My first impression of Sedona was that this peculiar little Arizona town, halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, shouldn't be a town at all. With its towering red rock formations, hoodoos, buttes and spires rising out of the crimson earth into sapphire skies and its canyons and mountain forests of pinyon and juniper, Sedona is entirely too majestic for people to actually live there.
Yet as I drove through Sedona's landscaped neighborhoods of adobe homes and passed the trendy restaurants and outdoor cafes where tourists and townsfolk basked in views of the spectacular landscape, I realized I was just jealous. Shouldn't people sometimes be allowed to live in paradise?
My enthusiasm wilted when I discovered that the beauty of the land wasn't the only reason tourists flock to Sedona at the rate of 4 million a year. Sedona also happens to be the New Age Mecca, or the New Age Tourist Trap, depending on your astrological sign. Sedona attracts healers, psychics, channelers and mystics from all over the world. Among the topics in the New Age magazine Sedona, Journal of Emergence, last spring: "The World Through My Dog's Sacred Vision," "The Eleventh Chakra in the Fourth Dimension," "Channeling for Beginners" and my favorite, "Could It Be You're Already Dead?"
The Native Americans were the first to identify the Sedona area as a place of unusual energy. They considered certain parts of the land sacred--as do many of today's New Agers who are drawn to Sedona's "vortexes." These supposedly are focal points in Earth's natural energy grid, places where energy enters and leaves the planet. Psychic powers, emotions and talents are stronger in Sedona, it is claimed. I've heard that some people move to Sedona expecting to enjoy the heightened energy and find it so intense they have to leave.
I'd first heard about Sedona during a talk at a bookstore in Berkeley when the speaker mentioned "Sedona, which as you know is the essential American sacred site." I didn't know that, but most of the audience did because they nodded their heads in enthusiastic agreement.
A few months later I heard more about it while on a camping trip with my fiance. We stopped at Verde Hot Springs, about 20 miles south of Sedona. The campground hippies, who seemed to be living there permanently, had bizarre stories to tell in support of Sedona's mystical reputation.
One offered his expertise on Sedona's four main vortexes and what each of their "sacred energies" does: One vortex takes something away from you that you want but gives you back something you need, kind of like the Rolling Stones song. Another vortex overwhelms you with so much energy you might get sick; another one puts you to sleep; another strips you of your beliefs. I smiled and nodded politely, pretending I didn't think him a flake.
I was skeptical, to say the least, even when Rob and I drove up for a look at the U.S. capital of the metaphysical. In less than a half-hour of walking around, it was clear that Sedona was entirely different from other colorful Arizona towns I'd visited, places like Bisbee and Patagonia, small old-fashioned towns with real main streets and real people who work at real jobs. But perhaps, I reflected, it's only right that oddballs have their own town.
We stopped, naturally, in the Center for the New Age, a serene little shop full of crystals, fountains, tarot cards, flute music and dreamy-eyed patrons. On the bulletin board, April White Cloud advertised her services as a master clairvoyant, psychic healer and shaman priestess. I wasn't fooled for a minute. Nor did I fall for the man in the glossy photo who was dressed in a flowing white cotton number, silver bracelets and a gray ponytail. He offered to open one's "third eye," retrieve wandering souls and channel spirits for $100 a session.
All the talk about altered states and parallel universes was a turnoff, but then I found what I was looking for: the store's vortex corner, where a woman in her 50s sat smiling like a Buddha. She was friendly and talkative, much friendlier than the man at the tourist information station, who frowned when I asked about hiking to the vortexes and tried to tell me the trails were too muddy to hike.
The vortex woman--like me, a transplant from Canada--sketched out the basics of vortex science: There are two types of energies coming from the rocks, magnetic (female) and electric (male). "Boynton Canyon has both," she said. "It's balanced, so you'll notice the people there are calm. There's no male-female tension in Boynton Canyon."
As for the three other sites, she said Cathedral Rock was magnetic and therefore feminine. The energy at Bell Rock is so powerful I would notice it even before I got out of my car. The Airport Vortex is masculine, "so watch out."
She recommended that I go on a guided trek because guides are on a higher level of spiritual consciousness, so those they lead have a more powerful experience.