Publication in any form without permission of author is expressly
SPRING IN SEDONA
Kathleen Ann Goonan
My husband, Joseph, and I could not help
but be influenced in our expectations of Sedona, Arizona by the
psychics on cable TV. Feet dangling as they perched atop red
rock pinnacles amid breathtaking vistas, they brandished
cellular phones and exhorted those in need of guidance to call
them on a 900 number so they could access something called "The
Psychic Vortex," which seemed to be a handy cosmic repository of
important information concerning humans, such as whether or not
one should quit one's job at Taco Bell. Sedona is home to these
powerful swirls of psychic energy, and to those who fervently
believe in them.
To be sure, everyone we consulted during our
six-month stay in Yuma told us that Sedona is one of the most
beautiful places in Arizona, as geologically breathtaking, in
its way, as the Grand Canyon, just a hundred miles away. Worth
seeing even for non-believers.
So in mid-April we packed Joseph's
brother Paul, a lawyer, into the tiny back seat of our Jeep and
set off from Yuma on the road to enlightenment, which, in April,
led over an icy mountain just outside of Prescott.
Joseph had made reservations at The
Matterhorn, two-starred in the AAA guidebook, after calling four
or five other places which were booked up. The Matterhorn had
one room left. It was uptown, they told us, but not to worry
about finding it--there was no downtown. And we would have a
balcony with a view of "The Rocks." What more could we want?
The Matterhorn proved modest but
spotlessly clean. Two double beds, a cot, and a balcony with a
view of The Rocks were ours for just $70.00/night. After our
wintry ordeal we fell into spotlessly clean beds, woke to brew
coffee with the in-room coffeepot, and went down and stuffed
ourself at a very good Mexican buffet next door. The town
appeared deserted. It appeared deserted for most of the three
days we spent in the area, as we left early to hike and returned
after the shops and restaurants closed.
Shelly, at the Matterhorn's front desk,
helped us plan some Jeep/hiking trips, telling us which roads
were good for four-wheeling. When asked about the Vortex, she
smiled. "My sister takes that very seriously," she said, pulled
out a photocopied map from beneath the counter, and circled
several spots. "The Airport Vortex isn't far," she said. "It's
a pretty good one." We bought a hiking book and were amazed to
find that several hikes had been thoughtfully labeled with a
large "V," indicating an Official Vortex. Outstanding! All
this help would save us a lot of trouble on our Vortex Quest.
The Verde Valley, wherein Sedona, with
its Aspen-like shops filled with high-priced silver jewelry,
exquisitely simple clothes, and art for the discriminating
nestles, has been a hospitable environment for humans for the
past six thousand years. Now, more than 10,000 people live in
the town, having swelled the town's pre-fifties population of
500. The first postmaster, Schnebly, named the town after his
wife. Many of the present inhabitants have long beards. They
seem to drink a lot of high-grade coffee and fancy wood-burning
stoves. They like the outdoors. Sedona is the place to be if
you like wilderness, for it's all around--red-orange buttresses
jutting from pine-filled valley floors, cathedral-like limestone
lacings which rise several thousand feet in sheer splendor; an
open book of geologic history.
The area is blessed with archeological
sites galore. We decided to visit a nearby
pictograph/petroglyph site. With the aid of about four
different maps, one of which was so detailed it practically
showed every fencepost, we sloshed down a red mud road for
several miles. In the early morning sun, red cliffs ahead of us
glowed, revealing layers of gleaming, multicolored strata. The
air was damp and full of the scents of spring as it washed
through our open windows.
The Red Cliffs Pictographs site is in a
small canyon (called the Red Canyon Ruins hike in our guidebook,
SEDONA HIKES AND MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDES, Richard & Sherry Mangum,
Hexagon Press, ISBN 0-9632265-2-5) with a farmhouse at the end
of the road; apple trees were in bloom. The walk is very short
(.2 mile) and easy. We found a self-directed guide in a box in
the gravel parking which told us that the art we would see is
being studied so that it could be recorded in the National
Register of Historic places.
Deep time eddied around us in the silence of
the sunlit morning as we gazed on the ancient pictographs
representing bears, snakes, and deer, some as old as five
thousand years. Then we walked past the farmhouse to the ruins,
classic buildings of several chambers each, some still
containing windows, sheltered in shallow caves. The largest
ruin, at the end of the trail, was roped off; we watched as one
man, a local, sneered at the barrier and entered the fragile
Our next stop was Fay Arch, a less than
two mile round trip walk on the Fay Canyon Trail. Our foray
brought us presently to ruins built beneath a stunning stone
arch, where we could see blue sky through fissures in the rock
at one end.
But enough deep time. We were ready to
be vortexed. On our way to one of the V sites we read about the
phenomenon. Our book told us that the Vortex would spit those
out who approached it with negative thoughts. We trembled, but
not too hard.
At the guarded gate of an enormous resort
called, modestly, Enchantment, we made a u-turn and parked off
the road with about twenty other cars of seekers. We headed up
the trail. The two brothers devised a somewhat negative game,
grilling those who we passed on the trail. I pretended not to
"Have you experienced the Vortex?" The
eyes of two thin young men lit in tandem. In Vortex-gentled
voices they said, "Yes."
"What is it like?" persisted my husband.
"It's . . . well, it depends," said one.
"You really have to be there," said the other.
"But you know it when you feel it?"
"Yes!" they agreed.
"Who feels it knows it?" he asked,
quoting the mystic master Bob Marley, and they nodded, their
eyes glowing gently with the discovery of secret kinship in
Vortexism. Off they went on their spindly legs.
"Bob Marley felt the Vortex," said
Joseph, a note of satisfaction in his voice. We passed another
woman; she was waylaid for research purposes. All the women on
the trail had bright, clear complexions, shiny, straight hair,
and large, earnest eyes. None of them were professionals; that
is, they did not have cellular telephones with them to respond
to 900 calls asking for advice.
"There are male and female vortices," she
told us. "When I'm in a male vortex, I feel strong and
invigorated. I walk very fast. Then I might round a bend and
feel great peace, a flowing feeling. There's usually water
round. That's a female vortex."
We continued, perhaps too slowly, for we
became enmeshed in the weed-eater and dump-truck vortex which
emanated from Enchantment. It was an unpleasant one, filling us
with noise, clamor, and irritation. Several people told us that
we would hike past the hotel in a few miles and be in a
beautiful canyon. Paul said he would wait for us on some
rocks. After a few more yards, we realized that we were impure
(some of us, anyway) and that the Vortex was spitting us out.
The Enchantment Resort, with all its hubbub, seemed to stretch
interminably before us, and we turned and left. On the way back
to the trailhead we passed two barefoot Germans, a man and a
woman. No, they had never heard of the Vortex, but they were
open-minded and hoped they would experience it. "A little
bonus," said the man, and laughed.
"It would be easier to crank up Bob
Marley and have a beer," said Joseph.
"Yes," said Paul. "Bob was always in the
We went back to town. The Jeep underwent
a car wash vortex, an act I would not have performed on my own.
I never understood the necessity of cleaning metal, especially
when it is outside anyway and will soon be just as grimy, but as
usual the ritual seemed to satisfy the men in some secret male
way. Paul went into a store run by an old Indian and asked him
if the Vortex was an Indian thing while I bought a used hardback
about space exploration for three dollars. The Indian
laughed. "No," he said. "It's a New Age thing based on
ancient Egyptians religions."
Schnebly Road (yes, the postmaster), just
outside of town, had been highly recommended, so off we bounced
in the superclean Jeep. Schnebly Road changes to dirt about a
mile from town, and climbs the edge of a spectacular valley on
the boundary of the Munds Mountain Wilderness. We were to come
to know that valley well.
This afternoon, though, we drove ever higher
in the Jeep, past red rocks and fantastic spires, into a pine
forest. As the road rounds the mountain one side is a sheer
steep drop, which the Pink Jeep Tour Jeeps spun past blithely,
with great speed, while I cringed in one corner of the seat,
overwhelmed by my one phobia: driving along the edge of steep
cliffs on narrow unpaved roads with no guard rails. This does
not seem to bother me quite as much if I am driving, but it is
still not pleasant, and in any case, I was not at the wheel this
time. "Let's go very slowly" I suggested. To my credit I
bravely remained in the Jeep instead of getting out to walk, as
I have been known to do in extreme cases.
We reached the broad, pine-forested
plateau, and found that the rim road, which we had planned to
drive, was closed to vehicles. Patches of snow from the
previous day lay beneath the pines. The sun was setting. We
decided to go back down and watch the sunset from a spire we had
Finally, as we lay back against the spire
at the head of Bear Wallow Valley, I experienced the Vortex as
the stars came out. I felt very cold. I felt a deep whirring
in the center of my chest. I was suffused with enormous,
inexplicable happiness. Of course, who could fail to be happy
when the stars were so bright? I pointed out the airport
Vortex, several miles away, on a high flat knob; the blue lights
formed the top of a question mark of lights which were,
unmistakably, moving: car headlights leaving the top of a knob
in front of the airport. The airport seemed a worse place to
have a Vortex than the Enchantment canyon, but these things seem
to strike where they will.
When we left, we stopped halfway down at a
pullout and listened to some Indian chants from Window Rock,
Capital of the Navajo Nation, on a station which plays an
eclectic mix of Indian chants, country music, and public service
announcements about keeping your winter wood at least a hundred
yards from your house to keep mice from giving you the Hanta
When we returned to the Matterhorn, all
was as we had left it, except the beds were made and the maid
thoughtfully left coffee filters so we would not have to use
paper towels; the hotel coffee was in a prepackaged filter and I
had brought my own coffee.
However, I had no cream. I went out on
the street in search of some and was stunned by the lack of
activity. It was about 9:30. The very last car in town backed
out of its parking place and roared away, its occupants loudly
and vocally appreciative of my good looks, apparently, though I
couldn't make out exactly what they were shouting.
At the Mexican restaurant they were
counting their money, but yielded to my pleading and sold me a
styrofoam cup of milk for $2.00. They also sold me some
Back at the room, I found the men snoring.
I pulled a chair around a light-blocking corner, ate my guac and
chips, some of which were colored red and green like Christmas,
and read about aliens in the Norton Anthology of Science
Fiction. I figured this might prime me for the Vortex.
Finally, unable to resist, I wrote a brief Vortex-inspired poem,
ground coffee, and fell into bed.
Paul was up first and made the coffee
according to my sleepily mumbled ratios. "This is--stiff!" he
remarked. "It's almost solid!" Even I had to admit, as I
sipped the cup kindly brought to me in bed, as it was well known
that it would be difficult for me to get out of bed without it,
that it was a real beefy cup of coffee.
Joseph studied the maps and laid out a
plan of attack. We would go to one remote canyon, then head up
to some Indian ruins near Flagstaff, and go on to the Indian
reservation and see if we could buy some jewelry. But halfway
up Schnebly Road, the Coffee Vortex attacked with terrible
vengeance, reducing us all to snarling, yet puzzled,
antagonists. It did not take me, a former preschool teacher,
long to recognize the signs of some sort of sugar imbalance. I
decided that the men should not drink such strong coffee, at
least not at the same time I did.
The Vortex decreed that we leave the
Jeep, and fast, after we drove up and down the road several
times searching for the mythical 3.8 mile point at which we
would find a trail to what our Vortex guidebook tastefully
called "The Muffins." The night before, as we leaned against
rocks at the head of the valley, we had gazed entranced at
several huge rock circles which seemed to fill the valley,
separated by tree-filled gorges. Apparently they were known
locally as The Cow Pies (or, probably, worse) before the
guidebook writer undertook to cleanse their etymology. I
decided he probably had children and wished to protect their
tender ears. At any rate, entirely by accident, and certainly
not with any help from him, we stumbled onto the trail out onto
the massive red Pies.
On top of the first Pie, one of the
smaller monoliths, we saw the New Age circle: a cairn of rocks
surrounded by a larger circle of rocks. Though I stood in the
middle I felt nothing except waning irritation. We clumped on,
over winding paths past pine trees, and emerged onto the second
Pie; and finally found ourselves on the massive third Pie.
They were composed of what looked like
enormous blobs of soft red rock, were fairly level on top
despite their curvy unevenness, and at their highest stood at
least a hundred feet above the valley floor.
Through binoculars we watched someone
hike through the jumbled, jagged landscape of the wall of the
valley opposite the road. This person had long hair and wore a
fanny pack, but was too far away for us to determine sex. We
took turns using the binoculars and watched this person climb
rugged terrain to get to a sharp V-notch considerably lower than
the ridge's rim, which dropped almost vertically for a hundred
feet or so. He/she roamed back and forth below the V,
attempting to freeclimb but always retreating after a few
moves. We were disappointed when the figure gave up and picked
out a path behind some trees. We looked out at the end of the
ridge, which rose from a saddle to a large red monolith. We
wondered how the climber had gotten there. We rose to find out.
I clomped ahead in my ancient unkempt
high-top Danners, feeling my usual resolve to Take Better Care
Of Them, which would disappear as soon as they went back in the
closet. The red rocks sounded hollow at times beneath my feet.
Up and down gentle rises I hurried, until I came to a deep
canyon from which peeked the tips of trees. The drop was sheer
and far. I followed the canyon toward the head of the valley
and finally reached the end of it, and went across. There
appeared to be a faint trail. I made my way down it awhile,
then shouted at my companions still casting about on the Pies,
to let them know that the crossing was possible. Despite the
large boulders which had at one time or another--and why not
right now?--crashed down upon the slope, the side of the canyon
was fairly open, carpeted by prickly pears, pines, and various
spined shrubs. The air was clear and intoxicating; the sky was
very blue. People had piled up rocks to mark the "trail" but we
soon realized that there were many trails lacing the terrain.
Occasionally our passage was dangerous, as we inched across
narrow red ledges which dropped away into the canyon, but toward
the end the land leveled out into broad red steppes. As I
rushed along, I realized that I must be in the grip of a male
Vortex. The day before I had felt tired, weak, and old; now I
felt invigorated, filled with pep. I was dying to know what
At the end, we split up. Below the
saddle, I caught a movement, and realized that someone had
hurried into the bushes several hundred feet away. The mystery
climber! Joseph began climbing the base of the monolith at the
end to test his theory that the Matterhorn was right on the
other side. I climbed up the saddle and found Paul sitting
there, gazing into another valley below us. A red stadium-like
sweep of red rocks turned into a carpet of pines; a highway
pierced the view and a grand old iron bridge arched across a
river. We decided that we were looking at Oak Creek Canyon. To
our right, a large red buttress arched sideways. To my left,
Joseph called, "Look at this!"
I could barely hear him, and reluctantly
removed myself from the grand apex of yet another unadvertised
Vortex. I could tell it was one; across from me the lines of
the vast, cliff-hewn ridge flowed downward in parabolic splendor
and crossed in the middle, reaching out and focusing something
in me; or maybe it was just that it would have been interesting
to paint. Chinese Taoist painters had been into Vortex Theory
too, I realized. I huffed up the buttress through the bushes;
unfortunately the influence of the male vortex was gone, leaving
me feeling old and tired once more and wishing that I had
brought candy bars to chemically approximate that natural vortex
high. To my surprise, I saw the climber hiding in the bushes.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi," he replied shortly, unmistakably
male. I figured we had crudely disturbed the purity of his
vortex experience, but I did not feel guilty. That was no
reason for him to be surly. I reached Joseph, and found him
amazed. He handed the binoculars to me.
Down at the Vortex Circle we had crossed
about an hour before (stamped with a "V" of approval in our
book), about a mile away, worshipers had gathered. Even with
the binoculars, they were hard to see, but they all appeared to
glitter, and they were holding hands. I thought of two
possibilities: they were actually emitting light, or they were
a group of alien Elvi recently deposited, charged with the
mission of converting the part of humanity which still resisted
Elvis worship. Either possibility was interesting. I handed
the binoculars back. "Where's the Matterhorn?" I asked.
"I can't get around this rock," he said,
and I was glad that he realized it, for the sides were very
steep. I went back down to the saddle. Behind me, Joseph
stopped to talk to the hidden man.
"What did he say?" I asked, when Joseph
arrived at the saddle.
"Not much," he said. "I asked him what
those people were doing, and he said that he had no idea."
It took us about an hour and a half to
make our way back to the Jeep, and some of us were temporarily
disoriented as we made our way across the vast Pies, which had
not been nearly as confusing going the other way. We knew we
were going the right way when we stumbled across the Circle:
The Glittering Ones had painted a circle around the center
cairn, a circle around the circumference, and lines radiating
out from the center which attached the two.
Mystery in our daily lives! Whatever it
was, they took their mission seriously.
We got back in the Jeep and headed
upward, Vortex-soothed, continuing toward the Navajo Reservation
east of Flagstaff, by way of Schnebly Road. As we approached
the rock where we had watched the sunset the night before, we
saw a large empty-Haul truck and many cars; then Paul said,
"They're building a hang glider! They're going to film it!"
Excellent, I thought, for I had wished I
could fly from that place the night before. As we passed the
film crew, we saw on of them filling a huge ice chest with
whisky and other liquids.
"Passing out drinks?" asked Joseph,
leaning from the Jeep window.
"Here," said the man, and handed us a
As usual, we got back to Sedona after
nine, after adventures at the Navajo reservation. We ventured
onto the neat, quiet street which resembled a German village in
cleanliness and in closing time, and managed to find a nice
little restaurant where I had a salad and wine, and the brothers
Bass Ale, which was on tap. The booth tables, trimmed in inlaid
wood, boasted pots of live red geraniums. The smell of garlic
heating in butter infused the air as they tossed our ordered
mushrooms into the pan. We were the only customers. Then,
beneath the stars, we walked back to the Matterhorn, looked at
The Rocks once more, argued about whether the saddle we had been
on earlier was behind them, and slept the dream-shot sleep of
you enjoy Kathleen's travel
writing check out MISSISSIPPI BLUES
a unique science fiction novel about a journey on the