Sedona, Arizona: Red Rocks & 25,000 Miles

Odometer (Legend):  518,436


Odometer (ILX):  25,101


As a southern Utah native, I’ve grown up around red sandstone rock formations.  The 10,000-resident town of Sedona, Arizona feels a lot like my hometown in terms of the landscape that surrounds it.  Saturday’s drive was a 312-mile out-and-back trip in the 2013 Acura ILX, with a slight detour from Sedona to Flagstaff on curvy Highway 89A.


Unlike last weekend’s solo trip to Hope, Arizona, this time I dragged 10 friends along for the ride!  We were in 5 vehicles:

  • Woody and Lucas rode in the 2012 Honda Civic Si
  • Josh brought his 2012 Lexus IS350
  • Matt brought a 2012 Infiniti G37 IPL Convertible
  • We met up with Ryan in his 2006 Acura TL
  • And Beau rode with me in the 2013 Acura ILX

All 3 of the Japanese “premium” brands were well represented.

Here’s our pre-trip staging at the Circle K gas station in north Phoenix off the 101 freeway and 7th Avenue at about 11:00 in the morning.


These sporty rides look like they’re ready to conquer the hills.


Our first pit stop was the Sunset Point rest area off I-17 after we climbed a couple thousand feet and weather got a little cloudy.


From an online write-up about Sunset Point:

The Sunset Point Rest Area is a large rest area with different things to look at while you stretch your legs. There are:

  • Vendor Machines

  • Rest Rooms

  • Pet Exercise Area

  • Signs with Interesting Words

  • Poisonous Snakes and Insects

  • A Sundial memorial to Transporation Workers

  • Picnic Benches

  • … And more!


Thankfully we didn’t encounter any of those poisonous snakes or insects.

Siblings.  Woody’s Civic Si and my ILX share the same 201-horsepower 2.4 liter motor and 6-speed manual drivetrain.


There were scattered snow flurries on the 17 as we made our way northbound.  Soon we arrived at our turnoff for Highway 179 north which would get us to Sedona in fewer than 10 miles.


Highway 179 curves around various roundabouts, and we started seeing some of the area’s characteristic rock formations right away.


Arriving in Sedona.  According to the city’s website, this place receives between 2 to 4 million visitors per year.  Those who live there year-round have an average age of 50.



First order of business was to put our hunger to rest, and what better place than an alien-themed restaurant?  The Red Planet Diner is another Roadside America hotspot, having attracted guests for decades to its extraterrestrial atmosphere.


This wasn’t the first time I’ve traveled to places of interplanetary nature.  In 2005, I took my Acura Legend to Nevada’s state highway 375, also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, just outside Area 51.


The Red Planet Diner was filled with odd decor.


Sorry aliens; find an ATM!



Most of our 11-person party went with the “signature” Red Planet Burger for $9.49.  I enhanced mine with mushroom & avocado for $2 extra.



There were plenty of odd sights to keep us entertained.  The food came out surprisingly quick and it was tasty.


This countertop was covered in images that had been taken of UFO or alien sightings over the years.




The exit door has a sign on it that announces our return to Planet Earth.


Outside, our cars lined for a quick photo-op.  Combined mileage on these 5 cars is only about 140,000 miles (and over half of those are on Ryan’s TL alone).  These are some new rides.


Three of the five cars were not wearing Arizona license plates:

  • My ILX:  Registered to Acura headquarters in California
  • Matt’s G37 IPL:  Registered to Nissan headquarters in Michigan
  • Ryan’s TL:  Registered in his hometown of Yankton, South Dakota


The Infiniti was the most expensive car there, doubling my ILX’s pricetag at $62,000.  It’s equipped with the “Infiniti Performance Line” package including a red leather interior.  It was also the most powerful car in our lineup at 348 horsepower.  The Lexus followed with 306 horsepower and an MSRP just over $40k.


Here’s the gang at Red Planet prior to our departure.  Cheesy group pics are my specialty.


Woody’s Civic, named “Rosie Oprah Ling,” stands out in a crowd thanks to her red paint.


Next stop was Mickey-D’s for a hot cocoa.

This McDonald’s on Highway 89A is the only one in the world with its arches painted torquoise instead of yellow.  In Sedona, great lengths are taken to preserve the natural appearance of the community.  Residents are emphatic about minimizing the “noise” created by urban development, so they’ve enacted strict building requirements.  In this case, reportedly the only way the city would allow McDonald’s to build there was if they ditched the yellow M.


Many communities like Sedona are characterized by a lack of street lights.  The goal here, of course, is to minimize light pollution at nighttime and allow the stars to more readily be seen.


Next up we visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross was built at a cost of $300,000 in 1956.  It rises 250 feet out of a red rock cliff.  Upon closer inspection, the chapel is pictured here.  It truly does blend in with the surroundings.



Tour admission was free so we took a gander inside.


I spy the ILX in the parking lot below.




A look inside.  There was a gift shop in the lower level.



In the distance, “Cathedral Rock” can be seen.  I’ve heard this presents a great hiking opportunity but with temps in the 30’s Fahrenheit, we decided to pass for now.



Back to the cars for the final leg of our journey.




This last shot of the chapel was taken out the moonroof of the ILX.


My intent after visiting the chapel had been to hike Devil’s Bridge, the largest sandstone arch in the area.  It’s only a 2-mile round-trip hike, but those chilly temperatures (for us Arizonans, anyway) caused us to rethink that idea.  I’ll go back when it’s 50 or so degrees warmer and hike Devil’s Bridge.  Instead of hiking, we started our ascent to Flagstaff via Highway 89A.


Hwy 89A climbs from Sedona at 4,326 feet in elevation to Flagstaff at elevation 6,910 feet over the course of 25 miles.  The views along the highway are especially stunning when fall colors are at their peak.

This road was a playground for my 6-speed equipped ILX.  The car is so fun to shift through the gears that I find myself oftentimes downshifting unnecessarily.  On these mountain grades, third and fourth gears were just the right match for giving me the power I needed to climb in elevation.  Turns are tight and suspension tuning is key.  Here’s where I think Acura engineers did a great job at achieving optimal ride & cornering balance for the 2,978-pound ILX.


This is the Google Map view of the twisties.

01-08-2013 11-49-57 AM

For a good chunk of this road, my XM radio was not picking up stations due to the canyon walls blocking the signal.  I haven’t had that happen very often!  Finally we made it to Interstate 17 and regrouped briefly at a scenic overlook.


Interesting to note here that my ILX happened to be the highest-mileage vehicle in our photoshoot, yet was the newest model year!  Left to right:

  • 2012 Civic:  18,000 miles
  • 2012 G37 IPL:  11,000 miles
  • 2013 ILX:  25,000 miles
  • 2012 IS350:  8,000 miles



On the way back to Scottsdale, my ILX completed its 25,000 mile mark.


This milestone means that the Acura ILX is now 5% of the way to 500,000!   That doesn’t even seem close, but hey it’s worth celebrating!

Thanks for coming along on the latest drive to five.

Update on Gunther Holtorf’s 1988 Mercedes


Readers who’ve been with me awhile will remember when I introduced them last July to Gunther Holtorf, a 75-year-old man who since 1988 has been traveling the world in his Mercedes SUV, having driven in over 170 countries and traversed over 800,000 kilometers.  His inspirational world tour has been without fanfare or sponsors.  He expects to visit the last 10 countries by August 2013.  Following is a quote by Gunther that I found meaningful:

The world is overpopulated and the tourist industry has sent too many people to too many places. We go to the famous places—Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal—but exploring the globe means you have to look behind the curtain. You have to visit the small villages. Big cities all over the Third World are very much alike. But in the countryside, it’s a different world.

I also especially liked this quote about how Gunther’s travels are a personal undertaking and for no other reason.

I travel for myself, nothing else. I don’t care about communicating with the world and I don’t do anything to please the world. It’s a private undertaking and that’s it. Many travelers, backpackers especially, they undergo all this stress and strain to find an Internet connection. And they sit there for hours typing stories about what they ate for breakfast or whether the customs officer smiled at them or not. Who cares about reading things like that? That’s their world, but it’s not mine.

And then I reflected on how in my last post, I talked about what I had for breakfast in Wickenburg, Arizona.  Ha!  See the article here from Outside Magazine for more pictures and a detailed update.  Be sure to scroll through each of the 12 pages.

Honda History Lesson

Long before Acura came around in 1986, Honda’s been building quality automobiles.  The first one dates back to 1963.  There’s something endearing about the Hondas of yesteryear – they’re so gosh-darn cute.  Ever laid eyes on an N600?


As we’ve advanced so far into the world of bluetooth, iPhone connectivity, and even cars that basically drive themselves (look at the new Lincoln MKZ with its “Lane Keeper” system and adaptive cruise control), we seem to have forgotten the simplicity that could once be enjoyed on the road.  Honda’s early cars were innovative for their time.  Take a peek at some vintage Honda ads on the Production Cars literature website.  Following are some things I learned:

  • A 1986 Civic “Wagovan” with Real-Time 4-Wheel-Drive.  Did you know that this car had a 6-speed transmission with ultra-low first gear?
  • A 1977 Civic 5-speed got 54 miles per gallon highway, 41 miles per gallon city – an industry first to exceed 50 mpg!
  • The ad copy on some of these treasures is quality.  I especially love the final line on the ad for this 1981 Civic GL.  “Is the Civic GL a sports car?  There’s only one way to settle this.  And it isn’t here.”


My friend Tyler knows that I lust after a 1979 Honda Prelude, the first model year of the Prelude.  The gauge cluster on this car actually had the tachometer inside the speedometer and running on the same axis.  Little known fact:  every Prelude from 1979 to its final year in 2001 was equipped with a moonroof.


Til Next Time

Safe travels to all!  Elsewhere in the country, winter storms are making a mess of the roadways.  This particular 1994-1995 Acura Legend sedan (photo sent to me by a friend in Salt Lake City, Utah this week) looks to be a victim of said storms.


Meanwhile in Arizona, my neighbors are putting blankets over their landscaping when it threatens to freeze.


Tune in next time!


20 Responses to “Sedona, Arizona: Red Rocks & 25,000 Miles”

  1. Kevin Amoth Says:

    Another fantastic blog! I remember the Sedona area well from the several times I was there visiting mom and dad in Mesa over the Holidays many years ago. Cheesy group picture looks like you could have 10 brothers! Chapel of the Holy Cross is a natural tourist attraction when in Sedona. If its a busy tourist time, the walk up to the Chapel can wear you out! I saw two ILX’s at Acura Carland around the corner from me yesterday. VIN #’s ending in 2400+ & 2600+. More are showing up on the roads!

    • Thanks Kevin! Sedona’s a nice place. I’d like to go back and explore a little more. You’re right, that hike from the parking area up to the chapel will give you a bit of a workout. I too have been seeing more ILXs on the road so I don’t feel like as much of a loner. Will you make it to AZ at all this year?

  2. Looks like you guys really enjoyed yourselves, I always wondered why the arches were blue. You know the new Fiat 500 has the same tach/speedometer layout as the prelude.

    Every time I hear Sedona I remember my first road trip as a driver, it was to the Jerome meet in 2011. I had just been bored on the forum saw the meet thread and was like ya that could be fun. I had no idea who you were. I knew your legend had miles, but figured you were a traveling sales man or something. I had no idea the whole time I was up there that the GS was yours as well. I also believe I made someone pay for my food at the Haunted Hamburger when my friends were like, “We don’t have our wallets…” You guys were so nice and that road into Jerome was amazing. That day will forever be one of those “That day was amazing!” days.

    • That’s good to know about the Fiat! I haven’t ever even sat in one of those before but I always see the new models on display over at Tempe Marketplace. You can get a brand new one for like $13,900!

      Ahh yes, I remember that Legend meet in Jerome. I haven’t been back up there since. Perhaps time to throw another meet together. (And we would welcome your ES of course). If you ever come across any roads/destinations in the state that you think I should hit up, let me know!

  3. Clif Payne Says:

    I loved the article. Sedona and the canyon drive is one of my favorites.

    • Thank you Clif! There are so many awesome scenic byways within a few hours’ drive of me that I figured I might as well start knocking them off the list. I appreciate the feedback and welcome your suggestions on any others you might know about. Once again, thanks for reading.

  4. Great write up and pics. Had a question, how is your friend Matt’s IPL registered to Infiniti? Did he have an old high mileage G20 and get a nice gift from Nissan? Lol!

    • Hey that’s a great question and I’m glad you asked it. Matt works in durability & pre-production testing for Nissan / Infiniti at the company’s Arizona proving grounds in Stanfield. He gets to take home test cars all the time. On this Infiniti, he was trying to reproduce an issue with the fuel range indicator so he took it home for the weekend to put a bunch of miles on it. Matt’s personal car is a 370Z 6-speed (Sports package equipped) company lease. Nice perk for sure!

  5. Tyson, this is a great post! Your convoy looks really neat too. I lived in Flagstaff for a short while and worked in Sedona. I traveled that Oak Creek Canyon everyday unless it was snowy. Then it was up the bumpy I17. I loved that area and looking at your pix just brought back a lot of memories. Makes me really miss Arizona. I bet the ILX was fun on the switchbacks near Flagstaff.

    • Thanks Jason! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and that’s awesome you’ve spent some time driving those same roads. I feel like I have some amazing roads right here in my own backyard so I’m trying to seek out and enjoy them! Did you have your RSX at the time you were traveling frequently through Oak Creek Canyon? I bet that car handled the curves nicely.

      • Yup, that was a time when I had the RSX as my primary car. It did handle the curves beautifully however, there was very little torque at lower revs to squirt out of corners. I had to rev that little 4-cylinder hard especially on the climb up to Flagstaff. I literally had to have it around 3500-4500 RPM for any power. On a side note, I actually really like that new Lexus IS. That front end is to die for!

  6. I like that IS350 in the pics. I have always liked the current version of the IS350. Have you driven that car or any IS350 for that matter? I love the interior of those cars plus the way the instrument panel lights up when you first start the car. The speedometer moves like a star wars light saber. Also the quality and feel of the leather seats is great.

    I have heard that the IS350 is very quick but not the best handling car. The steering wheel feel is not the best. Also heard that the IS 250 is better handling presumably because of the lighter engine in the front.

    • Yes, I’ve driven (and I like) the IS350. Lots of power! Did not really push it to any kind of limits but I did enjoy the torque. By the way, did you see the new IS that was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show? Front end is pretty wild and crazy.

      • OH NO!! that new 2014 IS looks terrible! jesus that is bad. What the heck where designers thinking??? That front end is from a horror movie. The rear end is terrible too. I dont like to many new cars but the current generation IS was one of cars I would possibly upgrade to one day. After looking at the pics of the 2014 IS, I will be keeping my 2005 Acura TSX for long long time. By the way, will be beating you to 100,000 miles. I am now at 97500 and approaching six figures. You will probably beat me to 200,000 miles though. 😉

  7. Also, there is a picture of you guys outside the chapel. Two guys are standing on the edge of what looks to be a big drop. Was that a good idea or was there a safety net underneath??

    • I don’t think the dropoff was as intense as it looks in the picture. Either way, there’s no safety net. Gotta watch out for yourself out there in the desert.

  8. Looked like a nice fun trip with friends! Your friend Matt has a job that sounds like many would be envious of (including myself)!

    • Marc, he’s definitely got a good gig. Gets a new company lease every year – next year it’s another 370Z, then he might be getting the new Infiniti Q50 the year after that. He basically gets paid to drive cars hard and try to break things! Must be nice.

  9. Hi Tyson, those pics brought back memories! I made the drive out to Sedona a couple years a go to see the red rocks. Took my first helicopter ride there too. Had lunch at The Red Planet. Stayed at an awesome motel that looked disappointing from the outside, but had really cool “theme” rooms (I think I stayed in the Gary Cooper room?) Best surprise was finding the Barking Frog restaurant at the end of town. First time eating frog legs and cactus fries. Explored the Chapel of the Holy Cross too. And all those gift shops selling new age magic healing crystals and rocks!
    Thanks for sharing the trip, it was like being right back there again.

    • Jon, that’s great! Glad some of the pictures could bring back memories. Red Planet is very much a hole-in-the-wall but for the sake of going somewhere “offbeat,” it fit the bill nicely. Now you’ve got me thinking about making another trip out there so I can check out the Barking Frog restaurant. I’ll add that to my list for sure. Hope things are going well out at Center Acura. Talk to you soon!

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