Geology & early history


Natural setting and geological history. Geologically, the history of Sedona began about 500 millions years ago. Over a period of 300 million years, the land was alternately ocean bottom and coastal plain. Sedimentary layers of sandstone formed. Between 200 and 65 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the land. From 65 to 20 million years ago, there were uplifts in southern Arizona and down faulting and wind erosion in northern Arizona. From 20 to 12 million years ago, volcanic activity caused the Verde Valley to down fault into a deep basin with lakebeds, creating the Mogollon Rim.

About 3 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau uplifted. Since then, erosion by wind, rain and snowmelt has created Oak Creek Canyon and exposed the layers of sediment (Schnebly Hill Formation sandstone) to form the spectacular red rock formations we now see in Sedona. Vegetation and wildlife evolved and migrated. The process continues today, however slowly.

Native American. Human prehistory began here about 4000 years BC when hunter-gatherers roamed and settled in the Verde Valley and Prescott areas. Between 900 and 1350 AD, a more advanced civilization began building pueblos and cliff houses. Known as the Sinagua, they were proficient in farming, had an understanding of astronomy, and made baskets, pottery and jewelry. They established trade routes with the peoples of the Pacific coast, Mexico and Central America.

Archaeological evidence in Sedona's immediate environs is meager, but a few fine pots, some stone tools and baskets have been found nearby. The pueblo builders had moved on by 1400 AD, about the same time that the Yavapai and Apache peoples began to move into the area.

Spanish period. The first European exploration of the Verde Valley was in 1583, when Antonio de Espejo searched for gold. In 1598, Marcos Farfan de los Godas also came searching for gold. There is no evidence that either visited the greater Sedona area. They did try some prospecting in Jerome, but found only copper. The area was in the hands of Spain until Mexico gained its independence in 1821. With the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the Arizona Territory became part of the United States.