SEDONA, Ariz. — I suppose I shouldn’t have taken the parking attendant’s advice so literally.
“You’ll know it when you feel it,” he had told me when I asked where I’d find the vortex.
I had traveled to Sedona for a weekend to see if I would experience what many visitors come here to find: a static in the air, the “vortex.”
Inside a steep, coral-colored canyon decorated with pine trees, this sleepy Arizona city has long been a quiet refuge for hikers, romantics and soul searchers. For many, it’s a place of mystique and magic.
Walking past its earth-toned grocery stores, banks and restaurants, you’ll find that Sedona’s tourists and locals go into many of the same places. So much so that residents seem like former tourists themselves.
Crystal and incense shops sit prominently between visitor centers with pushy timeshare salesmen. Jeep tours that carry you to majestic points around the city — which is set amid glowing red rocks — bring convenience and modernity to what could otherwise be a still from an old Western. And the view is also picturesque from every hotel, bed and breakfast, and residential building.
To preserve its beauty, this city of just over 10,000 people has a strict building code and zoning laws: Structures can’t grow too high, and must be colored in hues that complement the natural tones of the red rocks. Even the famed golden arches at McDonald’s are turquoise here, to enhance the desert’s natural beauty.
But many visitors to Sedona come looking for something in addition to this beauty. Native American legend recounts a spot where the earth’s energy is supposedly concentrated and crackling. Where you can experience a range of sensations that encourage self-healing and spiritual awakening. The vortex.
The supposed healing power of vortexes gained popularity during the late 20th century. In 1987, some 5,000 believers flocked to Sedona for what became known as the Harmonic Convergence. The event began as an interpretation of the Mayan calendar; tens of thousands of people around the world gathered around spiritual centers for meditation to protect the Earth from spinning away into space.
While praying for a global awakening, many of those who came to Sedona developed a feeling of deep, astral connection to the red rock formations. Word of Sedona’s mysterious vortexes began to spread.
There are many trails through the rocks around Sedona that guide you to these coveted locations. On my recent visit, we chose to try the Airport Mesa Loop. While more strenuous than some, it’s a great hike if you are looking for exercise and a spectacular view of town. Pack light in everything but water, as there is not much shade and some steep drops.
As the trail ascends, there are panoramic views of Elephant Rock, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock — Sedona’s most visited landmarks. The trail circles around two sides of the mountain, marked by a difference in both plant life and geological formations. Once you near the end, it becomes hard to believe you are on the same path.
Because of the trail’s popularity, two parking lots are accessible to visitors. While the one lower down the mountain is closer to the official entrance of the trail, its small size made it too difficult to park in the afternoon. We drove to the very top of the Airport Mesa and took in views of the city before the parking attendant pointed us to a spot past a fence near the road, where we hiked down a mile-long trail that forked at the entrance of the Airport Mesa Loop.
Every few steps of the roughly 3.3-mile-long trail encourage you to give in to the natural setting. A heightened feeling — tingling fingers and velvet in the air — distracted me from the multiplying hikers and marriage proposals.
We walked for hours, and we felt a lot — aches, pain, wonder.
And it was only after we completed the loop and came back to the starting point of the trail when we discovered the vortex. Standing atop the mini-mesa elicited a more intense feeling than the one I had already felt in town. Red rock vistas transform to soaring pillars, as if you’re inside a gothic cathedral. It’s something that the New Age faithful preach about and even skeptics might buy into.
Once you wake up from your trance, you’ll notice tourists and locals basking in the same feeling. It’s a Sedona moment that can’t be replicated.