Taking a spin in Sedona

by Harriet Potter

When you want to explore the beautiful red rock country of Sedona in Arizona, there's only one way to do it in style: riding high on the back of a Hummer

Hummers make me angry. Along with stretch limos, they top my list of the most ridiculous and impractical cars (if you can call them that) on the roads today. So, as someone who swore they'd never get in one, what the hell was I doing sailing down the freeway in a AM General Humvee? I blame my husband.

Red rock country

We were on honeymoon in Sedona, a small town famed for its spectacular red rock scenery in the heart of the high plains of Arizona. Before the 1960s, this place was nothing more than a quiet little spot, but with the arrival of the hippy, the town's strange rock formations quickly rose to fame. Many still come to worship in what they see as an outdoor temple and feed off the spiritual energy that can be found at the various vortexes around town.

As the visitors flocked here, the less spiritually minded saw an opportunity to exploit the natural beauty of the area and today no trip to the town is complete without a Jeep tour into red rock country. Sedona's main street is littered with companies all claiming to offer the ultimate experience. I had left my husband in charge of booking us on one and when he returned to the hotel, anticipating my dissatisfaction with his choice, he was armed for the fight.

“It's much more environmentally-friendly than going in a Jeep,” he pleaded. “They have this special thingy that spreads the vehicle's weight so that it doesn't contribute to the ruts along the tracks.” The sales person must have seen him coming. “And they use Bio-Diesel, a mixture of vegetable oil and fuel, which reduces their emissions by 78 per cent.” “Did they tell you all this before or after you bought the tickets?” I asked. He just beamed sheepishly.

Hitting the road

So here I was, sat some 6ft in the air on the back of a converted Hummer. Being out of season, it was just us newlyweds and Larry, our driver and guide. Larry looked like he'd arrived in the 60s and never moved on. His wispy grey hair was tied back in a ponytail and he was wearing a combination of woolly hats as well as some seriously high-tech sunglasses. He gunned up the engine and we headed down the highway out of town.

Hummer Affair (http://jjrails.com) offer a variety of tours on the less-used trails in the area, from the sedately scenic to the extreme “Jeep Eater”. We'd gone for the introductory trip, which promised to be a bit of both. Looking like a mini moving cinema, the modified Hummer had rows of well-padded seats rising up above the cab. Despite the warmth of the winter sun, I was freezing and being up so high, we were exposed to the cold wind that blew right through the thick pile of blankets we had wrapped around us.

Larry was mic-ed up and we shouted in response to the usual questions about where were we from, what did we want to see, etc. Picking up speed, he shifted gear, the engine suddenly making a rather rattly noise. I wondered whether this was normal for a Hummer. Judging by Larry's language, it was not. He immediately pulled over and began rooting around under the gearbox, a mass of wires protruding in all directions. It didn't look good. So much for this all-conquering High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle.

“Damn thing - they break down more often than you think. I don't want to get us all the way out there only to get stuck. I'm going to radio in”.

The thought of hiking our way out of the middle of the desert didn't appeal to us either. After a flurry of crackly dialogue, it was decided we'd pull off at the trail head and wait for a replacement vehicle to take us on. About 20 minutes later, a second Hummer arrived and just as my seat had begun to warm, we clambered down and up onto the other, freezing cold Hummer.

On the road again

Larry was full of information and had been busy telling us about all the plant life in the desert and how it had sustained the Native Americans for thousands of years. A bit of a home botanist, he himself had sampled most of the flora in an attempt to see what was edible and what was not. This was one tough guy.

We were now covered in a fine layer of ruddy dust. The trail was narrow and twisty and we bounced along, thankful for the well-padded seats. Several times, Larry slowed right down to plough through a rather sandy area; these were dry arroyos, or river banks, that would flood in spring. The other side was a near vertical climb out and I was relived I wasn't the one navigating the difficult terrain. There's an art to driving such a machine and despite the Hummer's reputation, a lot of the skill rests with the driver.

As we drove along, Larry pointed out various rocks and their names as well as providing us with an in-depth geology lesson. I was barely able to hold my camera as we jerked and bobbed along, but he stopped so we could take photos, the peace and quiet coming as a welcome relief from the constant movement and noise of the engine.

Nearing the end of our tour, Larry treated us to a little driving display, as we reversed back over huge boulders (“You couldn't do that in a Jeep, could ya?!”) and put his foot down, letting the back slide about madly. It was really good fun and despite the dirt and the constant battering, I would happily have repeated the whole experience. I just haven't admitted it to my husband yet.