Finding tranquility, adventure and inspired cuisine in Sedona, Ariz.
Story and photography by Bonnie Herring
These days, everywhere you turn someone is touting the benefits of meditation, practically begging you to disconnect from the world at large and seek quiet contemplation — as if it’s a modern notion for achieving inner peace. But long before cell phones, hectic schedules and endless to-do lists began draining our own internal energy supplies, the earth was hard at work shifting and molding the planet itself into the ultimate source of vitality. And then, millions of years ago, the ocean receded and left behind stunning crimson canyon walls after the wilds of nature carved away layers of sandstone and limestone rock; and there was the sacred city of Sedona, Ariz. A refuge in the Southwestern U.S., Sedona is a picturesque locale full of undisturbed scenery (read: a place for total relaxation and renewal), aside from the spiraling spiritual energy that abounds; vortexes they call them (yes, vortexes). And in recent years, people everywhere — the South included — have been leaving their troubles behind and heading west in search of serenity.
If you’ve ever seen water funnel down a drain or a tornado circling debris you’ve seen a vortex. But the vortexes in Sedona can’t be seen — only felt. They’re believed to emit an energy that comes from within the earth (insert your own interpretation of exactly what that means here) that results in heightened senses and emotions, from which believers claim to find inner peace, healing and clarity.
Similar spiritual power spots exist across the globe; Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Oracle at Delphi and the Mother Temple on the slopes of Gunung Agung in Bali are often bucket list locations for those wanting to experience personal growth and spiritual enlightenment. In Sedona, several vortexes exist, including the Kachina Vortex in Boynton Canyon — the only one said to hold both masculine and feminine. (The sexual connotations are actually rather appropriate: energy flows up out of the earth in masculine vortexes, down into the earth in feminine ones.)
A hiking trail leads climbers on a 2 ½ mile ascent to the top though the red rock of canyon walls that is said to hold special magnetic properties. Over the years visitors have left their mark on the trail by randomly balancing small rocks on top of each other, each adding their own creation to what has become a large rock garden. As you reach the top, breathtaking views await and the intensity of the vortex can be seen in the response by the twisted trunks of the Juniper trees, in which the trunks and branches grow in a spiraling pattern, signifying the strongest part. Energy isn’t the only prize for reaching the top, clean crisp air and views that extend for miles generously reward hikers at the summit. At sunrise, the brilliance of the sun reflects off the sandstone creating a glistening effect on the red rock walls as the entire scenery begins to glow with light, making it a popular time for hikers to congregate at the top. Meditation is commonly practiced in this fortifying environment and if the vitality of the vortexes doesn’t bring clarity, peace and harmony to your soul, the picturesque views and restorative vibes just might.
After an adventurous hike, there’s nothing better than a trip to the spa or lounging poolside to soothe a tired body. An outdoor massage at the spa at L’Auberge is the perfect way to unwind with the babbling of Oak Creek in the background. For something more energizing, try the high desert salt scrub at Amara Resort and Spa — it will leave you feeling fresh and pampered, and the aroma of lavender, rosemary and mint will stimulate your senses and your circulation. Once you’re fully relaxed, grab a cocktail and head to Amara’s saltwater infinity pool to finish out the day.
If spa treatments and the endless sunshine that leads to lazy afternoons by the pool just aren’t your thing, sports and outdoor adventures await. Hiking is arguably the most popular activity in Sedona — numerous trails at all difficulty levels line the canyons, although you’ll need a Red Rock Pass to park at many trailheads in the National Forest. Biking enthusiasts and horseback riders can get a taste of the rugged terrain and glimpses of local wildlife throughout the canyon. For a bird’s eye view, try flying over the area in a helicopter or floating wherever the wind takes you in a hot air balloon; and bouncing over the jagged rocks in an off-road Jeep or ATV excursion lets you immerse yourself in the terrain without having to pack for an all-day hike.
Sometimes our spirits need another type of energy — a caloric one — and, as it turns out, the eateries and watering holes in Sedona are as plentiful as the red rock terrain. Though the rocky scenery is beautiful, it’s nothing like what Southerners are used to. When homesickness abounds you can drop in to Red Rock BBQ for some of the best Southern comfort food Sedona has to offer. This locally loved joint’s most popular menu items include the brisket and baked beans, which are so mouthwatering that they give their Southern counterparts a run for their money.
If it’s breakfast or lunch you’re looking for before heading out for a day on the trails, stop by Indian Gardens Cafe and Market. Open since 1948, the place has a long history of filling almost every need in the Oak Creek Canyon area — gas station, general store, ice cream parlor and bar, to name a few. Serving breakfast and lunch each day, Indian Gardens has a great menu full of housemade, local and organic ingredients to fill you up for a long day of hiking and exploring. After scarfing down a bacon and brie melt and a pint of craft beer in the garden, stop by the market to pick up a few souvenirs or some local honey as a reminder of your time in the candy-colored canyons of Sedona.