When John Bradshaw came into this world in 1970, it was fair to call his Sedona, Ariz., birthplace a one-horse town. “My dad couldn’t afford to pay for my delivery in cash, so he traded the doctor a thoroughbred horse,” Bradshaw said.
Two years later, Bradshaw’s brother Scott was born. “This time, my dad paid the doctor’s bill with two horses,” Bradshaw said. “I tell my brother the cost increase was due to inflation. My brother says he’s worth twice as much as me.”
Today, Bradshaw’s Sedona-based business, A Day in the West Tours, continues to carry on the family tradition of working with horses. While horseback tours of the Verde Valley have contributed to Bradshaw’s business success, it’s touring Sedona’s breathtaking red rock canyons via jeep that has really grabbed the hearts of vacationers from around the globe.
From horses to jeeps
How Bradshaw got into the jeep tour business could be described as a taxing experience. “In 1997, the property taxes on my dad’s ranch jumped from $2,500 per year to $25,000,” Bradshaw said. “I developed the jeep tour business as a way to help bankroll the purchase of the ranch.”
Bradshaw’s father, Bob, was one of Sedona’s key historical figures, and he played a major part in the town’s present-day popularity and growth. The senior Bradshaw began working as a stuntman, extra, photographer and location coordinator for nearly all of the Western movies filmed in Sedona in the 1940s through the 1970s. Bob Bradshaw worked with stars such as Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and even Elvis Presley. His ranch served as the backdrop for dozens of films.
When Bradshaw began his jeep tour venture, he relayed his insider knowledge growing up in the movie business to the guides he hired for Day in the West. His staff now details which red rock formations stole scenes in movies such as “Broken Arrow,” “The Rounder’s” and “Billy the Kid,” to name a few. Tourists return home with rich tales of what they’ve seen, heard and experienced while in Sedona.
Just like in the movies
“In addition to tours that emphasize geography, Native American history, photography and animal life, customers really get a kick out of learning about real-life locations where the Western movies took place,” Bradshaw said. “Our customers experience these movie settings firsthand during their jeep tour of Sedona’s spectacular red rock vistas and canyons.”
When driving a car in Sedona, keeping one’s eyes on the road is easier said than done. Skyscraping red rocks pop up all around the city and are simply impossible to ignore. By comparison, a ride in a $40,000 custommade jeep securely brings the curious to the precipice of these 3-D sandstone outcroppings. The jeep tour is a chance to see, feel, smell and even touch something one usually only experiences in paintings. It’s an event absolutely unique to Sedona.
Ride and guide
Bradshaw knows that hiring topnotch guides is the key to his business success. One Day in the West guide, Nina Rehfeld, has enthralled guests with stories from the steering wheel of her yellow jeep for the past seven years. “I love the outdoors and hiking,” Rehfeld said. “When I discovered I actually got paid to be a guide, I asked, ‘Where do I sign up?'”
On a recent tour along Schnebly Hill Road, Rehfeld took two Minnesota guests up the legendary 12-mile ascent built by Sedona’s founder, Carl Schnebly. Rehfeld explained that Schnebly, a Missouri native, built the road in 1902 to help bolster the trade of his apple and peach orchard business.
Schnebly’s trail is a road in its rawest form. It seems almost unimaginable that travelers were able to scale this vertical passage toward Flagstaff via horse and wagon. “Our jeeps really get put to the test,” Rehfeld said. “Every year we hear about adventuresome twowheel- drive rental cars needing an expensive tow on this road.”
Cow pie nuptials
Rehfeld’s future husband was so enthralled with one of the rock formations seen on this trail that he convinced Nina this is where they should be married. Though, the beautiful landscape setting Nina’s husband selected has a not-so-beautiful name. Cow Pies Rock describes the flat and rounded sandstone mesas (the Spanish word for table) that blend throughout the red rock landscape.
The German-born Rehfeld recalled her wedding day in perfect English. “Our wedding party arrived at Cow Pies Rock at 6:00 in the morning,” she said. “We wanted to say our vows surrounded by a Sedona sunrise. I walked out on Cow Pies Trail in three-inch heels. Luckily, I could hold on to my dad’s arm. The only thing better than our wedding ceremony was the party that preceded and followed,” she continued.
Rehfeld has a left-brain, right-brain gift for telling stories while navigating her jeep along Sedona’s rollercoaster trails. Rob DeMayo, the Day in the West general manager, explained that great care goes into hiring guides who deliver something special to their audience. “Each of our guides brings something unique to the job,” the New Hampshireborn DeMayo said. “Our reservations people do a great job of matching guides to the customer’s passion. We can tailor-make a tour experience for someone 365 days a year.”
Lightning strikes thrice
For DeMayo, one of his most memorable experiences was a day when the Arizona sun refused to shine. “A storm broke in the middle of my tour,” DeMayo said. “The family I was guiding actually witnessed three lightning strikes. We took things real slow and safe. We were all wearing ponchos, and the family was absolutely thrilled with their tour. That’s when the other guides started calling me Rain Man. That’s a nickname I enjoy to this day.”
The passion a Day in the West tour guide has for his or her job is apparent upon your first introduction. As Bradshaw explains, “Being a guide in Sedona is a special thing. Guides usually aren’t doing this job for the money. Guides love the outdoors, they love people and they love telling stories.”
Father, son and Elvis
Bradshaw is no slouch himself when it comes to story telling. The topic of his father’s early days on the red rock frontier spews more stories than a Sedona flash flood during the summer monsoon season.
“At the age of 17, my dad left home in Cleveland, Ohio, and hopped trains crosscountry,” Bradshaw said. “He lived the hobo life until he discovered Sedona in the early 40s. He felt Sedona was the most beautiful place he’d ever seen. He arrived here about the same time Hollywood started making Westerns in the area. My dad became quite a photographer and he has an extensive collection of personal photos featuring many of the major Western movie stars. These photos cover almost four decades of film.”
Bradshaw recalled that one of his father’s favorite experiences involved a photo shoot with Elvis Presley. “In 1967, my dad worked as a photographer in Presley’s film ‘Stay Away Joe,'” he said. “A good portion of the film’s footage was shot on our family’s ranch. My dad’s fond memories of the King were due in large part to Presley being a somewhat uninhibited 32-year-old. Presley had yet to feel the crush of public scrutiny. During the film’s production, Presley and his entourage literally played cowboys from dawn to dusk.”
Whether one spends a day, a week or a lifetime in Sedona, one can’t help but be affected by the sheer beauty of the area. If every picture tells a story, then your Sedona photos will read like a best-selling novel of the old West.
A great way to write your own Sedona chapter is to view its stunning landscape by jeep. Revel in Sedona’s panoramic imagery while your guide shares stories of the old West and today. You may even hear the true story of a father who paid for his son’s delivery with a horse.