It's renowned for its dramatic landscape of stunning red sandstone, rising like a cathedral in the middle of the desert.
The best way to get to Sedona, in my opinion, is to fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor. If you don't want to rent a car, you can always catch a ride on the Sedona Phoenix Shuttle. It's $90 round trip - so it definitely saves you a few dollars over renting a car, and perfect if you're planning an all-inclusive vacation at one of Sedona's spas.
Renting a car in Arizona has a starting cost of about $50 a day, when you factor in local taxes and fees, and, of course, goes up from there. If you don't mind driving the two hours to Sedona, I highly recommend it. Climbing out of Phoenix, you get to see some amazing landscapes and have the opportunity to stop at several different historical sites along the way - which was how I found and became educated about Tuzigoot National Monument (see the site here). It's an amazing historical pueblo that was abandoned around 1400 AD, which totally fed my inner-history-nut.
One of the common misconceptions is that Arizona itself is an oven throughout the summer. The highest temperatures, to be sure, are in southern Arizona, where Phoenix and Tucson regularly swelter from May to October. Sedona, however, is a bit different, since you climb out of the Valley of the Sun to get to Sedona. June through August traditionally hold highs in the 90's, but the lows are in the 50's and 60's - which is more than tolerable. Plan for cooler weather if you're traveling from September through May.
The easiest way to save money on your Sedona trip takes you on a bit of a drive, but in my opinion is well worth it. Stay in Flagstaff. It's a cute University town and can lead you into other adventures, as well. I found a hotel for less than $70 a night, and it was well worth the 40 minute drive. I flew into Phoenix in the afternoon, so I had dinner in Flagstaff and was fresh for Sedona in the morning.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to experience the stunning drive through Oak Creek Canyon on Highway 89A. There were ample Scenic Overlooks for shutterbugs, and it gives the opportunity to watch the landscape unfold into Sedona.
When you arrive in Sedona, be prepared for some slightly confusing roads. It's best to have a good map if you're planning to go off the beaten path. Sedona.net has some great resources to find where you want to go in Sedona, so check it out before you go. If you're into vortexes, Sedona has numerous locations that allow for that experience, with varying degrees of difficulty. I'm not an intrepid hiker... but I found going to Cathedral Rock's Buddha Beach and exploring the area near the stream incredibly worthwhile, which led me in front of Cathedral Rock.
Sedona has numerous nook-and-cranny art galleries and shops which cater to tourism, and to people who go to Sedona in search of spiritual balance. If you want to see some of the most beautiful landscape in the Southwest, put Sedona on your travel plans for 2009. And while you're there, you may want to plan a trip to a little place called The Grand Canyon - maybe you've heard of it? Just 110 miles away to the South Rim of the Canyon, you can experience all the best of the desert Southwest in one state.