Re-balancing in Sedona, Arizona

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View of red rock country just outside of Sedona.

Bad energy in Sedona? I’d been here long enough to realize what an oxymoron that was, yet the man next to me at the bar in the historic Cowboy Club emanated negativity. His entrance had been impossible to ignore as he had berated the waitress for carding him, stomped off to get his ID from his car, and finally slammed into the stool beside me, muttering bitterly about the insult of being carded at the age of 32. I felt as if Taz the cartoon Tasmanian devil had just stormed in. I subconsciously leaned away from the fury and distracted myself by examining the impressive mounted Texas longhorns above me.

“Straight from Texas!” the bar tender gleamed as she saw me staring, “The owner brought ‘em back himself. They were world champion once, but now they’re only second largest ‘cause they fell. See that crack and the blunt tip? Lost ‘em first place.” She shook her head ruefully, then leaned in, squeezed my hand and whispered, “I’m SO sorry about that!”

She was referring to the bundle of resentment to my left rather than the cracked horns. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the guy just wanted to sit there and stew, but I could sense that he wanted to talk – specifically to me. I concentrated on keeping my head turned away and was successful at avoidance until my food came.

Piping hot vegetarian pot pie! It was delicious, but demanded hot sauce and the only bottle in sight was just on the other side of the person I’d been ignoring. I sighed, shifted to face forward and glanced at the guy long enough to ask for the bottle. Without cracking a smile, he passed the hot sauce and praised my desire for heat. As I’d feared, the flood gates opened.

“The world is just so bullshit, particularly the US!” the guy turned to me as if awaiting a response.

“How so?” I asked, resigning myself to the impending conversation.

I spent the rest of my pot pie listening to a monologue about the world’s bullshit, which really boiled down to this man’s inability to find meaning in his own life. He was independently wealthy, well at least for the moment he was quick to add, and that should give him options yet somehow life remained bitter. He’d opened a juice bar in Flagstaff to meet women, but he didn’t meet any women. Running the shop in fact annoyed him, so he hired a manager who now annoyed him nearly as much as running the shop himself had. He’d moved to Sedona a few months ago for a fresh start, but the bullshit seemed to have migrated with him. And he still hadn’t met any women.

“What do you think about the vortexes?” I ventured, noting that he seemed to have chosen Sedona based on its reputation for spiritual renewal and healing.

“The vortexes?” he clearly felt jerked from his thoughts and stared at me blankly a moment before responding, “Yeah, the vortexes are cool. Good energy.” He nodded, then launched back into his woes.

I shook my head and wondered whether he’d considered trying one of the myriad chakra alignment services offered at every other shop along Sedona’s quaint downtown area. He was a good-looking guy, he could probably attract all the ladies he wanted if he got his energies in order. And this was certainly the town to attempt such a spiritual rebalancing. Frankly, it was hard to walk through the town’s business district and not at least wonder about the condition of one’s chakras and color of one’s aura, regardless of one’s opinion of the world’s bullshit status.

According to the spiritually-in-tune yoga instructor at my hotel’s complimentary class, we could all use a little healing and balance in our daily lives. She reassured us that any goodness resulting from our yoga practice could be magnified many-fold with a visit to one of the area’s vortexes. Better yet, doing yoga or meditating at one of these energy centers could truly be life-changing. For both our benefit and that of the greater planet, our instructor sincerely hoped we would at least visit a vortex. I noticed as I left class that she had a stack of flyers on the back table, advertising private yoga classes and guided meditations at your vortex of choice. I decided to take my chances with post-yoga glow instead and headed to my first vortex, the one at the airport.

Vista from the Airport Mesa viewing area.

Vista from the Airport Mesa viewing area.

I confess to being just a tad suspicious of a vortex adjacent to an airport. Admittedly I’m not well-versed at meditation, but the idea of jet engines roaring in the background hardly seemed like a soothing environment conducive to inner peace. This was, however, also being touted as the best sunset viewing spot in town – apparently not a typically chaotic airport scene. And sure enough, there was a parking area by a scenic trailhead en route up the hill. It happened to be a full parking area though so I continued to the upper lot just below the airport beside the main viewing area before bursting out of the car. I scurried to the overlook, took a deep breath and closed my eyes, waiting for some type of neurologic sensation that would surely accompany the vortex energy field. Instead, I felt raindrops. The general grey of the morning had mounted into a series of angry clouds that rolled across the valley, blotting the magnificent spires and statuesque red rock structures from view. It was certainly dramatic, but more of an urban scene than I had expected and definitely not meditative. I abandoned my spiritual quest for physical comfort when marble-sized hail started pummeling down.

I’d failed at my first vortex but was comforted knowing there were three more in the area; and none of these were associated with potential aircraft disruptions… though technically mother nature’s precipitation and not man-made noise had ultimately been my airport vortex distraction. Nonetheless, Cathedral Rock sounded like the perfect starter vortex. Named after a house of worship, nestled inside a place called Crescent Moon Ranch, and adjacent to Buddha Beach; surely this vortex was fool proof.

A wedding party at Crescent Moon Ranch poses in front of iconic Cathedral Rock.

A wedding party at Crescent Moon Ranch pose in front of Cathedral Rock, one of the most photographed features in Arizona.

Cairn in the Buddha Beach area of Crescent Moon Ranch.

Cairn in the Buddha Beach area of Crescent Moon Ranch.

It was indeed a spectacular place with iconic views of Cathedral Rock, old farm buildings amidst desertous meadows, lush forest along Oak Creek, and creative cairns that defied gravity in ways that surely validated unusual forces associated with the vortex. A crimson Summer Tanager caught a bee in the tree above me and a Bluebird, appearing particularly sapphire against the red rocks, led me from the forest edge onto the vortex clearing. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was even rain-free for the moment. But try as I may, I felt no unusual powers at work. Same thing at the Bell Rock Vortex. Breath-taking views, scuttling Greater Earless Lizards and a perfectly tranquil environment – that inspired no inner shifts for me. Maybe I did need that yoga instructor or some shaman to guide my vortex experience. How could I be too callous to sense the subtle energy shifts here when even Mr. Malaise from the bar perceived associated positive vibes? Feeling like a spiritual failure, I decided to save the Boynton Canyon Vortex for later. I needed a break from the quest. There was much more to the area than vortexes and being focused on my inadequacies seemed like a vortex impediment.

Bluebird.

Bluebird.

Greater Earless Lizard.

Greater Earless Lizard.

The Red Rocks Loop Road gave me a chance to clear my head as it wound through ochre cliffs punctuated by pine trees, junipers, and explosions of magenta, purple, yellow and red flowers of cacti, featherplumes, Indian paintbrush and more. I stopped at Red Rocks State Park and a docent at the nature center pointed to a series of trails that looped me through riparian lowlands, up hills of juniper woodlands, past cliffs painted in wildflowers and to the highest point, Eagle’s Nest, where more of the area’s characteristic rust-stained sandstone formations could be appreciated as far as the eye could see. A Funnel-web Spider scurried onto its gossamer scaffolding to eye me as I passed, and a Western Scrub-Jay sat sentry along the trail. The seed feeders near the nature center supported a bustling community of chickadees, finches, titmice, and other songbirds. The hummingbird feeder area sounded like a thoroughfare with all the Anna’s and Black-chinned Hummingbirds zooming in, out and around. I almost felt the need for a precautionary helmet really.

Anna's Hummingbird sipping from an Ocotillo flower.

Anna’s Hummingbird sipping from an Ocotillo flower.

Doubting Mariposa Lily.

Doubting Mariposa Lily.

featherplume

Featherplume.

Funnel-Web Spider.

Funnel-Web Spider.

Cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument.

Cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument.

Further afield, Montezuma Castle proved a pleasant archaeological distraction. Remnant cliff dwellings blended into the rock, the only remaining sign of the once thriving Sinagua Indian community that inhabited the area up until the 1400’s. A stretch further down the road in Jerome were the remains of a much more modern community, a copper mining town that boomed in the 1920’s before collapsing to nearly nothing by the 1950’s. This famous “ghost town” hardly qualifies as a ghost town anymore though as tourism has provided a resurgence. Assorted art galleries, restaurants, bars and boutiques are now blended amongst the abandoned buildings, ancient cars and an abundance of kitsch.

Returning to Sedona, but postponing my unsuccessful spiritual quest a bit longer, I checked out Tlaquepaque. I’d been avoiding this replica Mexican village shopping center, assuming it was an over-rated tourist trap. And while it certainly is a tourist destination, there seemed to be nearly as many locals wandering the pleasant grounds, milling through the shops and particularly visiting the restaurants. Keeping true to the living arts concept that inspired it’s construction in the 1970’s, the complex remains an arts and crafts oasis and I was glad I’d stopped. I was equally surprised by the Garland’s Navajo Rugs shop just down the block. The old trading post facade seemed like a tourist come-on that could’ve been filled with rugs whose “made in China” stickers had only just been removed, but in fact the family-owned store has served as a legitimate liaison between the Navajo and potential buyers since the 1970’s. The salesman, a term that hardly seemed fitting given the guy’s knowledge and low-key nature, could not only discuss the ins, outs and history of every rug pattern I glanced at but could also describe the actual weaver, both in terms of individual weaving style and personality.

Male House Finch feeding its young.

Male House Finch feeding its young.

I awoke the next day, my last in town, knowing it was time to return to my vortex quest. Determined to be in the right frame of mind, I started my day with a leisurely breakfast on my room’s verandah overlooking the Oak Creek. A flurry of birds darted continuously through the trees overhead and a father house finch paused nearby to feed his young. It was the start I’d been hoping for.

A woman relaxes at the top of Cathedral Rock.

A woman relaxes at the top of Cathedral Rock.

Cathedral Rock was next on my agenda. I wasn’t the only one inspired to hike on this beautiful day though. I could see a line of people scaling the rock in the distance like a line of ants invading a picnic, and the parking lot was full. This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered a full lot at this and other trailheads; I suspected that the parking lots were built intentionally small for crowd control. I’d abandoned my mission on other visits, but today I waited and surprisingly it didn’t take too long for a spot to open. The trail was filled with people of all ages, physiques, origins and styles. It was busy, but not so crowded that one couldn’t stop to appreciate the surroundings. And there was plenty to appreciate. The views were evermore spectacular with increased elevation, and scrambling up some of the steepest portions was downright exhilarating. The top seemed to be an accepted meditation zone. Sure, climbers were taking mandatory selfies at the peak, but these were done in relative hush with reverence to those standing, sitting or even laying in silent contemplation, awe, exhaustion or maybe all. I felt a calm come over me and decided it was time to abandon the peak and approach my last vortex.

As with many of the roads surrounding Sedona, the one to Boynton Canyon quickly transitioned to apparent remote wilderness. Both the drive and the canyon were beautiful, uncrowded and serene. The Boynton Canyon Vortex was my last chance for a spiritual jolt, so I sat quietly and patiently for several minutes. I could hear my yoga instructor stressing the need for daily healing and the life-changing capacity of the vortexes. I pinched my eyelids more tightly together. “Yea, the vortexes are cool. Good energy”… “Good energy”. My bar stool neighbor’s words haunted me as I waited unsuccessfully for a surge of energy of any sort. Still nothing.

Sunset at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead.

Sunset at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead.

The sun was getting low in the sky. Since I obviously wasn’t in-tune enough for vortex magic, I decided to abandon my post to find a magical sunset instead. I wasn’t going to the highly recommended airport; too much vortex pressure and a little too urban for my taste. It seemed you could pretty much pull over next to any red rock for a spectacular show though, so I did. The Dry Creek Vista parking area caught my eye and I pulled in. As the rocks to my east glowed from red to orange to pink to purple and the grasses in fields to my west were fringed in the day’s last golden rays, I did feel somehow re-balanced. It wasn’t some externally induced force field shift. No energetic tingling even. I simply felt at ease. Sedona seemingly was a town of acceptance. It was a town where tourists, locals, red necks, hippies, yuppies, failed trust-funders, retirees, cowboys and Indians could all co-exist. Yes, even a vortex failure like myself could find a bit of peace here. And hopefully, some day, so would the angst-ridden fellow from the Cowboy Club.

Sunset at the Dry Creek Vista trailhead.

Sunset at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead.

 

Travel Tips:

  • I stayed at the Amara Resort, which proved to be a pretty perfect venue. Hoping for a quiet, naturalistic setting, I was a little worried when the GPS guided me straight into the heart of downtown, but a tiny side road led to a different world – a creek-side oasis with a beautiful red rock back drop. It was the best of both worlds with downtown action just minutes away on foot, but a relaxed wooded feel in the resort itself – particularly in the rooms overlooking the creek. Add complimentary yoga classes every morning and wine tastings every evening, and what more could you ask for?
  • To experience some of Sedona’s cultural extremes, try dining at the rattlesnake-serving Cowboy Club and bohemian oasis Chocola Tree. For something tasty but a little more mainstream, try the Wildflower Bread Company.
  • The Sedona Chamber of Commerce runs a great visitor center that’s a good place for newbies to start. They’ve got general to specific information on just about anything you might be interested in, including, of course, the vortexes. The uber-engaged and enthusiastic volunteers will have you on the right track in no time!
  • The number of stellar hikes in the area is overwhelming, but check out “Sedona’s Top 10 Hikes” by Dennis Andres for a detailed guide to some of the more popular hikes. Climbing Cathedral Rock is a really great way to explore the area’s sandstone formations and associated vegetation, with amazing views from the top. For beautiful hiking through diverse habitats and wildlife watching, I highly recommend a visit to Red Rocks State Park. Crescent Moon Ranch National Forest is also a winner, and they even have a cabin that can be rented. The Dry Creek Vista Trailhead is one of many trails and recreation areas maintained within the Coconino National Forest; their website has maps and information on various activities that can be done at these various sites. Keep in mind that a Red Rock Pass, or Interagency Recreation Pass (America the Beautiful), is needed to park at many of the trailheads.
  • The Mexican replica village, Tlaquepaque, is a great place to browse arts and crafts shops, enjoy refreshments in a lush courtyard or simply have a pleasant stroll.
  • For truly authentic Navajo weavings and other crafts, as well as a thorough education, be sure to visit Garland’s Navajo Rugs.
  • I’m clearly no expert on chakra alignments and aura readings but not to worry, you don’t have to walk far in Sedona before you’ll find one available!
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