Sedona: Is the Whole Town Built on a Hoax?
By Laurie Gough

Masculine energy fields, spiritual consciousness guides, and The Eleventh Chakra. Is any of this for real? Laurie Gough puts feet on soil around Sedona, Arizona to separate divine from delusional.

I'm hiking in Boynton Canyon near Sedona, Arizona, and the woman behind me is berating her husband for not warning her to wear hiking boots, speaking to him in a voice which tells of ongoing bitterness, a voice which discourages calm discussion on the matter. It's at this point I realize that the theory of Boynton Canyon being devoid of male–female tension because of its "vortex" is in error. Either that or we haven't reached the vortex yet, the place where soothing energy is supposedly oozing out of the earth.

Yesterday, the owner of Sedona's Center for the New Age––a shop full of crystals, tarot cards, flute music and dreamy–eyed patrons—enlightened me on the various energy vortexes around Sedona. The owner, a woman in her late–50s, a fellow Canadian, told me that the vortex energy of Boynton Canyon is special. "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 people there are calm. There's no male–female tension in Boynton Canyon."

Wow, I'd said. Couples on the brink of divorce should hang out there. It could save a lot on lawyer fees.

"As for the other three vortex sites," the woman continued, "Cathedral Rock is magnetic and therefore feminine. The energy at Bell Rock is so powerful, you'll notice it before getting out of your car. The Airport Vortex is masculine," she said, "so watch out. The strength of it might knock you over."

I'd first heard about Sedona at a remote campground south of Sedona called Verde Hot Springs where my husband and I had camped for six days. The campground local hippies made jokes about Sedona's tourists, but at the same time, each had a story to tell in support of Sedona's mystical reputation. Around a fire, a camper offered his vortex expertise, claiming that one vortex takes something away from you that you want but gives you back something you need. "Hey, kind of like the Rolling Stones song," I'd offered. Another vortex overwhelms you with so much energy you might get sick; another puts you to sleep, another vortex strips you of your beliefs. I smiled and nodded politely, pretending I didn't think him a total flake.

Sedona travel

Big Money from Strong Earth Energy
Sedona is known as the New Age Mecca––or New Age Tourist Trap, depending on your astrological sign––and when April White Cloud tacked her ads around town declaring she was a master clairvoyant, psychic healer and shaman priestess, I didn't trust her, or the town's metaphysical claim to fame, for a minute. Nor did I trust the man in the glossy photo with the gray ponytail who claimed he would open the Third Eye, retrieve wandering souls, and channel spirits for $200 a session. Among the month's topics in the popular New Age magazine, Sedona, Journal of Emergence are: "The World Through My Dog's Sacred Vision," "The Eleventh Chakra in the Fourth Dimension," and my favorite, "Could It Be You're Already Dead?"

Sedona was entirely different from other Arizona towns we'd visited, places like Bisbee and Patagonia, old–fashioned towns with real people who have real jobs, but perhaps, I reflected, it's only right that screwballs have their own town. All the talk of altered states and parallel universes was a turnoff, but I was curious about the vortexes. I suggested to my husband Rob that instead of ditching Sedona immediately, we go searching for energy sites.

The vortex woman said that the best way to feel the vortex energy was to go on a guided trek. Since guides are on a "higher level of spiritual consciousness," you have a more powerful experience. At $250, I figured Rob and I could find the vortexes on our own and maybe eavesdrop on a guided tour, let leftover sacred energy spill onto us. Surely the Earth wouldn't care who had forked out cash and who hadn't. As I left, the vortex woman called out not to worry about going guideless because the energy is so overwhelming, a person would have to be abnormally insensitive not to feel anything. Sacred energy of the Earth, come and get me.

Seeking Surges of Energy
In the first half–hour of the five–mile hike through Boynton Canyon, our first vortex, we passed Enchantment Resort, which somewhat detracts from the nature experience as you walk by million–dollar guest houses, but soon, we were hiking at the foot of crimson cliffs and eventually into a snowy pine forest. First, we passed crowds of hikers on this popular trail, but the further we went, the fewer hikers we encountered so the more we stopped to chat. Now, near the end of the trail, high up in a spectacular box canyon, we ask our fellow hikers, "So, do you feel anything?" "Yeah, my legs hurt," someone says. "Yep, sure am thirsty," says another. Nobody has found the vortex.

Back at our van after the hike, we meet a man who gives us a more detailed vortex map than ours, and we discover that Boynton Canyon's vortex is just 50 yards from the parking lot, conveniently. The map shows the vortex to be on a knoll surrounded by twisted juniper trees. Supposedly the energy of the vortex twists the trees. I'd seen twisted junipers in the southwest before, however, usually in windy places, like on top of this knoll. I sit down in the dusty red dirt up on the knoll to absorb some sacred energy, but all I feel is the midday sun burning my face. I'm a redhead, apparently an insensitive one, and have to watch my skin.

But I'm not deterred. We decide that after exploring downtown, we'll head back into the hills for sunset. Sedona, despite it being New Age Disneyland, is stunning. New businesses in this rapidly–growing town of 15,000 must have red clay roofs and adhere to adobe architecture in muted shades of browns, greens and taupes. Even the gas stations are adobe. The adobe McDonalds in Sedona advertises, "The Only Teal Green Arches in the World" and they don't look bad. When the sun sets in a place like Sedona, a place surrounded by red rock mountains, it's an event of dazzling proportions that people anticipate for hours. The last rays of the day ignite the towering rocks like golden castles until finally they burn up in a glowing cayenne blaze. When it's over, the mountains darken to violet shadows as if the sun were never there at all. The sky fills with rosy clouds, the air turns cold and the people turn to go home.

We decide to watch the sunset from Airport Vortex (the "masculine" vortex which might knock me over) because it has tremendous views. I scramble up the rocks ahead of Rob, thinking perhaps I'll "feel" more on my own. It's a short but steep climb to the top of the vortex and on my way up I pass a middle–aged woman huffing and puffing coming down. "I didn't feel anything," she says to her husband. "What a darn waste of time that was."

I keep climbing. When I reach the top, the sun is in the process of painting everything a fierce red and I sit down on the sandstone rock. For a long time I stare out across the dizzying grandeur of the high desert landscape, the mesas, mountains and buttes, the ancient rocky depths below, trying to probe the depths of my inner self, yearning for the earth's energy to mingle with my own, and a feeling gradually starts to come over me: starvation. I could go for a super burrito right now.

The next day we go to Cathedral Rock, which, with its red rock spires lofting over the flowing Oak Creek, is the most photographed site in Sedona. We hike along the brook through the trees until we find Cathedral Rock Vortex, sit down, and try seriously this time to sense the surges of energy. Under the shade of a juniper tree beside the creek I close my eyes, take a deep breath and try to empty my mind of its clutter. Gradually I began to relax as tranquility flows through me. The world around me is at peace.

Then I hear something stirring––low murmurs drifting up through the funnels of the red ground straight to my heart. Hallelujah, Mother Earth has finally reached me! The murmurs grow louder, so loud I open my eyes to see a group of people sitting in a circle across the creek. They're chanting. They're also dressed funny, wearing black capes and wide–brimmed mauve hats. A moment before, I'd thought I'd just felt God, or somebody like him, and now I just feel crummy. Whatever the chanters are doing looks serious. We get up to leave. How can we feel anything with them babbling away like that?

Earth's Real Energy
On our way back we see a couple in their 60s––portly, friendly and all–American. The man is struggling to cross the stream. He shouts at us, "Hey, where is the damn thing?"

"What," I say, "the vortex?"

"The what? What's that?"

"Well, it's supposed to be…"

"I'm looking for the photo op," he interrupts.

As it turns out, the photo op is a far more stirring place than the actual vortex. A flat plain of smooth red molten rocks, cooled in wavy shapes millennia ago, is now a perfect spot for picnics. People are eating, drinking wine, and enjoying the view. Children laugh at some ducks that actually seem to be shooting the rapids and flying back to shoot them all over again. People throw sticks for dogs and families take photos. These people are oblivious to the "sacred site" just ten minutes away but seem to be having a lot more fun than the murmuring circle of New Age energy channelers. I feel inspired on several levels.

The fourth and last of the Sedona vortexes is Bell Rock, also a popular site for UFO sightings, and we stop there just for the heck of it on our way back to the campsite. I've given up on the vortexes and admit I don't try very hard to feel anything at Bell Rock. I recall a friend saying the only vortex he noticed in Sedona was the one sucking gas from his car when he sat in traffic for 45 minutes. Was the whole town built on a hoax? How can you have a spiritual moment when it's expected of you? Aren't these things meant to happen when we least expect it?

But as I climb Bell Rock I look to the west. The sun has just fallen behind a mountain and its afterglow is orchestrating the whole sky into swirling masses of mandarin and deep purple wine. Far off somewhere, a green tree of the brightest emerald is cutting through the arid night, while up in the sky a single planet, perhaps Venus, shines down to where I sit on the rock. A breeze cools my arms, pines give off the fragrance of oozing gum, and coyotes howl for night to begin. Inside I'm quietly exploding from the aching beauty around me. This is the Earth's energy, I realize, and this is sacred.

Laurie Gough

Lauded by Time magazine as "one of the new generation of intrepid young female travel writers," Laurie Gough is author of the book Kiss the Sunset Pig, newly released in the USA with Penguin, and Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman's Travel Odyssey. The latter was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and was a silver medal winner of ForeWord Magazine's Travel Book of the Year in the US. Eighteen of her stories have been anthologized in various literary travel books, and she has written for, the L.A. Times, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Vancouver Sun, Outpost, Canadian Geographic, The Daily Express, and In London.

Related stories:
The Metamorphosis: Carefree World Traveler, then Mother by Laurie Gough
Sobering Shamanism from Peru's Visionary Tea by Bruce Northam

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