Into The Vortex

Early morning light on Cathedral Rocks

This was our last day in Sedona. Sandy had an early morning flight out of Phoenix the next day so we had reservations for that night at a hotel near the Phoenix airport. Our drive to Phoenix was only about two hours but we wanted to get there by late afternoon to avoid rush hour traffic and also to have daylight while we were trying to find our hotel. That still left us the whole morning to get in another hike. Since the forecast was for afternoon thundershowers (we had noticed a pattern by now on this trip) an early start for a hike seemed like a good idea.

Sandy had a short call for work first thing in the morning. Then we had a quick breakfast and were at the trailhead by 8:45. It was a fantastic morning. The sky was bright blue and the cool temperature was great for hiking. The parking area was to the east of Cathedral Rocks so they looked incredible in the morning light. Yesterday most of the cliffs had poor light on them when we started so this was a nice surprise.

The Cathedral Rocks are a famous rock formation near Sedona. There are several trails nearby. Some hike around the rocks to give different views of the formation. But none of that easy, level, hike around the mountain for us. The hike we had selected for this morning climbed to the saddle between the main rock formations. It was as high as you could get without serious technical climbing. The guidebook promised great views of the surrounding area. And given a choice, I will always pick a trail that climbs to a summit (or a pass if that is the best that I can do). An added bonus was the energy vortex at the saddle, but more on that later.

Sandy follows cairns up the slickrock

The hike was short but challenging. It was only three quarters of a mile long but it climbed 600 feet in that distance. The map in the guidebook also had a spot part way up marked "steep slickrock". We weren't too worried about it. There were a lot of tourists on the trails around Sedona so we figured it wouldn't be a big deal for experienced hikers like us. After an easy climb on a standard trail we were on the slickrock. It was easy going but since you can't make a normal trail the route was marked with rock cairns. On this hike the cairns were held together by wire and were four feet high. Pretty easy to follow.

But then we reached the "steep slickrock with some exposure" section. At this point it wasn't a hike. It was definitely a scramble. The operational definition of a hike is that if you can do it with your hands in your pockets, it's a hike. If you need your hands, it's a scramble. This one was definitely a scramble.

Sandy led most of the way up. That let me spot her if she was a little tentative on the steeper sections. But she was also doing much better than me on route finding this morning (she had been right twice when we disagreed on the route). So it was better with her in front. At one point she was wondering if this was going to be too hard but we kept going and eventually made it through the steep section.

Above the steep section

While we were going up we passed a group of half a dozen people going down. They were all Asians and they were dressed like they were in PRC uniforms. All they were missing were bicycles. We suspected that they had hiked up to visit the vortex.

Above the steep section we just had a hard trail slog to reach the saddle. As we climbed higher the views got better. To the east I recognized a famous Sedona area view, Snoopy Rock. The reason I recognized it was that I had seen tshirts all over town with the view of "Snoopy Rock". Although it required some imagination to see Snoopy, it was clear that the classic view of Snoopy Rock was from the Cathedral Rocks saddle. Now I was wishing that I had gotten one of those tshirts. Not enough tshirts - the story of my life.

We reached the saddle and it was truly an impressive place. The view on both sides was fantastic especially early in the morning. On both sides of the saddle the cliffs were absolutely vertical rising to the top of the rock formations. It was clear that there were some impressive technical climbing routes that started from the saddle. Off in the distance to the west was a rising thunderhead that promised rain for us later in the day. I was busy snapping photos of us on the saddle, the view looking up the cliffs, and distant vistas to the east and west. Most important, the saddle is famous as one of the four main energy vortexes (vortices?) in the Sedona area.

Sedona is the New Age capital of the US. The area was sacred to the Indian tribes that lived here who believed that it was a special place. Modern New Age groups have latched onto this. Native American spirituality is very chic, you know. New Age mysticism is the dominant tourism industry in Sedona ahead of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. Everywhere you go in Sedona you see it. They offer Reiki, Psychic Readings, photos of auras, crystals, statues of Buddha, incense, vortex tours, New Age spas, dreamcatchers. What's a poor guy like me with a physics degree supposed to make of all of it?

The fantastic view from the end of the trail

The Sedona area is supposed to have many "energy vortexes". Of the four main vortexes in the area, one is at the saddle of Cathedral Rocks. So Sandy and I were both excited to go there. A couple of old codgers like us will take any energy boost that we can get. But when we were at the saddle neither of us saw or felt anything special. Aside from the normal elation of a good hike/scramble and a beautiful view. Oh well, I am probably too cynical.

I took lots of pictures at the saddle. The view really was incredible. Unfortunately none of our pictures from the saddle turned out. They were all really dark and underexposed. When I got down I noticed that the exposure dial on my camera had been changed to the wrong setting. I must have accidentally hit it while I was taking pictures at the saddle. Or another explanation is that the energy vortex sucked all the light out of the photos. Nah, I don't think so. But mystic or skeptic, we only have pictures from the way up and not the way down.

The hike down was pretty easy. Usually on scrambles like this it is easier going down than you think it will be and this trip was no exception. Before long we were back at the car in the parking lot.

Enough hiking. I want to go shopping!

After the hike it was back to the hotel to cleanup. We had arranged for late checkout so we could take a shower after our hike. After checkout we went into Sedona and spent some time at the Tlaquepaque (say that three times real fast) Shopping Village. Sandy found some really nice blown-glass jewelry (I am always reminded of SimonT) and other glass pieces. Then we had lunch at Oak Creek Brewery. They had nice tshirts but I already had bought several during the past few days in Sedona. After lunch we hit the road for Phoenix. We had a stop at the Anthem Outlet Malls where Sandy got some nice clothes. But we got to our hotel near the airport and settled in by late afternoon. We ordered room service and had a good dinner that evening. To be safe, I carried all of our stuff into the room and carried it all back out to the car the next morning.

The next day I took Sandy to the airport early to catch her flight back to Boise. When she got home she went to Nancy's to pick up Laney, who was very glad to see her. I headed west to go to the central valley of California for my wargame convention at the GMT Games offices.