There are said to be spots on this earth where energy swirls in a magnetic field, creating a vortex of spirituality. There are four such vortices in and around Sedona, Arizona.
The Hopi felt it, the early settlers honored it. Others simply yearn for it. On these rare and beautiful spots, we can stand where the Hopi and the Sinagua Indians stood, for hundreds of years, on hallowed ground. A popular family vacation spot now, Sedona had a first allure with its remote beauty where painters could paint, writers could write and all artists could hear the music of their souls.
Perhaps the most beautiful and certainly the most famous of Sedona’s spiritual vortices is Cathedral Rock, consisting of two soaring copper-colored spires and the site of the stunning Chapel of the Holy Cross. The seekers among us can visit Bell Rock, Red Rock Crossing or Boynton Canyon, all centers of spiritual energy.
There are miles of trails to hike through mountains and desert. And jeep tours to haul you to places where you can be rendered speechless by the spectacular vistas.
But if it’s communing with Nature and your own soul you wish, plan your visits in the very early morning before these places become playgrounds for happy vacationing children and blissed-out parents. Hearing the sacred music of the land is better done in the silence of the dawn.
The history of the west should call you to visit nearby towns, Flagstaff, for instance. The road from Sedona to Flagstaff is 26 heart-stopping miles fueled equally by terror and appreciation of the raw beauty of the cliffs and precipitous drops of Slide Rock Canyon.
After a stroll through Flagstaff’s tiny historical district, it’s a short drive to Walnut Canyon, home to a tribe of determined Native Americans with apparently no fear of heights and little need for a drink of water. Almost a thousand years ago, they made their homes in square caves hollowed out so frighteningly high up into the cliffs that merely gazing at their ruins will make you dizzy.
There are other ancient Indian ruins to study, but the area has another history to consider: the white man’s taming of the hills, mining its cliffs of copper and turquoise. Today tourists seek out the earthy beauty of turquoise, but it was copper that created tools, pots and pans, machinery and fortunes.
Southwest of Sedona, tucked into the colorless and dusty flatlands, are three tiny mining towns of such endearing appeal that they should not be missed: Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome. This is copper country, and these were company towns where the men were tough, the women tougher and the children were probably always complaining that they were hot.
Nowadays, you can have a margarita made with the juice of a prickly pear cactus in an air-conditioned cafe and watch the tumbleweed bounce down the main street. There are plenty of antique shops in Cottonwood and copper trinkets and jewelry at prices more reasonable than in larger, neighboring towns.
Clarkdale is named after former Arizona senator and so-called copper king, William A. Clark, who put the town on the map by establishing his smelting operations there—and making it accessible by building his own railroad with specially short cars to handle the sharp turns around the mountains from the mines.
Their tiny museum is cheerfully manned by locals and one ex-pat from New Jersey. Photos and news clippings trace the Clark family’s rise to wealth and fame, and, eerily like the Kennedy clan, the tragic and dramatic deaths of their young men.
The most remarkable story ended three years ago with the death—at 104—of the remaining heir, Huguette, who lived out her last 50 years alone in a hospital in Manhattan. Never married and childless, she left behind three mansions, artwork worth millions, a vast fortune in investments and jewelry and her remarkable collection of dolls. One of her homes, a 62-acre estate in Connecticut, recently sold for $14 million. She purchased it as a “spare” home, although she never set foot in it. A few miles northwest of Clarkdale is the rickety little town of Jerome. Mountainside houses look like they are about to topple; their porches dangle off in thin air, but there’s an unmistakable air of history.
Jerome was a prospector’s dream, with its saloons, bordellos, minimal law enforcement, lack of building codes or real government. Its reputation for gambling, alcohol, drug abuse, gun fights and assorted mayhem only got worse when the town was incorporated in 1898. The population soared when gold and silver were found and the need for copper escalated during World War I.
But all good things come an end. The rabid and careless mining practices stripped the mines raw. Hysterical and grasping at anything that might excavate minerals, miners detonated tons of dynamite that produced little or nothing they could sell but which also shook houses, stores, banks and the town jail off their foundations and sent them sliding down the mountain.
Finally, abandoned by the disheartened prospectors, Jerome became a ghost town, empty for years until a band of dusty hippies decided it would be a groovy place to hang out. And groovy it is. Narrow streets (just two) are a jumble of stores, saloons, places to eat, museums and a couple of old hotels. There’s a brothel turned curio shop. Souvenir t-shirts boast Jerome’s slogan: “Overlooking Sedona Since 1876,” clearly a poke at their tony neighbor.
A combination of the Sedona area’s histories—the Hopi, the prospectors, the spiritual seekers— make for a vacation richly layered indeed. There is also a red color you cannot imagine unless you see it, and it floats up visually with soulful beauty that you simply won’t be able to forget as you pass through this southwestern oasis.
You don’t need to pronounce it, but you should visit the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village if only to eat at the Secret Garden Café. This re-created Mexican village is a maze of galleries, craft shops, cafes, fountains and lovely gardens. Everything is precious and expensive. Except the music. That’s free.
On your side trip to Flagstaff, when your heart starts beating again after that drive, have breakfast at Macy’s European Coffee House with a happy mix of college students, young moms, local weirdos and maybe a couple of peaceful Sikhs in white turbans. Food’s healthy and the atmosphere is happily convivial.
If you chose to stay in Sedona proper, A Sunset Chateau (www.asunsetchateau.com) has all the necessary ingredients: mountain views, pool, hot tub, palm trees and flowers and breakfast. The most luxurious place to stay (and eat) is L’Auberge de Sedona. Surrounded by thick trees and situated on the banks of Oak Creek, this lodge does not fit the stereotype of a desert resort. Elegant and peaceful, L’Auberge de Sedona offers first-class lodgings and service.
The more adventurous traveler would do well to spend a night or two in the nearby “ghost towns” of Jerome, Clarkdale or Cottonwood. One glance at the Connor Hotel in Jerome and you’ll be looking over your shoulder for a guy with a six-shooter (www.connorhotel.com). Or maybe the guest house in Clarkdale is for you. Couldn’t be more private: the Blue Heron only has one room big enough for two adults and, as advertised, a “small child” (www.blueheronaz.com).
The tiny hotel in Cottonwood, with the unmistakable air of a speakeasy, was a favorite Hollywood movie location. John Wayne stayed there, Burt Lancaster, Elvis Presley; and back in the 1920s, Mae West liked to stay there on her trips between Hollywood and New York City (www.cottonwoodhotel.com).
And lastly, if you need accommodations somewhere between Sedona and the Phoenix airport to make the drive more palatable, choose Full Circle Ranch in Cave Creek, one of the most charming bed and breakfasts in the middle of nowhere I have ever seen. Go for the breakfast! (www.fullcircleranchaz.com)
By Sherri Daley