Red Rock Energized ~ Sedona, AZ

Sedona has long held the reputation as a world-wide spiritual mecca, drawing healers, artists, and spiritual guides.  Whether or not you believe in her vortex energy, there is no denying the breathtaking views that can be seen in every direction. Having lived in Sedona for many years, we believe the magnificent red rock formations and evergreen vegetation exudes energy, a year-round feeling of renewal and sense of peace, and is one of the reasons we come back year after year to hike her enchanting trails.

We recently found ourselves back in Sedona to visit friends, get a tune-up for me, and do a little hiking.  Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood is where we tend to stay, a peaceful park that is just far enough away from the tourist pace of Sedona, yet close enough to hiking trails.  Finding a trail we haven’t already tackled is the biggest challenge, particularly Terry, who I think has pretty much hiked them all.  I did manage to introduce him to a newer trail that I hiked a few years ago with a girlfriend and he agreed to tag along with me on one that I had yet to cross off my list.

Here are two hikes we would highly recommend should you find yourself wandering around Sedona’s red rocks:

1)  Slim Shady / Highline / Baldwin / Templeton (with a twist)

Better known by many as the Highline Trail, this was actually designed as a technically difficult mountain biking trail but is equally loved by hikers.  It is a bit of a challenge to stay on course as many trails converge at one point or another.  And with such breathtaking scenery to distract you, you may as well decide you are going to get turned around a time or two.

Views of one of the most-photographed sights in Arizona, Cathedral Rock, can be seen from many angles, and we soon found ourselves getting off our charted course to see if we could pick up a trail that would take us to the highest saddle point on Cathedral Rock.  There is a designated, slick rock trail up to the saddle point but it was on the opposite side of Cathedral Rock from where we were.  But did that stop us?  Nope!

Although we would not suggest this as the soundest or safest way to get to the saddle of Cathedral Rock, what with the bush-whacking and boulder-hopping, it was certainly a unique approach.  What began as a moderate 5-miler ended as a very interesting 9-mile hike.

Our next day’s adventure was to be a bear and Terry’s all-around favorite Sedona hike.  After tackling this mountain, I had to agree.

2)  Bear Mountain

I’m not sure why I never hiked this mountain while we lived in Sedona, as it has always been touted to have some of the most breathtaking views from its peak.  I had decided this visit was the time and I wasn’t leaving Sedona until I had firmly planted my feet on top.  All I can say is wow!

Bear Mountain is a 5-mile hike with a 2000 foot elevation gain over some of the most unusual topography in Sedona.  There are cairns to mark part of your journey but white arrows painted onto the rocks are your true guides to the peak.  There are interesting breaks or decks of changing geology that you pass through, almost as if you traverse three false summits before reaching the true peak.  A section of Apache Limestone moves into Schnebly Hill Sandstone, then onto a deck of swirling Coconino sandstone dotted with manzanita, truly spectacular.

Sedona’s grandeur can be seen without taking to the trails, but we have always believed that the essence of her spirit lies off the paved roads, tucked back into her hidden canyons.

We have settled into our winter home in Southern California, which I will post about in the near future.  It is a change from our existing approach to RVing and we are enjoying it more than I had imagined.  More on that later…

Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park ~ Sedona, AZ

Buddha of Infinite Light
Buddha of Infinite Light

Although we had lived in Sedona for many years, we had never visited the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park.  Thanks to a friend, a recent trip to Red Rock Country from the Valley of the Sun brought us to this sacred ground, situated at the base of Thunder Mountain.

Amitabha Stupa with Chimney Rock in background
Amitabha Stupa with Chimney Rock in background

Stupas have graced the Earth for over 2,600 years and are said to be the physical embodiment of the Buddha’s enlightened mind.  One of the oldest forms of sacred architecture on the planet, their blessings are immeasurable and their presence in the West very rare.  For millennia stupas have been built to deepen the spiritual life and promote healing, peace, and prosperity, and are a place for meditation and spiritual renewal.

Construction on the 36-foot tall Amitabha Stupa began in July, 2003, with a final 3-day consecration ceremony taking place on August 1, 2004.  On this final day, marked with offerings, song, and dance, prayers began in the early dawn at 5:00 AM.  At this hour the Stupa was bathed in moonlight, but when the rising sun shone on the face of the Amitabha Buddha, the Stupa was born.  Since then the Amitabha Stupa has been radiating blessings of compassion day and night.

The external beauty of the Stupa covers many offerings within its walls.  A sok-shing, tapered 4-sided, 21-foot long cedar column runs along the central channel and is the life force of the Stupa.  It is carved at the top like a stupa and has a thunderbolt at the bottom.  A large copper cauldron has been placed in the center  as a symbol to protect the environment and replenish the five classical elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space) and is said to restore the Earth’s vital energies. Along with this are holy relics, rolled mantras, semi-precious stones and crystals, and other deity statues.

When you arrive at a stupa, Buddhist tradition teaches that there is great benefit in walking clockwise around the stupa at least three times, while making personal prayers for those suffering and for world concerns.  A small offering can be made after this journey to dedicate the merit of these prayers for the greater good.

After the three of us had made the journey around the Stupa, we quietly absorbed the serenity of our surroundings.  Soon a lone coyote’s cry pierced the silence.  Native Americans feel the coyote teaches us that only when all illusions have fallen away will we connect with the source ~ beautiful symbolism experienced on this sacred ground.

Prayer flag mantra
Prayer flag mantra

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Hiking in Red Rock Splendor

We set aside a good deal of time while in Sedona to catch up on tune-ups for our vehicles, tune-ups for ourselves (doctor appointments), and catching up with friends.  We did manage to squeeze in a few hikes, which we would have sorely regretted if we had not taken the time.

Sedona has such a network of hiking trails.  I won’t even venture to guess how many; the list goes on and on, with many taking on the names of their beloved namesake rock formations; i.e.  Rabbit Ears, Coffepot Rock, Cowpies (no kidding), and Bell Rock, just to name a few.

Rabbit Ears
Coffeepot Rock

The hike we decided upon was a combination of three connecting trails, Teacup, Soldiers’ Pass and ending on Brins Mesa, with some absolutely stunning views throughout.  The hike totaled 8 miles with the added bonus of most of it being downhill on the way back.  It is one thing to see the red rocks as you head into Sedona by way of a vehicle but to get out into this wilderness and explore adds another dimension of beauty.

Can you see the priest and 3 nuns in the background to the right?

For those who do not enjoy hiking but would like to get out and see some of the spectacular views and learn a little more about the history of this part of Arizona, many of the better known rock formations can be seen from the road and there are numerous Native American ruins in the area, two of which I have included photos of below.

Montezuma Castle

It is time to say goodbye to our Sedona friends.  From here we are heading to Mesa to the Usery Mountain Regional Park where we plan to soak up the sun and enjoy more desert hikes.

Raven silouette captured while hiking

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Red Rock Beauty

We plan to spend the next couple of weeks in Sedona, where we previously owned a home.  No matter how long you live in this area, it is difficult not to have a jaw-dropping experience when you turn off the highway and get your first peek at the red rocks.  There is a real beauty here and some would say it goes beyond the physical, if you read any number of articles/books written about the vortices and paranormal activity that some feel is pervasive here.  Whatever resonates with you, I don’t think anyone can come here and not feel the magic that has been bestowed on this area in the way of nature.

We spent Christmas day with our good friends Rosie and Jim, taking a hike into the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness area, 56,000 acres of spectacular red, orange, and cream-colored sandstone cliffs, dotted with pinion, juniper, and cypress trees.  The glassy, Verde river snaked through the canyon, and although something we would not entertain in December, swimming holes found here would be a welcome respite during the heat of the summer.

In prehistoric times, the canyon accommodated the Sinagua Indians and as you descend further into the quiet of the canyon, you can almost hear the whispers of these ancient peoples as the wind weaves its way through this vast wilderness.  Or perhaps, as some believe, it is a transdimensional being that has descended from a UFO, or Bigfoot moving through the shadows.

One Sedona author, Tom Dongo, finds Sycamore Canyon to be “just a flat-out weird place”, stating that he “wouldn’t spend the night there by myself”.  Dongo says that “people from Sedona often see things going in and out of the canyon.  I’ve seen UFO’s many times.  There seems to be an alien/government tunnel system there, too.”  Whatever you believe, Sycamore Canyon, in the light of day, is an amazing slice of wilderness but alas, we did not sense any unseen beings walking next to us.

Golden shrubs against a backdrop of verdant willows
Red rock reflections

Happy Holidays

As most of you know, we headed north of the border in early December to spend time with family and friends during the holiday season.  The first leg of our journey began in Phoenix, where we had stored our vehicle and personal belongings.  When we opened our storage unit and began to pare it down even further, we were struck by what minimalists we have become, which made me reflect on what is important to us and what we all (if we are honest with ourselves) at times lose sight of, with the hectic event that has become our daily lives.

We spent the first two days in Phoenix with our good friends Carl and Marcia, whose kindness and generosity of spirit are so uplifting and my hope is that each of you have someone in your life who gives so freely of themselves as they do.

Carl, Marcia, Jassmine (Jazz), Me, and Terry

From Phoenix we headed to Sedona for several days, to spend time with our friends Rosie and Jim, as well as Barb and Pete.

Rosie and Jim, as always, were generous with their time and opened their home to us. Jim went out of his way to keep us fed, cooking for us and others daily. Thank goodness we hiked most days to counterbalance the additional calories we consumed.  I don’t know what made my stomach hurt more; too much of Jim’s good cooking or his wacky sense of humor, which kept us laughing.

Me and Rosie
Jim and Rosie's Christmas Steer

Last, but certainly not least, are Barb and Pete, two special friends that we always look forward to spending time with in Sedona.  Most of you have already heard me speak of Barb.  Barb is my anam cara, my soul friend, who has been ill for many years.  She and her husband Pete have such courage and strength in the face of adversity.  I pray that I could conduct myself with the same grace that they do everyday if I were faced with the same challenges.

Pete and Barb
Barb's Amazing Nutcracker Collection!

We are fortunate to have friends spread across the country, as well as friendships developed in Mexico.  Kevin and Erin are two we met in Mexico, friends and mentors, who so generously give of their time and their knowledge and made our transition to Lakeside so easy, and we feel blessed to have them in our lives.

It would be lovely to spend the holidays with all our friends but obviously, this is unrealistic, so here is to all our friends fondly remembered at this time.  May we all step away from the stress of the commercialism of the holiday season and take a few moments to practice loving kindness for family (those close to us and those estranged), friends, and all those known to us and unknown who are suffering  at this time.

This year we are fortunate to be spending the holidays with family, unlike years of the past.   May this season find you embracing family and friends and may 2011 bless each of us with a sense of peace as we navigate through the waters of our lives.

Happy Holidays!