Drawn Into Sedona – Excerpts from a Travel Diary
By Leticia Andreas
Barely four days I spent in Sedona last December, but I must say that I had a fun and kind of wacky time there. It did not look like that in the beginning, as it was holiday season and the town packed with visitors. As much as I could, I went off the beaten path, and strove to fulfill my own dream of Sedona.
On Thursday, December 26, 2002, I made my way to Sedona in my Beetle. From Los Angeles, I reached Blythe in three hours, where I crossed the border to Arizona. This area of the 10 Freeway in Arizona is incredibly boring, a completely barren strip of land. I had decided earlier on to not go through the Phoenix area, but rather to take highway 60 going north, right after the town of Quartzsite. The 60 is a two-lane highway, one lane each direction, but was not heavily traveled. Once in a while there are “towns” on the way, but it was almost impossible to determine if they were still live-able, or lived-in. Mostly they looked like they had just within recent years become ghost towns. From the 60 I continued on the 71 for a short stretch, until it became the 89.
The scenery changed and became more acceptable just before I drove through the town of Yarnell – now on highway 89 north, it turned from a long, straight road into a mountain road. And it was really pretty there, as all of a sudden patches of snow were around, and the gray roadside bushes had turned into pine trees. Yarnell was a small mountain town, and looked well taken care of with its wood and log houses, neat little stores and such. Once out of Yarnell, the road was curving down again and the surroundings were almost back to boring. The town of Wilhoit was next, and it was again one of these tiny, barely-there towns.
Finally, around 1:30 p.m. PST (2:30 p.m. Arizona time) I arrived in Prescott, and stopped at the Visitor Center for some brochures. Prescott looked to me like a perfect “movie”-mountain town, with the main street and all its shops, the courthouse and plaza. A lot of people strolled around, and for the first time since I left L.A. I encountered “heavy” traffic. However, I hopped on the 69 south, then the 169 going east. That brought me to the 17 Freeway, and I headed north towards Flagstaff. The sign for the 179 showed up two miles before the actual exit to Sedona. And from there, it was only fifteen more miles.
After just a few minutes on the 179, the Red Rocks came into sight – and what a sight that was!
All of a sudden I knew the trip had been worth it. The first place I arrived at was Oak Creek, where I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce, and got a hiking book, a map of Sedona, and some trail maps. Afterwards I went into town to look for the Hostel Sedona I was going to stay at. Turned out that the town was jammed packed with tourists and tourist busses, and it seemed like everyone was out shopping like mad. I found the turnoff to the hostel, and soon after entered the “lobby” of the main building where two guys were hanging out in the community kitchen. The hostel keeper came out, and I was led to my private room in the women’s dormitory.
First, I unloaded the Beetle as it was dark already, then looked at all the reading material about Sedona. I drove into town on the 89 going west, to look for the New Frontiers store & restaurant. I found it successfully just about five minutes away from the hostel, and went in to drink a tea and plug in the laptop. Just as I was writing, a man interrupted me, and we engaged in conversation. His name was June*, and we talked about L.A., Sedona, etc. It was fun talking to him, and the funniest thing was that he also played the Native American Flutes like me! Of course we did some flute talk. June also told me about many local hangouts, and I planned on going to some of them during my stay.
On Friday morning, December 27, 2002, I went west on the 89 and looked for the Coffee Roasters place June had told me about. It was just passed a street called Coffeepot Drive. June sat inside, talking to a young girl, Vanessa*, who was also visiting Sedona for a few days. June invited Vanessa and me for a ride in his wacky van to show us some favorite spots. First he took us to Airport Vortex, one of the famous Vortexes in Sedona, up on Airport Road. We climbed on top of the rocks, and stood directly on the Vortex. It was very cold and windy at the time, and June told us quickly that the Airport Vortex had special energy due to the magnetic fields underneath it.
Back on the 89 going east, June showed us a place past the “Y” of Sedona (the intersection of the alternate route 89 and the 179). It was a historical landmark, built in the late 1800’s by a man called J.J. Thompson for the purpose of protecting a natural spring, which was still alive and bubbling. After that we went to Indian Garden’s across the street, a grocery store & bistro where locals like to hang out in the summer, sitting under big trees in the back. A trading post called Garland’s was next to it, with a “talking” metal deer out in front, and we inspected the fantastic Native American jewelry. June drove further up the road a bit, where Native American vendors sold jewelry and crafts at much lower prices.
June took us back to the Coffee Roasters from where I drove off to Cathedral Rock. First, however, I had to get the Red Rock Parking Pass, which has to be displayed everywhere one wants to park in Red Rock country. For the best deal, I bought one for an entire week for $15, as a one-day pass was $5 just by itself. The entrance fee to the park was another $5. I began to walk, and without even knowing it at first, I encountered another Vortex right by the creek and marked by a rock garden. Wanting to get closer to Cathedral Rock though, I walked back, crossed a small footbridge to the other side of the creek, and was finally on Cathedral Rock trail, heading up the rock on one of its sides. The trail went uphill, and I looked forward to a moderate hike, but was rudely awoken by a few mountain bikers going up and down the already narrow trail. After another ten minutes on the trail I was so annoyed that I hiked back down, walking along the creek, looking for a quiet spot anywhere, but too many people were about. I sat down on a rock by the creek for a while, then drove back into town to visit Tlaquepaque Village. The traffic was heavy, and when I arrived at the shopping village, I did not spark with great enthusiasm. What I feared was true: Tlaquepaque was a shopping village with many galleries, handcrafts, and other exclusive shops, and extremely expensive. I walked through it in about ten minutes, and had had enough of it.
Around 5 p.m. I parked at the New Frontiers store to eat. A couple of doors down is the Ravenheart Coffeeshop, where I sat down afterwards with the laptop to drink a hot cider, and write. I also opted to buy fifteen minutes on the Internet, which cost $2.75. After Ravenheart I quickly went window-shopping in Uptown Sedona, and decided to go back early the next day. When I got back to the hostel, I went to the office/kitchen space and joined the guys, mostly low-budget travelers passing through.
On the morning of Saturday, December 28, 2002, I was at the Coffee Roasters at 8 a.m. June was there, so was Greg* from the day before, and others who are frequenting the place. I engaged in conversation with Greg about aliens, cloning, and some news about all that in the Arizona newspaper, and also about L.A. Never mind the nice conversation, I left at 9:10 a.m. and drove quickly into Uptown to beat the crowds and buy a few things. Then I went back on the 89 west to Dry Creek Road, where I made a right to get to Boynton Pass Road, then a right on Boynton Canyon Road and Trail #47. The trail started very nicely, walking on brown dirt with manzanita bushes on the side and occasional pine trees. Patches of snow were on the trail, and at times it was a bit muddy. Supposedly there would be a right turnoff for the trail to some small ruins after about 1.5 miles, but I did not find it, no matter how closely I examined the huge rocks to my right. The further I hiked, the more snow appeared: at some points now it became very icy and slippery, and the trail was fully covered with snow. There was barely any sun coming through, because the rock formations on either side of the trail were too tall, as were the pine trees. It was cold, and only very few people were still hiking that far. After an hour I knew that I probably missed the ruins. I decided to turn around and make my way back. It was no use going on hiking in the snow with my regular hiking shoes.
After I had walked back for about half an hour, I saw a small trail on my left, barely discernable at all, but I wanted to venture off the beaten path and went up that trail. Even though very narrow and at times overgrown, it was clearly a trail that had been hiked on many times before. The trail became a bit steeper, with patches of big, slanted rock areas. I looked up to study the rock walls ahead, and saw an opening with what looked like a man-made rock wall, with the rocks lighter in color than the surrounding red ones. My heart beat faster, because I was almost certain? Further up I went, almost exclusively over rock debris now and barely a visible trail, but something was up there. After a few more minutes I looked up again, and I knew that I had found the trail to the small ruins! I came to a sign saying to “Honor Your American Heritage”, and I took a picture of it as it was very rare that Native American ruins or artifacts were called “American Heritage”. Then I scrambled up the last part to the ruin, put my backpack and flutebag on a big stone, and looked around the two rooms, which had been partially reconstructed.
The sun shone brightly into the overhang in which the ruins were, and it must have been over 80 degrees, but still the main part of the two rooms was in the shade. I took out my flutes, got the Woodpecker and Eagle flutes ready to play, and sat down on a rock slab on the edge, overlooking the terrain. A couple of million dollar homes were right across, and what a difference that was to the about 800 year old ruins. The first flute I played was the Woodpecker, and the acoustics were just amazing. The next flute was the Eagle, and this one especially resonated beautifully today, with its deep, dark tone, and seemed to fit this environment even better. It was just amazing, and I played for about forty-five minutes. With the exception of just one couple coming up to the ruin for ten minutes, I had been completely alone. I took out the Eagle flute again, played one last song, or maybe it was two, then packed up and started to hike back down. I was on a total high, and forgave Sedona for being so crowded and traffic-y. This experience alone made it all worthwhile to me.
Some other ruins were close by, down an unpaved road. But within fifteen seconds of driving on that road I realized that it would be a bit much for the Beetle, as it’s not a high-clearance vehicle. So I went back into Sedona, drove through Uptown, going further east to the Native American vendors, and also stopped at Garland’s. The jewelry was too expensive for me, but I roamed through the sandpaintings, and I purchased three of those. Heading back into Sedona, there was the usual afternoon traffic jam in Uptown, and a long car line on the 89 had formed all the way up to the 179.
At the New Frontiers counter I met June, who joined me for dinner. After that, I had a hot chocolate at Ravenheart, chatted with June some more, and turned on the laptop. June told me that when he met me first, I was all alert and cautious, but now very relaxed and open. Well, you gotta give it a day or two to leave the L.A. city-craziness behind you, and acclimate. It’s not so easy for us city-folk!
I sat down at a big table at Ravenheart, across from a Psychic Reader, and next to a couple of older guys talking about the Apocalypse, the powerful and ruling rich families of America, spiritual leaders, alien landings, world citizenship and I began writing. Everything was perfect.
On Sunday, December 29, 2002, I left the hostel at 8 a.m. The usual guys were at the Coffee Roasters this early Sunday morning, and we chatted for a while, but just before 9 a.m. I said my goodbyes, and headed for Cottonwood. My plans for this morning were to visit the Indian ruin Tuzigoot in Clarkdale, about nineteen miles west of Sedona. I arrived at 9:15 a.m., and found that the ruins actually open at 8 a.m. and not at 9 a.m., the latter was the time printed in every brochure I had read. Only a few people were there, and I went up the hill, checked out the ruins, and then played the Trail flute for a little bit on its roof. The surrounding area was called Verde Valley, with a meandering stream running through it for which the ruin had been named after the excavation: Tuzigoot meant “crooked stream”, and an Apache elder had given it its name. Before I left I made sure to ask one of the rangers if Montezuma Castle was open, because every brochure and info booklet I had read said it was open only Memorial Day through Labor Day. He kind of rolled his eyes in annoyance about that fact, and said, no, Montezuma was definitely open. First I went off to the small town of Jerome, as it was nearby. The road to Jerome was very curvy and narrow, and I kind of was not in the mood to visit the town center. I just stopped at the side of the road and took a couple of pictures of Jerome as it clung to the mountainside. I went back through Clarkdale again, to 17 Freeway north. There, I got off at the Montezuma Castle exit, and headed towards the park and its famous ruins, where cars already lined the side of the road.
By now it was late morning and, just like myself, all the other tourists were out and about. Sure enough: one could barely get through the store and display room, and the walkways to the ruin were jammed. I took a few pictures of the Montezuma ruins, which could only be looked at from way down, stood there for a while to take it all in, and left.
Down the 17 Freeway I went, where a huge dark cloud hung overhead, maybe the storm that was supposed to come in to Sedona was finally here. High winds pounded on the car on the 17. After an hour or so I turned onto loop 101, which turned into the 10 Freeway west. With that, I had circumvented the entire Phoenix downtown area, and probably saved half an hour or so. Except for a stop in Blythe, I drove through to L.A., and I was finally back home at 8:20 p.m. PST. In total, I had driven 1,076 miles in these four days.
Sedona is definitely a place to visit, but better in spring or fall, so I’ve heard. However, it seems that Sedona would always be full with visitors at any time, because it is only an hour north of Phoenix, and the locals call it, with a slightly bitter undertone, the “playground of Phoenix”. There is basically no off-season in Sedona, as it has a great rear-round climate, even though a bit colder in the winter.
Hotels are quite expensive, and it is impossible to get anything under $50/night, unless you are willing to stay further out of town, like in Cottonwood or Clarkdale, or at a hostel like I did – of which there is only one and that is more for the tough-minded who are fine with cheap quarters, shared bathrooms, and absolutely no luxury or comfort.
The restaurants and coffee shops in Sedona are excellent: there are plenty of them and worth checking out. For these, it is best to stay away from Uptown Sedona, and venture west from highway 179 onto highway 89, as the best and least crowded ones seem to be in that area.
Uptown Sedona is a nightmare with traffic and parking, and so is the area around Tlaquepaque Village. Locals told me that Sedona just wasn’t build for all the visitors and tourists, as no one had expected how popular the town would become.
Hiking and other outdoors activities are fantastic, but always count on herds of people. The Red Rocks are just amazing, and there is nothing like them in the greater surroundings. The ancient ruins around the Sedona area are always worth a visit, and I would also recommend others up in the Flagstaff area. If one needs good books about Sedona and its environs, I found the very best ones actually at the Montezuma Castle National Monument store, even better than any books I had found in Sedona itself.
To come to a close: Sedona is pretty wonderful. And even though I can’t say much about the “spiritual” side of Sedona, I guess that thousands of people a year are attracted to that specific phenomenon. I feel “spirituality” or “energies” only on such days when I sat at that small ruin, playing my flutes, and that is what I call my spirituality. Everyone else can do their own thing in Sedona!
(*All names of persons have been changed by author)
Los Angeles based writer Leticia Andreas plays flute and saxophone in addition to her many other talents.