We have heard about Sedona for years – otherworldly red rock formations, unparalleled hiking and perhaps most intriguing – the opportunity to tap into our spiritual power through the vortexes that are supposed to be found here.
I would love to say that I’m as skeptical as the next person, but that would not be true. If you have swampland to sell, I’m your gal. I believe in unexplained phenomena, intuitive powers and chakra alignment. I might be a little more easily swayed than say… Stephen, and I came to Sedona with an open mind and more than a little excitement about being transformed by an energy field.
We have been camping for the past week in the Verde Valley area in northern Arizona; a perfect base to see our friends Bob and Jeannie and to explore the many attractions in the area.
The view from our campsite – overlooking a creek and a grove of cottonwood trees.
This area is so rich and varied – within just a few miles there are several state parks and national monuments, a number of historic towns, Sedona, and Bob and Jeannie’s winter home in Cornville, home of the late Senator John McCain. We packed a lot in, but a week in this area is just not enough – we missed as much as we saw.
Bob and Jeannie tried to warn us that the town of Sedona might not be what we were expecting. They showed us a shopping area called Tlaquepaque that is designed to resemble a Mexican village, presumably the one by the same name near Guadalajara.
It’s a thoughtfully laid-out plaza, with sculptures, fountains and shops filled with Navajo rugs, fine art and jewellery.
We arrived before the crowds and enjoyed poking around the stores and admiring beautiful things.
Sedona’s town centre was a different story. Since we have never been here before we have nothing to compare, but as we crawled along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, we wondered at the sameness of it all. We saw one identical block after another of generically-designed tasteful homes, with wine boîtes, art galleries and gift stores. Sedona kindly provides free parking and after we found a place to park and began walking, we began to assume the “tourist shuffle.” In one store and out the other – most of them offering cheap jewellery, crystals, rocks, T-shirts and metaphysical books.
The backdrop to all of this is a ring of red rock mountains that could take your breath away, but the view is distracted by signs for psychic readings, aura readings, UFO excursions ( UFO sightings guaranteed!) and a host of vortex-inspired experiences promoted by photos of women who appear to have moved to Sedona years ago to find themselves and are now barking mad.
Bob and Jeannie, you were right! There is nothing more annoying than visiting a place with high expectations and then discovering the marketing folks got in there ahead of you and you’re just another dumb tourist. Vortexes are big business.
Okay, let’s move on to what is beautiful about Sedona and why you should still go. There may well be vortexes in Sedona; we did not experience any energy connection there other than the spiritual lift we usually get when we’re outdoors surrounded by beauty. But…that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
The next day we returned to hike the Baldwin Trail, one of dozens of trails that wind their way around the iconic sandstone rock formations. Clear blue skies, nice warm temperatures and not too many other hikers on the path.
About fifteen minutes into the hike, the land opened up and showcased the stunning formations that attract visitors from all over the world.
Depending on the light, the rocks appear to glow.
How could we not feel spiritually connected being part of this environment? This famous and much-photographed formation, Cathedral Rock, is one of four recognized vortexes.
More rocks – different shades of red.
Hikers aren’t the only ones out enjoying the scenery and terrain. We came across a number of mountain bikers along the way. This one was the last of a group of young men who had just surfaced from a black diamond area.
For part of our hike, we climbed along the rocks beside the creek.
And that is why you want to come to Sedona. Perhaps if you choose a time (not Spring Break) when the crowds are a little thinner and you devote yourself to just being out in the surrounding area, you will experience the side of Sedona that made it famous.
There are lots of other things to see and do in the area. Two powerful sites are Montezuma Well and Montezuma Castle. Montezuma Well is quite extraordinary – an oasis in a desert.
This deep green pond contains over 15 million gallons of water, despite having very little annual rainfall. Water flows into the Well every day, and since it contains arsenic and high amounts of carbon dioxide, no fish survive, although five species survive here that exist nowhere else on earth.
A path circles the Well – Bob, Jeannie, Stephen and Ginny on our way back up.
Not far from the Well, we stopped to visit Montezuma Castle – a cliffside pueblo which were built between the early 1100’s and 1300s. The Sinagua farmers, who were hunters and gatherers built these complex masonry structures.
The structure at Montezuma Castle is a five-storey, 20-room dwelling that is set into the cliff about 100 feet above the valley floor.
The setting around Montezuma Castle is so beautiful right now; after the heavy rain and snow melt, this area is enjoying an unusually green landscape.
This is a sycamore tree – common in Arizona – they are massive trees with mottled white bark – just gorgeous.
Nearby Tuzigoot (Apache for “crooked water”) is the remnant of a Sinagua village that was originally two stories high with 87 ground-floor rooms. We could not visit the summit of the village the day we visited as there was restoration work being done.
In the valley below, we saw an excellent example of a riparian forest – willows and cottonwoods, growing in abundance because of their proximity to the creek.
Finally, we had to check out Jerome, billed as a former “ghost town”, which according to one gallery owner, is not entirely accurate. In its heyday as a copper mining boom town, the population swelled to 15,000 souls. When the mine closed in 1953, much of the population left in search of work. The town was never abandoned, and within a few years, word about this funky mountain town started to spread among the counter culture who were all heading west at the time. Artists began to reclaim buildings and homes and soon the word was out. As is so often the case, artists take on risky neighbourhoods or towns and once they are transformed, the developers and real estate speculators move in. It is a town in transition, perhaps a victim of its own success.
This old apartment building has been condemned and slated for redevelopment; artist renderings are posted in the front windows. Although this building does not look fit for habitation, there does appear to be a couple of apartments still occupied. The worry of course is that, bit by bit, affordable housing will become less and less available to those who put Jerome back on the map.
Prostitution flourished in Jerome during the mining years, and a number of businesses are playing off that bawdy image.
This former bordello is now called House of Joy, but houses a gift shop.
The Husbands’ Alley. The locals gave major pushback to the reformers who attempted to restrict brothel location.
Jerome’s oldest bar.
A refurbished brick building, now housing a beautiful art gallery.
The old Grand Hotel, originally a general hospital.
Lots of building facades and open spaces; just waiting for reclamation perhaps. There are many stores and restaurants in Jerome, but it is not totally gussied up yet. It still has plenty of evidence of its earlier days.
And finally, this bit of oddness. Three toilets sitting in an empty space, surrounded by coins. Someone came up with the brilliant idea of encouraging tourists to toss coins from between the fence railings on the street above. A coin landing in a toilet is good luck!
As we drove away from Jerome, we passed this sad-looking building. So far, no takers to bring this 24-hour shop back to life.
And so, it is time to move on – tomorrow we head to Winslow Arizona (standing’ on the corner). Beginning our slow trek north.