Magazine article Sunset

Beyond the Bounds of Sedona

Magazine article Sunset

Beyond the Bounds of Sedona

Article excerpt

South and east of Sedona, Arizona, are historic mining towns, important Native American sites, and scenic red-rock drives

Dawn comes slowly to Boynton Canyon. The sky is clear, but the air is still cool, thanks to the red sandstone walls that keep the sun's rays from reaching the canyon floor for hours after morning's first light.

A trail runs through the canyon, alongside and occasionally across a creek. It's a flat and soft path, with only a few rocks scattered in the red sand - almost dust - that has eroded from the cliffsides. Every so often, if just for an instant, the temperature rises a few degrees as sun-warmed breezes blow through from above.

Boulders line the trail in places. Some are red - fallen chunks of the sandstone cliff. Others are gray limestone, frosted with sage-colored lichens. Several boulders have tumbled into a short serpentine pattern that leads the eye to a juniper, whose peeling bark of dusty violet exposes patches of mahogany-colored wood underneath. The juniper's twin trunks rise into the sky, each diverging slightly from its partner's path. And there, smack between the treetops, floats a crescent moon in a pale sky not yet ripened to high-desert cobalt.

The morning hadn't promised perfection. But there it was.

It shouldn't have been such a surprise, not in Sedona, the Arizona resort town 114 miles north of Phoenix where transcendent experiences are offered as part of the American plan. Sedona has good vibes. Literally. The area is said to be riddled with spiritually charged vortices, places with high concentrations of mystical energy that emanates from deep within the earth. These power spots have drawn people from all over the world, turning Sedona into a New Age mecca.

One would expect the place to be crawling with vortejanos, but the true believers are considerably outnumbered by pilgrims here for the day to gawk at Sedona's awesome beauty. Accordingly, and annoyingly, busloads of tourists regularly rumble through the crossroads at State Highway 179 and U.S. 89A. Known locally as the Y, it's the closest thing Sedona has to a downtown.

In fact, for all the New Age hype, what you mostly find in Sedona and the nearby Verde Valley are vortices of the Old and Ancient West, although in a few places the distinctions blur. South of town, for example, is Montezuma Well, a spot the Yavapai and the Tonto Apaches believe to be the source of life, lending a bit of credence, perhaps, to the vortex talk.


Sedona's geologic history is no less compelling. Today, the desert landscape here is roughly 4,000 feet above sea level, but during the last 300 million years or so, the terrain was periodically inundated by oceans before being pushed skyward. It's easy to read all this in the eroded cliff faces. The prominent top layers are basalt from lava flows, which cap compressed deposits of marine life, revealed as whitish-gray limestone bands. Below these layers of rock is Coconino sandstone, the distinctive white strip just above the successive, and predominant, layers of red rock for which Sedona is so famous. At the foot of the cliffs is more limestone.

The first people to be awed by all this uplifting and inundation were the Native Americans, who have lived in the area for at least 10,000 years. West of Sedona off U.S. 89A are two fine cliff dwellings, called Honanki and Palatki, built between 1150 and 1300. On the ceilings you can still see the soot from fires, and in the alcoves are pictographs, though they've been marred in places by contemporary vandals. Larger sites dating from 1300 to 1400 are at Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle national monuments.

The Montezuma references are actually misnomers, dating from a time when it was assumed that the ruins in the Southwest had been built by the Aztecs. Today the speculation is that the Sinagua - contemporaries of the Anasazi - built the monuments.

Native lore, of course, offers different explanations. …

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