Last month my wife and I made a trip to Sedona, Arizona — a pilgrimage in search of two essentials: light and warmth. In our part of British Columbia, the cool part of the year gets a “D” — for dark, damp, dank and dreary. This gets on my nerves and makes me cranky. Cynthia, bless her, is not similarly affected, but she’s a good sport, so she came along. I’d been there before, and I was eager to show her around.
Sedona is situated in the Red Rock Country desert about 100 miles north of Phoenix; it straddles the Cococino – Yavapai county line. It has 300 days of sunshine a year, and the setting is perfectly lovely: huge red rock formations, clear blue sky, lots of trees, shrubbery and running water – a beautiful, fascinating and well-lit place. About Sedona, the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1877-1950) commented,
“Nothing should ever be built here.
The town of 10,000 is named after Sedona Schnebly (1877-1950), the esteemed wife of the town’s first postmaster.
We first flew to Las Vegas, picked up our car and headed southeast, past Hoover Dam and across the desert to Kingman. There we intersected with famed Route 66. Good old Route 66! Like many people of my generation and earlier, I have a great fondness for this legendary strip of two-lane blacktop — what Steinbeck called “The Mother Road” — which makes folks love her all the more.
Route 66 was established in 1926 and is one of the original routes in the U.S Highway System; to this day it is certainly the most celebrated and sung-about. Who doesn’t know the line, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66?” This R&B number has been recorded by everyone from Nat King Cole to the Rolling Stones. Originally, it snaked 2,488 miles through eight states, all the way from “Chicago to LA”. It was named “66” because authorities thought it “sounded nice.” This made me smile.
With much sadness, Route 66 was decommissioned in 1986, a victim of obsolescence and the Interstate Highway System. However, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Arizona have recently declared their sections a National Scenic Byway be called “Historic Route 66”; it attracts legions of nostalgic old-timers from all over the world. In Arizona, Route 66 is venerated.
In the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman there’s an excellent museum devoted entirely to Route 66. It’s sincere and intelligent, and not a bit corny. The walls hold quotations from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, describing the desperation of many Dust Bowl refugees as they took this road west in search of a better life. The displays are exquisite, and you can tell the place has been created with love and devotion.
Later that day, we stopped in Flagstaff, 30 miles north of Sedona, and decided to make that our home base. The next morning we headed south down Route 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. This mile-wide canyon descends 2000 feet through countless hairpin and corkscrew turns and leads right into Sedona. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the country. Zane Grey said of it, “The very forest-fringed earth seems to have opened into a deep abyss.”
We strolled the main street to try to get a sense of the place. All seemed neat, clean and beautiful in an affluent cowboy-town kind of way. One of the shops we entered had an interesting display of weapons: rifles, pistols, throwing stars, and knives of every description. Now I have always had an unwholesome weakness for knives, and have continued to collect interesting ones my whole life.
Of course, I was interested in the kind of knife that is illegal in any civilized place — the switchblade.
The proprietress sidled up to me with an inquiring look. “Any switchblades?” I asked, trying to look disinterested, like I was doing a consumer survey.
“Sure,” she said affably. “Over here.” She led me to a whole shelf of them.
“Are they legal in Arizona?” I asked, blinking innocently.
“Yup,” she replied. “Everything’s legal in Arizona — except nunchuks, that is.” Well, I’ve already got enough switchblades to get me into serious trouble, so I didn’t get one that day. But it’s good to know where I can, if the need arises.
No discussion of Sedona could possibly omit the fact that it is the “Mecca of New Age” activity in America. Ah…. the New Age Movement — a throbbing, seething, vibrating, hodgepodge of gonzo beliefs – concerning (in part) healing crystals, astrology, goddess worship, self-worship, channeling, numerology, auras, past-life regression, psychic healing, pyramids, Ouija, tarot, numerology, Feng Shui, altered states, UFOs and alien abductions. You name it, it can be had at The Center for the New Age, smack in the middle of town, staffed by self-styled “professionals” who will happily show you around. If you want, they’ll even take you on a “UFO Sighting Tour”, for $80 a head.
Part of this incoherent smorgasbord and a major reason people visit Sedona is to tap into certain kinds of “energy” believed to flow from various “vortexes” in the area. Allegedly, there are two types of energy on offer: magnetic (female) and electric ( male). People claim to be variously energized, calmed and enlightened when they visit such places.
Bell Rock, 5 miles south of town, is reputed to emit oodles of energy to one and all and is a top attraction. So, in search of a bracing hike and eager to pick up whatever surplus energy was around, we drove to the trailhead. Bell Rock itself is a magnificent sight — a gigantic, symmetrical mass of red rock blushing in the late afternoon sun. We keenly hoofed it up the path, trailing clouds of red dust as we went. After a few minutes we saw a couple sitting on a bench in the shade on the right side of the trail. They were friendly, and we fell into conversation. I’ll call them Doug and Sue. Sue told us she was a writer, in town for a workshop. I couldn’t resist telling her I’d recently published a book. We were away.
It was about a minute before the topic of the Presidential election of two days earlier arose. To say they were dismayed by the result would be a great understatement; they were stunned and distraught.
Sue said, “I spent whole the day after the election drinking myself into insensibility…. every time I ‘came-to’ Doug would pour more hooch down my gullet”.
Quite an unseemly spectacle, I’m sure. When we saw her she was gradually regaining her composure, but was still, I believe, spitting tacks inside. She said, “I come here and always get a sense of extreme well-being.”
Well, our hike around Bell Rock left us with a slight net loss of energy, I’d say, but it was terrific and I wouldn’t have missed it. As we left we encountered a willowy young man in full Hare Krishna get-up. He was trying to sell sun-hats in the parking lot, to raise money for his ashram. Somehow, he fit right in, a real Sedona kind of guy.
Space does not permit a description of Jerome, an old copper-mining town — the biggest “ghost – town” in the country — 20 miles south of Sedona in the Black Hills of Yavapai County. It’s a tourist trap, but a charming one. The main attraction for us was the kaleidoscope store, which holds, amazingly enough, the largest collection of kaleidoscopes in the world. You should see it.
After a week of this it was time to head back home, to the northern damp chill. Our trip to Sedona and environs was a lovely, whimsical, time. We got our fill of sunlight, warmth, fresh air, exercise and mental stimulation. And that was just what the doctors needed.