To first-time visitors, Sedona  may appear to be a newly inhabited boomtown. Sure, its red buttes are millions of years old, but the freshly stuccoed shopping centers and recently constructed housing developments don’t inspire a sense of history. The truth is, though, settlers have been coming to Sedona and the Verde Valley  for 6,000 years, lured by the dramatic landscape and mild climate.
The Sinagua were the first people to leave a lasting mark on the area in A.D. 900. While it doesn’t appear that they lived in present-day Sedona, ruins of their pueblos can be found throughout the valley, the most striking being the cliffside Montezuma’s Castle. The civilization mysteriously disappeared in 1350, but historians believe they blended into the Apache tribes that roamed northeast Arizona.
In 1876, the Apache were forced onto reservations by the U.S. government, and the first homesteader, John J. Thompson, arrived in Oak Creek Canyon . Additional ranching and farming families joined him, including T.C. Schnebly, an entrepreneurial settler who built his wooden house-cum-hotel where Tlaquepaque and the Los Abrigados Resort now stand.
Schnebly established the area’s first post office in 1902, which required him to submit a name for the burgeoning community. After the postmaster general in Washington rejected Schnebly Station and Oak Creek Crossing for being too long for a cancellation stamp, Schnebly followed his brother’s advice and submitted his wife’s name, Sedona .
After the turn of the century, Arizona pioneers built a dusty stagecoach trail through town, connecting the communities of Flagstaff and Prescott, and bringing the first regular tourists to Sedona. More settlers began to stream into the Verde Valley , where they found work as farmers or in Jerome ’s ore-rich mines.
However, it was another industry that made Sedona famous: the movies. Hollywood filmed many of its classic westerns against the backdrop of Sedona’s massive rock formations, beginning with Zane Grey’s Call of the Canyon in 1923. Since then, stars from John Wayne and Joan Crawford to Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone have shot nearly a hundred films in the area, and the rugged terrain is still attracting production companies.
The big-screen attention propelled Sedona into the national spotlight after World War II, and its tourism industry took off as Americans began to explore the country by car. By the 1980s and ’90s, Sedona exploded as a retirement and vacation destination. Fortunately, more than half of the land in and around Sedona has been protected by state and national parks, which has driven up real estate values and pushed new residents into the neighboring Village of Oak Creek  and Cottonwood .
Still, some 11,000 people live in Sedona  today—dwarfed by 3.5 million visitors every year—and the community manages to retain plenty of its frontier-town character.