Though the landscape of Sedona’s magnificent red rock sculptures were formed “only” within the last ten million years, there are, literally and figuratively, underlying layers to this area’s geologic tale that provide a fascinating foundation for understanding the dynamic history of our living planet.

You might have heard rumors that Sedona will be the new west coast of America, but did you know that 1.82 billion years ago, Arizona was close to the edge of what is now the North American continent?
But why don’t we let the earth speak for herself? Let’s imagine that she is telling the story of one of her most beautiful creations—Sedona. Are you ready, Mother Earth?

“Thank you, I’d love to tell this story, because it’s about what is definitely one of my favorite creations. As always, it took a while, but remember, I am very long-lived and can take my time. Besides, I’m very creative and love variety. Since creativity requires change, it’s no surprise that I am ever-changing. So are you. That’s life, after all, and we are all One.

Now where do I start? Maybe back to around 500 million years ago when Sedona was, guess what, on the western coast of ancient North America. It was very hot—a desert, in fact. I rather enjoyed that. Then, 300 million years ago, give or take 50 million (sometimes it’s a blur), I felt so parched I decided to move it, and Sedona, somewhat west of the ancient North American continent to the bottom of one of my tropical seas. Since it was really close to my equator, it felt warm and soothing and teemed with tiny sea creatures such as the beautiful nautilus and coral. Their little bodies now decorate what your scientists, who love to categorize everything, call the Redwall Limestone deposit. It has lots of aquifers, too, which have, over time, dissolved the underlying limestone and created a sinkhole. That’s how one of them, Devil’s Kitchen at Soldiers Pass, came to be.

After million of years, it was time for change, so I decided to mix it up and have the sea retreat and rise many times to create some more beautiful layers. When it wasn’t a sea, your area transformed into a coastal floodplain. That was a stroke of genius, because perfect conditions existed for the floodplain deposits containing iron minerals to absorb some oxygen. Yes, that’s where the rocks got their rusty color—and they’re still rusting. My plan was to create varied stone formations of soft and harder stone for erosion into fantastic shapes, but this was the icing on the cake. The varied reddish hues would contrast beautifully with the other minerals’ lighter colors.

To spice it up even more, I formed and released the power of rivers from the north to add carvings in the limestone and more layers of sediment. For about 30 million years, my creative juices flowed as my riverbeds and rivers, overflowing seas, and storms created layer after layer of mineral deposits—with some random erosion thrown in for interest. What I got was what you call the Supai Group that included red sandstone, mudstone, conglomerate, and some gray limestone. It was exciting—my vision for Sedona was coming together.

Now there were two more major layers to create—your Hermit and Schnebly formations.
Of course, I was busy creating changes in other parts of my self that also affected Sedona. (The old adage of All is One is forever true.) Thus, I forgot to mention that the Ancestral Rockies (no relation to present day except in location) were formed when I collided North and South America to become part of that ancient continent, Pangaea, oh, let’s see, about 270 million years ago. What is important, though, is that the Ancestral Rockies river systems drained to create floodplains that were the source of the Hermit Formation.

Sedona geological layersNow we have to fast forward to about 167 million years ago when, yes, I missed the textures of sand. I wanted some more variety, so I blew it in from the north. It was slow at first, with patches here and there, until sand dunes were finally formed across the Hermit formation. The shallow basin of the ancient Pedragosa Sea reworked these layers through time and mixed it up quite nicely. When that finally receded, I brought in more enormous sand dunes to cover the area. Eventually (of course), all of this became the 700-foot thick Schnebly Hill Formation.

There are other intermittent layers of sediment forming rock with slightly different colors and textures, but these three, as I said, are the major ones. I don’t need to go into more specifics because I’m sure you get the general idea of how I create.

And, as so well put it in the beginning, the past 10 million years of erosion by wind and water (though mostly wind) are what has created my delightful brand of Fantasyland—the original one! My agent, who you call Mother Nature, helped out with the perfect placement of these various minerals, and their unique capacities for erosion, to form the fanciful, magnificent shapes within the spires, mesas, and buttes.

Take good care of them. I spent millions of years creating this beauty. And while I’m on the subject, I would love it if you would walk on me gently and love me as I love you. Think of me as the body of your mother. In a manner of speaking, but in the ‘rock bottom’ truth, that is what and who I truly am.”