The colossal Courthouse Bluff lies south of Sedona, Ariz.
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Drifting along the placid waters of Sedona’s Verde River Valley in my inflatable kayak, I’m finally beginning to understand what all the fuss is about. With no need to paddle, I can kick back and enjoy the passing greenery as my boat gently bumps its way downstream toward a winery. Once ashore, I’ll be sipping pinot gris beneath the shade of cottonwood trees. Suddenly, it seems, I’m feeling spiritual.
Sedona, Ariz., is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the main reasons hundreds of thousands of people flock here annually. That, and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky. This splendid geology attracts outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, bent on scaling Bear Mountain or cooling off in the slippery creek of Slide Rock State Park. But it’s the city’s reputation as a New Age hub along the lines of Taos, N.M., or Australia’s Byron Bay that most defines it.
Stop in at any souvenir shop along uptown Sedona’s main street and you’ll be inundated with polished gemstones and handmade dream catchers. Want a psychic reading? Pick from myriad places with names like Sedona Crystal Vortex and Mystical Bazaar. There’s also no shortage of tour companies ready to whisk visitors—believers and skeptics—to Sedona’s four main vortices, pockets of “spiraling spiritual energy” said to create a sense of heightened awareness that can only be achieved in a few locations worldwide.
One of Arizona’s most popular tourist attractions beyond the Grand Canyon, Sedona has long been on my list of sites to explore, but I’ve found myself rolling my eyes whenever someone mentions its metaphysical qualities. Sedona is a spiritual power center? Sure it is. Its energy rejuvenates you? Uh-huh. So rather than get bogged down clearing chakras and attending talks on past-life regression, I decide to do Sedona my own way—beginning with an afternoon trek.
Husband-and-wife team Greg and Gracie Stevenson run the Hike House, a hub of supplies and information for anyone interested in hiking Sedona’s 100-plus trails. It’s also home to the aptly named Energy Café, where you can fuel up with peanut butter smoothies and house-made oatmeal-and-chocolate-chip cookies. After stopping in to utilize the Sedona Trail Finder, an interactive database that allows users to enter their ideal criteria (easy, scenic, round-trip) and then offers personalized suggestions, I set out to explore the roughly six-mile West Fork Trail in the Coconino National Forest.
Almost entirely flat, the trail meanders through an aspen and pine forest and past steep canyon walls, occasionally intersecting with the gurgling waters of Oak Creek. A couple of hummingbirds dart past me as I stop to splash some water on my face, and kneeling down I notice the tension I’ve been carrying in my shoulders has subsided ever so slightly. Is this Sedona’s magical energy intertwining with my own? As the thought crosses my mind, I realize that this is the first time I don’t feel the need to dismiss it.
That night I attend a stargazing session at L’Auberge de Sedona, one of the area’s premier luxury resorts, led by Dennis Young, an enthusiastic astronomer who treats seemingly nondescript star clusters with the same awe as he does Saturn. The latter appears so clearly through his homebuilt telescope that I could almost swear he slapped a decal of the planet onto his lens.
Being a two-hour drive from Phoenix—the closest major metropolitan area—and blessed with clear desert sky, Sedona showcases celestial bodies that, as a city dweller, I haven’t seen in years. Young points out such stars as Sirius and Altair, shows us how to spot the constellation Centaurus, and is even able to predict the exact time that a satellite passes by. I feel energized, though I am unsure whether this is due to Young’s own excitement or Sedona’s superpowers.
It isn’t until I am floating downriver the following day that I truly recognize—and appreciate—Sedona’s appeal. In a place with so much natural beauty, one in which you can hike through a forest, climb a towering butte, and take in the type of sights unavailable in dense urban areas—not to mention kayak your way toward a nice glass of vino—relaxation comes with the territory.
Photography courtesy of L’Auberge de Sedona (deck); Ken Thomas/Wikimedia Commons (Courthouse Bluff); Doug Dolde (landscape)
This article was first published in January 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.