Match Me Such Marvel Save in Eastern Clime
A rose-red city – ‘half as old as time.’
-J.W. Burgon, Petra (1845)
Mr. Burgon might have had a way with words, but as a travel writer, his knowledge of the world must have been woefully inadequate. Yes, there is a rose-red city; not in an Eastern clime, but right here in North America-in Arizona., more precisely.
Sedona. is a rose-red fantasy city set amidst a stunning convention of crimson mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and spires-towering in every direction and offering dramatic skies any time of the day.
“God created the Grand Canyon but He lives in Sedona,” is the tourist slogan of this “all-season” paradise, approximately halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, off U.S. 89A.
If you don’t “ooh” and “aah” as you approach Sedona, you’re either asleep or not paying attention. The first panorama of the city as you approach from the south is the spectacular, brightly-colored formations which tease you as your drive through the high desert grasslands. When you enter the undulating city, you find yourself surrounded by bulging, mushrooming, boiling, exploding red-rose-pink-dun formations with fanciful names-Cathedral Rock, Castle Rock, Madonna, Courthouse Butte, Snoopy Rock, and his friend Lucy. Rabbit Ears, Tiger Head, Camel Head, Three Indians, Brothers Three, The Nuns are some of the other surreal monoliths which look like giant Toblerone chocolates at dawn and dusk. Two other rocks contributing to the resplendent scenery are Sugarloaf and the neighboring Coffeepot, of course.
Pedantic geologists will explain to you that 300 million years ago, give or take 10 million years, the 25-square-mile enclave of Sedona was covered by sea-on seven separate occasions. When the sea retreated and was replaced by high desert terrain, layers of buff and red-colored (rich in iron) sandstone and limestone emanated due to earthquake, volcanic eruptions, erosion, and tectonic shifts. These cantankerous happenings were followed by serious 300 mph wind sandblasting. The result was a landscape as if frozen in mid-explosion. Megaliths with anthropomorphic shapes rose from the ground, like the restless undead of Hollywood lore and, as if in freeze-frame, solidified in eternal stillness, giving Sedona an otherworldly look.
Rocks the color of chocolate, salmon, or an open wound, depending on the angle of sun rays, punctuate the Sedona landscape while perpendicular megaliths rise like bruised, arthritic fingers of an angry giant. Elsewhere, the limestone Leviathans sink into strata of melting cake. It’s no wonder that Native legend claimed Sedona’s rocks are red from the blood of monsters slain by ancient heroes.
Its eerie, yet exuberant, landscape, multiple vortexes, the presence of ancient ruins and a lively Native American culture, have made Sedona a magnet for New Age settlers and spiritual seekers. A community of alternative-healing practitioners provide a varied schedule of workshops, seminars, seances. . . Therapy on the Rock, Happy Wanderer, Tools for the Mind, The Wings of Light, American Council of Vedic Astrology, Crystal Castle are some of the numerous alternative science-philosophy-religion disseminators crowding Sedona’s slim telephone directory. Self-hypnosis, astral projection, channeling, etheric balancing, colon hydrotherapy, iridology readings, fire walking, self-healing Mayan teaching, bio-magnetic triom massage, rune oracles, inner-child workshops . . . make Sedona the unofficial capital of Southwest’s spiritual movement.
At the community board of the main street general store Rose Heart Healing Temple advertises its latest healing package: “Learn to Reduce Your Feelings of Anxiety, Anger, Guilt and Past Traumas and Improve your Self Esteem.” You can also “channel” with guru Joa Dolphin-Play or experience the Spiritual Presence of Jesus, Saint Germain, Sanat Kumara and the Angel Akasha. Another notice declares: “Announcing! The Launching of the Earth Mother, honoring our beingness. Do you forget to honor your need to let go, relax, laugh, hug, play, sing and dance? You are Joy, Joy is God’s way, Serve the Joy.” For visitors who want to visit spiritual, Native American sights and ruins, Mystic Tours with Rahelio will more than oblige.
While the serene landscape was the first quality which attracted spiritualists, vortexes soon became a fast second. Vortexes are electromagnetic underground grids which crisscross Sedona’s chocolate-colored basement. While vortexes are found in many places, few locales have such a concentration in such a small geographic area. If you stand on top of a vortex you supposedly feel the earth’s mysterious energies.
The two main categories of vortexes are up flow and inflow. In an up low vortex the energy pattern is expansive. It flows upward and outward. It helps consciousness expansion and your ability to “touch the infinite and some forms of future sensing.” The inflow vortex turns your focus within. It’s good for introspection, the resolution of old conflicts and past life remembrance.
Even if you are skeptical about the existence, let alone the power, of vortexes, a visit to any of the more than half-a-dozen sites is worth your while: for some reason, vortexes are always located at beautiful or panoramic sights. One popular spot is the 600-ft. high Airport Vortex at Overlook Point. The russet escarpment, 50 ft. in diameter, is surrounded by dozens of red peaks and commands a green valley-part of the national forest which softens the rugged 360-degree panorama. Below your feet stretch pi–on pine, juniper, mountain holly, cactus, cypress, cottonwood, sycamore . . . It’s so quiet here that the only noise you hear is the clicking of tourist camera shutters. Visitors, sometimes with infants, stretch on the dun rocks to meditate, enjoy the play of light on the crimson peaks, or just to relax. And as the sun slides across the searing blue sky, restful, angelic expressions descend on the faces of the spirit-seeking tourists: their features become softer, a touch of Mona Lisa smile hovers around their silent lips. Whether they are just plain happy or have become one with infinity is a question which only a callow, crass person would deem asking.
Although hundreds of people visit the Airport Vortex every day, you do not find cigarette butts, candy wrappers, film boxes or other urban detritus at the public meditation site. And despite its proximity to the airport, the vortex’s electromagnetic power does not seem to interfere with flights.
Sedona’s unique beauty hasn’t missed the lens of Hollywood. As early as 1923, one of Zane Gray’s horse operas (“Call of the Canyon”) became the first movie to be shot among the rusty landscape. Westerns featuring James Stewart, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford, Henry Fonda, and Elvis Presley soon followed. Scenes from the more recent “The Midnight Run,” starring Robert De Niro were shot here. In all, about 70 movies, from “Johnny Guitar” to “The Rounders” to “Broken Arrow” have utilized the dramatic, simultaneously restless, and serene landscape of Sedona.
The best way to see these movie backdrops is to take a Jeep tour. These 4-wheel drives are rugged and stop at archeological, vortex, panoramic, spiritual, and sunset viewing locales. The Soldier Pass Trail and the West Fork Trail are two popular tours with amazing routes rich in geological wonders, petroglyphs, Native American ruins, and evidence of America’s frontier drive.
Adobe or Bust
The city fathers of Sedona are serious about preserving their number one asset- the appearance of the town. Strict building codes make sure Sedona retains its unique beauty, without ugly commercialization. Mighty banks, fast-food franchises and gas station conglomerates have succumbed to tiny Sedona’s dictate on good taste, authenticity, and anti-commercial drive. Building ordinances compel architects and builders to blend in with the prescribed western, particularly adobe, look. Height limits guarantee that no building challenges the chocolate monoliths. Garish bright lights are not allowed so that people may enjoy the night sky. And everyone from Hampton Court Hotel to the post office building are dressed in adobe pink. Even mighty McDonald’s has had to submit to the civic-minded city fathers: Sedona is the only place in America where the Golden Arches don’t have their way. The “Golden Arch” in Sedona is in teal. Teal goes better with adobe colors.
Garbage containers have a crusher for pop cans and come with ashtrays on top in spick-and-span Sedona. The city’s conscientious residents have made the Keep Sedona Beautiful campaign redundant. But somehow, the municipal by-laws and all the intense attention to blending in with the surroundings, haven’t made Sedona forbidding or precious-like that neighboring boutique city-Santa Fe in New Mexico.
Golf Among the Red Rocks
But like Santa Fe, Sedona is crammed by stores selling high-quality southwestern-style clothing, silver and turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs, Hopi kachinas, woven baskets and Native pottery.
Art is another popular purchase. The landscape, the clear light and the dramatic skies have drawn artists to Sedona. Amongst the first “name’ artist who moved here was surrealist painter and sculptor Max Ernst who discovered Sedona in 1950. In 1965 the Cowboy Artists of America was founded and now over 40 art galleries showcase contemporary arts and crafts, as well as Native American and cowboy art. If you love Remington’s cowboy-themed paintings, you will like Sedona canvases.
True to the state it’s located in, Sedona offers fabulous golfing opportunities where the fairways are set against the red rocks. The best known are the two championships, 18-hole golf courses-Oak creek Country Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones; and Sedona Golf Resort, designed by Gary Panks.
The apocalyptic commotions which conceived Sedona millions of years ago, gave birth to a spectacular chasm at the northeast end of town-the Oak Creek Canyon. Enormous red boulders now flank the rushing creek through the khaki-and-coffee 16-mile gorge. Rand McNally has declared the Oak Creek Canyon as one of the most beautiful drives in North America. The Slide Rock State Park, through which the creek passes, beckons hikers, campers, fishermen, and swimmers.
If you are headed north to Grand Canyon, the Oak Creek Canyon, with its numerous viewing areas, is the perfect exit from the magical Red Rock Country. Along the pi–on pine-fringed highway, at various viewpoints, you come across Native Americans selling their arts and crafts. Typically, it’s all soft sell. You have to make an effort to hear the shy Native “salesmen” utter the price of their creations.
A few years after J.W. Burgon sang the praises of Petra in the 1840s, writer-landscape artist Edward Lear visited the ancient Nabateaen ruins with Georgio, his Italian cook. Describing rose-red Petra, Georgio said: “We have come into a world where everything is made of chocolate, ham, curry powder and salmon!”
While some five million people visit Sedona every year, no cook, let alone a poet, has yet immortalized, the city, which according to North American Travel Journalists Association is the best domestic destination in the U.S. It’s high time for Paul Theroux or John Updike to head to the hills-of Sedona.