Tuesday, January 21, 2014

If Rocks Could Talk

My old desert haunts encompass the southwest corner of Arizona, southern New Mexico and deep forays across the Mexican border. I’ve traveled through dusty adobe towns and wiggled through narrow slot canyons that could rain down death at any moment. I’ve hidden in pueblo ruins and scanned the ridgeline for the telling silhouettes of my trackers.

So venturing into Northern Arizona wasn’t as much a trip back in time as it was a new journey of discovery. It was a mind trip as well as a real one.

Before leaving for Sedona, we traveled back in time to a mining camp east of Phoenix that lay nestled under the shadows of the Superstition Mountains. Ever since an ancient sea receded from the area, these mysterious silent sentinels of granite have been looking down from the ‘Supersticiones’ on the passage of time unfolding all around them. Long before my Camry rolled under the shadows of the Salt River Mountains, known to the Pima Indians as Sierra de Supersticiones, the ancients had left their mark and disappeared. After them came the Pima Indians and the Apaches before the miners and settlers shoved them out.

By the late 1800s, the Goldfield mining camp had become famous for the sheer quantity of gold and ore extracted from its mines. Now only the buildings were more weathered than the miners who once worked there. By the 1890’s the town boasted three saloons, a blacksmith shop, a general store and one brothel. But once the vein faulted and the grade of ore dropped, the town began its slow gradual slide into decline. The town that once claimed it would soon best Mesa and Phoenix all but disappeared.

The treacherous conditions of the mines were only offset by the hardship of travel under the constant of raiding Apache war parties. Long after the last Apache had succumbed to white pressure, I could still feel the Apaches still looking down on me even after all of these years.

It’s like filling my head with inspiration with every glance up at those rugged peaks. Leaning on the hood of my car, I was back among the Apaches once again. At least in spirit.


 I think I got a C minus in my one and only college Geology class. That’s too bad because even a cursory knowledge of rocks would have been helpful as I gazed up at some of God’s truly wondrous creations, Red Rock Country in and around Sedona, Arizona.

Located just two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona boasts some of God’s most colorful creations.  Long before the first human stepped foot in the Verde Valley, ancient winds began to blow rose-colored sand grains into magnificent crimson-colored mesas. Around 8,000 B.C., the Paleo-Indians came to the Sedona area via a natural land bridge that connected North America to Ancient Asia. After them came the Hohokam, the Sinaguan and finally the Anasazi known as the ‘Ancient Ones.’ The quest for gold and silver brought the first white explorers around 1583.

Among the many monikers that Sedona likes to boast about are the breath-taking mountains and the vortexes below. Sedona has painted itself as a magical place where artists of every type are inspired to create their masterpieces or struggle to find their muse. I must admit being struck by the sheer size and beauty of the mountains and buttes all around us. Much like the San Jacinto Mountains in my own backyard, the sun seems to paint these mountains with a different personality by the minute.

I can now understand the publicity shots Sedona loves to share with the world. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of individuals sitting on some mountain butte contemplating their navel as the sun is setting. The entire region does have a different feel about it. It’s a setting perfect for contemplation and creative thoughts.

It was only after the first roads were built into the Sedona area in the mid-twenties that growth and prosperity soon began to follow. Now there’s a new twist in attracting tourists and the curious.
Vortex hunting has become big business.
Some locals claim that Sedona has long been known as a spiritual power center because of vortexes of subtle energy located in the area. “The subtle energy that exists at these locations interacts with who a person is inside. It resonates with and strengthens the inner being of each person that comes within a quarter to a half mile of it” or so the literature says. There are male and female vortexes but that would require too much of a definition and certainly a suspension of belief for a non-believer such as myself.
After perusing books on old time Sedona, I came to the conclusion that the spiritual aspect of this place would have been seen as a strange and even silly phenomena thirty years ago. But today it sells hotel rooms and some folks seem to have bought into it yoga mat and sunsets combined. I suspect for most visitors it’s more a trip inside their head than anyplace else.

The whole New Age, spiritual, metaphysical, mind-tripping moniker got started around the mid-seventies after a journalist came out here and wrote about her spiritual experience on top of some butte. New Age hippies followed and soon there were conferences here just focusing on spiritual healing and vortexes and healing crystals. Now Sedona and most of Red Rock Country seems to have captured a large part of that mysterious market. We were told that artists, writers and seekers from all around the world flock to this Red Rock Country for the spiritual uplifting experiences there.

Not to be left out of finding my muse, I went searching for my own personal vortex… but more about that later…

There are several ruins scattered about the Sedona area. One of the most fascinating is Tuzigoot (Apache for ‘crooked water’). The Tuzigoot pueblo was built in stages on top of a long ridge rising 120 feet above the Verde Valley. It was occupied between 1100 and 1425 A.D and was once one of the largest communities in the Verde Valley. Its occupants were a people called the Sinagua. These ancient farmers quickly learned about the plants, animals, soils and climate of the Verde Valley.  This resulted in active trade and exchange of ideas that enriched all of the cultures of prehistoric Arizona.

 During my trip to Machu Picchu I was able to escape the swarming crowds that were clogging the ruins and find a quiet spot for contemplation. I found a ledge where I could dangle thousands of feet above certain death and ponder my life just as their ancients had done centuries before.

Unfortunately at Tizigoot, the hideaways were either locked up or taken over by a curio shop. Like most of the Indian trading posts during our trip, these too had genuine Indian artifacts that, I suspect, may have come all the way from China. It wasn’t quite the same as in Peru. And yet simply being among the ruins released my imagination to fly in a hundred different directions.

North of Tuzigoot and just as mysterious is the Grand Canyon. God had a field day on this one.

Unfortunately, it was raining and foggy most of the way up to the canyon. Once there, we were lucky to get in just a couple of shots before the clouds dropped down into the canyons and coated everything with a blanket of soft gray. Unlike the pristine, colorful pictures of this magnificent chapel, we got some rare and mystical photos of a Grand Canyon rarely seen by visitors. In the end it was a nice preview for a return trip we definitely must take.

I never did find my own vortex; male or female. Other than a little dust coating my hair and sand stinging my eyes, I just felt the wind swirling around my welcoming body and mind. All the talk of spiritual places and personal vortexes reminded me of some carnival atmosphere but instead of hucksters, I had to listen to hotel desk clerks and tour hawkers. A closer examination of the criteria for finding a personal vortex can be better explained by one sentence in the local literature…”If someone is at all a sensitive person, it is easy to feel the energy at these vortexes.” I rest my case.

Despite not finding my personal vortex, the trip was a great success. There was still a lot I hadn’t seen. I missed Fort Defiance, Canyon de Chelly and the Painted Desert. But not really. I wasn’t there in body but I was in mind and spirit. I could feel the hot sun blistering my neck and the ripples of heat waves dancing across the cactus-studded desert all around me. I can taste the dust and the dirt and the rank odor of soldiers in the field. I could feel the tension as my eyes scanned the horizon for tell-tales signs of danger and perused the deep shadows of the rocks all around me. The Apache are all gone by now but my imagination wasn’t about to let them get away so easy. I was trying to process the ever present fear and anxiety so I could capture it on my keyboard.

Northern Arizona provided a wonderful journey back in time and mind. Although the metaphysical spirit never grabbed me, I did feel a certain connection with the land and its past inhabitants. I didn’t have to go looking for my muse since I’ve been chasing that dream for years now. The journey was more a mind-trip than a physical one. But it was a journey that filled me with a deeper appreciation for the artistry of nature and the my own imagination running rampant over my keyboard back home.

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