The ride out of Payson began with an ascent of Strawberry Hill, which would have been more appropriately named 'Giant Mountain'. As a testament to how not-flat and desert-like Arizona is, we have ascended for 15,000 feet in the last ~250 miles! The ascent of Strawberry Hill provided spectacular scenery - thick green pine forests contrasted strongly with stunning red rock outcrops that alternated with white limestone layers and covered large chunks of mountainside.
After summiting Strawberry Hill past the small town of Pine and past countless managed fire areas, we began a massive descent into first shrubs, then desertlands, then Sedona. Sedona is like no city I have ever laid eyes upon. It is built right up out of the red rocks, stretching themselves to the sky like hands and fingers reaching for the clouds.
We stayed at the Church of the Red Rock, which looks out right upon the outcrops.
However, the views inside could not satisfy me in this geologists paradise, so after I explored a beautiful creek that ran through town (and explored the town a little as well) I decided to sleep in a remote spot near the church that still provided a view of the rocks and the city below them, lit up by the lights of the town and the full moon shining down.
In the morning, we explored the little-known Wind Caves, dug out by years of erosional forces from high winds and water. The caves stretched on for a while and would occasionally open up to reveal views of the landscape beyond.
With only 30 miles to ride to Flagstaff, we continued to explore until we came upon a spot along the stream where we could do a bit of cliff jumping! Along with a few locals, we had the time of our lives jumping from red rock ledges into the cold stream waters below.
We also explored the "Slide Rock", a naturally smooth section of the underlying rocks in the stream that you can slide down for several hundred feet. We continued onwards and upwards, literally, to Flagstaff, soon hitting switchbacks that were steep, but provided amazing views. There is something special about getting to the top of a switchback and looking down at the snaking yellow lines of the road going down the mountain hundreds of feet below you. Later on, I had dreams about falling down the amazing mountain view that I stared at for so long at the top!