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Keep It Simple: Affordable, Eco-Friendly Travel in Sedona, Arizona

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Sedona womanSedona, Arizona, long seen as a rejuvenating mecca for New Agers and Baby Boomers, is getting a new reputation as an eco-friendly destination that can also be easy on the wallet.

Simple living maven Danielle Davis shares her top do-it-yourself tips for making any weekend getaway both economical and eco-conscious.

GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR LODGING

For travelers who don’t require the creature comforts—i.e., showers and beds—the campgrounds at Coconino National Forest (www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino) are the most economical option in town: about $20 a night for tent camping, with only the most basic facilities. Note that three of the four campgrounds, Bootlegger, Cave Springs and Pine Flat are open seasonally from April or May through September or October. Campground Manzanita is open year-round.

However, even the priciest hotel in town, L’Auberge de Sedona Inn and Spa (www.lauberge.com), can yield some unexpected deals … if you know to ask. The high-priced resort construction is currently undergoing a giant expansion project. Translation: For the inconvenience, we were offered a complimentary upgrade from a lodge to a completed cottage, far from the construction noise and close to Oak Creek, which was teeming with ducks, fish and black-crowned night herons.

Sedona landscape - rock sculptureDon’t forget that Arizona’s extreme temperatures also make it a prime location for shoulder- and off-season deals in summer and winter. Alternately, spring and fall offers the most comfortable climate, but also the highest prices.

The most important bonus is that with a cottage, it’s far easier fend for yourself. Microwaves are available for rent (although if you have the car space, it’s easy enough to bring your own), ideal for warming up meals instead of relying on overpriced room service. Case in point, each morning began with bowl of quick-oats dribbled with Arizona honey, rather than the $10 room-service option. Our homemade snack stockpile toted in a cooler fit easily in the spacious mini-fridge. (Tip: Ask the concierge for free ice to refill the cooler for the return journey.)

Find more reasons to visit Sedona in Spa Resorts: More Than Just Massages.

FORAGE FOR AFFORDABLE MEALS

Sedona rocksAlthough the creekside L’Auberge Restaurant is twinkly and inviting, it’s easy to bypass the expensive meals in favor of the DIY option. Gourmet items are available nearby at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace. Think Whole Foods, but smaller and friendlier—a local dive with much to offer in the way of truly local produce and color.

The café offers sandwiches, homemade soups, fish, salad and side dishes to eat inside or to bring to a bench at the water’s edge, a nearby cove, or an even more private and rustic spot. Instead of beautiful, award-winning meals that also cost a bundle, we scored a satisfying meal of tempeh burgers and goat cheese-stuffed portabella mushroom strudels, all for the price of that room service bowl of oatmeal.

Sedona is also a favorite destination for Women’s Travel Clubs.

New Frontiers also serves as an excellent pit stop to fill up Thermos containers with lunches-to-go for day hikes, including rice and steamed vegetables for $4. Fill up reusable Sigg bottles with complimentary cucumber water and there are no plastic throwaways at the end of the day. To go the eco-friendly distance with picnics, bring your own lightweight bamboo utensils and cloth napkins for truly no-waste dining.

Sedona’s Red RocksTAKE ADVANTAGE OF NATURE’S FREE WONDERS

There are plenty tour operators hawking Jeep and helicopter tours on Sedona’s main drag, but in honor of DIY style, simply take your own two feet and you won’t be disappointed.

Visitors can spend days tromping Sedona’s major rock formations in the area, including Cathedral, Bell, Boynton Canyon, and Two Sisters. Red Rock Country gets its color and name from the iron oxide that covers the stones, once deposited by water and then exposed to hundreds of millions of years of sandstone erosion.

Whether or not you believe in the power of Sedona’s storied vortices (or “vortexes” as the locals call them) or spiritual energy centers the rocks are known for, it’s hard not to feel you are in a mystical place of possibility. Exploring these formations involves scrabbling and ascending massive crimson structures and their pockets of bright green prickly pears, lime manzanitas bushes and ancient, twisted junipers, and swallows and butterflies dipping and gliding among the cliffs.

Outdoors in SedonaAt the base of Cathedral, where Oak Creek meanders among pink pebbles and orange boulders, we hiked along the sandy, shady part of the trail and spotted a single red cardinal. At the hotel, you might glimpse yellow warblers at the river and each morning and afternoon at least one heron flies high over the water to feed or roost. On one evening, we saw nine of them in a half hour, yellow legs straight behind, silver wings slowly swinging. A magical place indeed.

REMEMBER, NATURE DOESN’T CLOSE AT NIGHT

In Sedona, it’s birds by day and stars by night. L’Auberge and several other hotels in the area offer free stargazing shows with a local astronomer. It’s pretty simple: a gaggle of visitors huddles around Mr. Astronomer and his gadgets, including one of the most high-powered telescopes in the state, which he designed, peering up at the sky. One clear night revealed exquisite star clusters, a red giant, an exploding star and the showstopper of the evening: Saturn and its rings.

By keeping it simple, it’s easy to create your own “leave no trace” philosophy: no trash, no packaging, no noise, no giant trail of money.

TAKEAWAY TIPS FOR A DIY, ECO-ROAD TRIP:

  • Bring your own favorite, packable foods and beverages in an ice chest for the car (juice, sandwich accoutrements, fruit, yogurt, etc.) Pantry goods like dried fruits, crackers, nutrition bars and sardines are must-haves for the journey too. This will save money and time by not having to stop, and let’s face it, options on desert roads are often pretty dismal.
  • Choose lodging that allows you to fend for yourself, complete with at least a microwave and fridge if not a full kitchen, along with pretty pockets where you’ll want to hang out.
  • In this economy, everything is negotiable. Don’t be afraid to ask for an upgrade or deal, especially if there’s construction or another inconvenience at your accommodations.
  • Find a local grocery store or market for healthy, inexpensive prepared foods to skip footing the bill at restaurants.
  • Toss some to go food containers, coffee/tea mugs, and lightweight utensils (and for bonus points, cloth napkins) in with your luggage so you won’t be tossing any takeaway trappings in the trash.
  • Skip tours and packages and explore nature on your own two feet.
  • Take advantage of free evening activities in hotels or local hotspots, which are more likely during the high-season and on weekends.

By Danielle Davis for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Danielle on the Web at www.lessismorebalanced.com.

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