The Winter Pilgrimage to Sedona
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I understand that in the middle ages people didn’t take vacations. They took pilgrimages. These were journeys, long or short, with a destination of spiritual import. Relic remains of holy men and women were a special draw. Central to the trek was a hope that something divine would happen to them
There was interesting company, too, and a warmer climate, some new scenery and the possibility of new cuisine but the object was a renewal of faith.
It seems that’s the reason that a lot of northern retirees head to Sedona.
People go to Moab to rebel; to Aspen for elegance and grace; to Las Vegas for the rush. People go to Sedona for something spiritual.
I love red rock country. The great walls, towering pinnacles, blue skies with hidden remnants of the ancient ones. Add some rare desert critters and the chance to get warm in winter and I’m ready to go. Friends who head to Sedona for a warm up every winter couldn’t understand why I had never been there.
Something always kept it off my list. Too posh perhaps. (I’ve always avoided places with a Sotheby’s.) Too touristy. Too civilized. The New Age hype also dampened my desire.
But now I’ve gone, and come back. I’ve even sat in several vortexes. Now I know why people love Sedona.
The place is gorgeous. The town nestles in valleys of towering red rock, the same rock formations that make up the Grand Canyon.
And it has to be the day hike capital of the world. 135 trails begin in, or near town. They wander deep into canyons, climb up into towering red rock saddles, scamper across slick rock formations, open to sweeping, 360 degree views. Several lead to hidden arches and others to mysterious rock art and cliff dwellings.
Within minutes the tension of Sedona’s “senior moment” traffic is hushed, out of sight and sound. Many of these leisurely hikes enter two designated wilderness areas, Red Rock-Secret Mountain and Munds Mountain. The trails are easy to moderate and most are popular with visiting retirees.
Then there is the weather. While the summer is too hot for much beyond the reach of air conditioning, fall, winter and spring are very comfortable. Even December and January have inviting rambling weather with average temps topping out at 55 and dropping to 30 at night.
So what’s a vortex? Around 1980 two psychics claimed to locate special spots where energy flows up from mother earth. Believers claim there are three flavors, masculine, feminine and neutral. There are six or so of these around town, all fairly accessible and uniquely beautiful. Resting at one is purported to energize and inspire. Psychic abilities are said to be enhanced.
At dawn I huffed and puffed my way up iconic Cathedral Rock, catching my breath in the saddle, a soft glow of orange light around me. What is one supposed to feel in a vortex? I was hungry. Some breakfast bars helped. It was windy up there. I was cold.
A couple of couples came and went. Inspired? Yes. The sunrise from this spot is exquisite. So what are you supposed to do in a vortex? I did offer a prayer for peace to all I love, and (why not?) the world. We could use it, that’s for sure.
At some of the sites believers defy the Forest Service and construct elaborate medicine wheels of small rocks. At others they construct interesting little towers, choosing each rock with great care.
While the new age movement gets a lot of hype, there are plenty of conservatives around. John McCain’s Hidden Valley ranch is there. And the most popular spiritual site is the Catholic Chapel of the Holy Cross.
So what’s not to like about Sedona? The food is great. (My tip: Wildflower Bread, Co. at 101 N. Highway 89A. Great breakfast and lunch.)
There is no end of shopping to enjoy or to avoid, as suits your taste. Lot’s of art galleries–western, native American and modern.
So, what’s not to like? Well, some of the dirt and rock roads to trailheads are killers. High clearance helps, but even then…. And there are the fees. Daily trailhead fees run five bucks. You can get a week’s pass for $15. “I can’t see the forest for the FEES!” is a popular local complaint. Yet considering what a room costs here (and you won’t find a cheap one) the fees are a bargain.
Of the trails I had the chance to try out I’d especially recommend these three: Cathedral Rock (which is somewhat strenuous), the Cow Pies off of Schnebly Hill road (big, flat rounds of slick rock in a colorful canyon) and Boynton Canyon and the Vista, off of Dry Creek Road.
Richard and Sherry Mangum write a fine trail guide, Sedona Hikes. Free maps are everywhere. The Coconino National Forest’s “Recreation Guide” is especially good. The Sedona Chamber of Commerce is the one stop information center for everything, on the ground or virtual. Check out their site at www.VisitSedona.com.
So when your bones are chilled and you need renewal, take the pilgrimage to Sedona. Who knows what might happen?
Nov 8, 2010
Thanks for sharing these pictures. I can’t wait to go hiking in Sedona, Arizona!
Jan 29, 2011
Your story certainly captures the passion and essence of Sedona. We caught “Red Rock Fever” 12 years ago and had to do something about it. So, we opened up The Hike House. http://www.thehikehouse.com. Hope you will come back and see us soon.