Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock are the best-known of the red sandstone formations that made Sedona famous.
Bell Rock was carved by erosion to look just like the large bell that you’d expect. It’s also a particularly popular site because of its location just north of Arizona 179, the main roadway into Sedona from Interstate 17 (the route from Phoenix).
It is a vortex site and was the scene of a New Age gathering during the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, when a UFO was expected to emerge from the top of the rock. It didn’t, but the site remains popular for its purported spiritual power.
Bell Rock sits on the edge of the 24,411-acre Munds Mountain Wilderness, which also encompasses Courthouse Butte, Horse Mesa, Jack’s Canyon, and Woods Canyon.
For a closer look, take the Bell Rock Pathway, an easy to moderate 3.7-mile trail for hikers and bicyclists that runs along Arizona 179 and skirts the western edge of Bell Rock. It starts at the parking lot, which is just north of Bell Park Road.
Or turn off the pathway about ½ mile from the parking lot to begin the moderate, 4.2-mile Courthouse Butte Loop Trail, which takes hikers on a loop around Courthouse Butte, Spaceship Rock, and Bell Rock. Elevation change is 200 feet. Don’t confuse it with a different trail called the Big Park Loop.
Cathedral Rock used to be one rock, but erosion has carved away sections of it, leaving two large towers and two thin spires. It also has not only the same red sandstone that Bell Rock features but also strata of white sandstone.
The Cathedral Rock trail starts on Back O’Beyond Road and is a steep, climb that starts on bare red rock with steps cut by previous hikers and gains 600 feet in elevation before reaching the saddles between the spires. It’s 1.5 miles round-trip. To get to the trail, head south on Arizona 179 for 3.4 miles, turn west on Back O’ Beyond Road and go 0.6 miles to the trailhead parking lot.
Sedona’s rocks gain their unique color from iron oxide, also known as rust, that water has carried through porous sandstone that normally is white. The hues range from red to orange to tan based on the amount of iron in the rock. The sandstone formations are primarily from the geological formation known as Schnebly Hill, which is 800 to 1,000 feet thick and tends to be interspersed with thin white layers of limestone conglomerate. Geologists believe it was formed when an ancient sea reworked wind-blown sand dunes into horizontal layers.