Sedona is the storied city of vortex energy and healing, where many a traveller comes to seek the spiritual enlightenment associated with the magical environment the topography provides. As the helicopter pilot so aptly responds to how trees can grow out of the magnificent red clay cliffs in the midst of the desert, “ask God”, and thus the juxtaposition of heaven and earth is found in Sedona. Seekers of spirituality and regular nature lovers have an equal appreciation for the allure of its majesty, as more than 4 million visitors arrive yearly to this small town of just over 10,000 residents.

IMG_0959Shopping malls and pink jeep tours have overrun the downtown over the past two decades, with vendors capitalizing on the burgeoning tourism trade, replete with a myriad of t-shirt and crystal shops. One could throw a crystal in any direction and hit a shop whose theme was spiritual enlightenment, purchased via services or materials. But even the throng of visitors from all over the world cannot detract from one of the most awe-inspiring vistas the Southwest has to offer. It is no wonder it is a favorite destination for weddings, which happened to be the reason for our recent visit. A sudden downpour in the midst of the mountain top ceremony, with the setting sun sending brilliant bursts between the clouds off the surrounding multi-hued cliffs, did nothing but magnify the beauty and magic held within the canyon walls.

While many parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah offer breathtaking canyons, vistas and clay formations, Sedona’s environs seem exponential in the plentitude of remarkable cliffs, canyons and rock formations that completely envelop the town, punctuated by bursts of colors. In present day, both the curious and the seekers of energy and enlightenment are intrigued by the designated energy sources, or vortexes that are located within the Sedona area; 4 of the most powerful vortex in the United States are located within the city, and 14 vortexes have been identified within a 10-mile radius of the city limits. Other noteworthy centers of vortex activity across the globe include the Great Pyramid in Egypt and Stonehenge in England, while the most powerful sites in the United States include the four in Sedona as well as the Oregon Vortex and Mt. Shasta Vortex; other vortex hotspots, all in Arizona, include some areas of the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater.

The concept of a vortex is elusive to many. In trying to simplify the concept for my children, I found the following concise description summed it up best: “a vortex is a place in nature where the earth is exceptionally alive with energy…a place where the earth energy swirls and draws to its center everything that surrounds it, like a tornado. At these sites trees often exhibit this swirling or twisting in their trunks due to the powerful energy.” Vortexes typically exist where there are strong concentrations of gravitational anomalies, in turn creating an environment that can defy gravity, bend light, twist plants and trees into unusual shapes and cause humans to feel strange. These areas of high-energy concentration originate from magnetic, spiritual and sometimes unknown life forces; the vortex energy flow is believed to interact with a person’s inner energy, inviting prayer, meditation and healing at these locations.

Further study of the purported energy exhibited at vortex sites are identified as electric, magnetic or electromagnetic, further ascribing the particular vortex with either positive or negative energy, reflecting masculine/ feminine (or yin yang), not good vs. evil. An “up-flow” vortex is electric, a positive vortex, said to boost spiritual skills and expand consciousness, and feels exhilarating. A “down-flow” vortex is magnetic, and the energy flowing is said to create a more pensive, soul-searching experience, ascribed negative in its feminine spiritual quality but not bad, although fear may be the first sensation given the heady introspection. The significance of how many spiritual seekers have been affected by vortex energy was brought to me through a random encounter with an older gentleman, on the eve of his imminent retirement as a chief pilot for the U.S. Marshalls.

Upon our meeting one evening as we sought shelter from a rain shower, Kyle seemed like the last person that would be drawn in by a seemingly new-age phenomenon associated with vortexes, energy and crystal healing. After being invited to join he and his wife and another couple at a communal table under the canopy of a lovely creek-side wine bar, we ended up spending the better part of the evening getting to know these two generous and gregarious couples from Oklahoma. Kyle eventually shared with us that he had lost his wife in the Oklahoma City bombing, and 19 years earlier received a diagnosis of having 6-12 months live following surgery for tonsil cancer. After a third of his neck was basically carved out during this surgery, he visited friends in Sedona who loaded him up with crystals and had him sit with his feet in the Verde River. He stayed for 2 weeks and returned 10 years later to wed his beautiful wife Kaye. He is also a counselor for Mayo clinic inspiring terminally ill patients with how to fight their illness with their heart and mind, emphasizing that positive energy towards healing comes from faith within.

IMG_0949The question is, with so many incredible and interesting rock formations around Sedona and in the Southwest, how were the particular vortex sites originally identified? In doing research on this subject, the answer inevitably comes back to personal experiences that have been shared, and yes, marketed over time. The advent of tourism in Sedona does not have its foundation in new age beliefs, in fact that is a more recent development. Improvements in roadways and water irrigation during the 1940s and 50s opened up the area to more settlers, visitors and even Hollywood, attracted by the same grandeur that brought an international gathering of mystic believers to the area in 1987, as part of the Harmonic Convergence (of the planets). By many accounts, the current New Age Brigade moved in following this event, integrating seamlessly and peacefully into the community. However, the movement had been slowly building for decades.

Taking a look at Sedona’s history, arguably it started roughly 350 million years ago, the time geological experts estimate it took the earth to be carved into the brilliant landscape you see today. Over the period of the 300 million years, the land was alternately ocean bottom and coastal plain, and sedimentary layers were created by sandstone. Volcanic activity and tectonic shifts helped shape the plateaus, valleys and basins, and 3 million years of wind and water erosion have carved out the formations seen today. Human history began in this area nearly 6000 years ago, but it was not until 900 AD that a more advanced civilization began building pueblos and cliff houses. The Sinagua settled in this area for a period of 500 years and had established trade routes with the West Coast and Mexico, eventually disappearing as the Apache and the Yavapai people moved in.

Sedona’s modern history, beginning with its name, is traced back to the turn of the century as one of the first prominent homesteaders from Missouri named the new establishment after his wife, Sedona, who was neither Spanish nor American Indian by descent. Fruit growing was the most significant part of the early Sedona economy, as settlers and American Indians both learned to channel water from nearby Oak Creek for irrigation. Larger orchards were eventually planted which allowed for grapes and vineyards to become part of the commerce for the nearby communities of cowboys, loggers and miners. Fruits and wine became a successful commercial operation for the area, driven to markets in Prescott, Flagstaff and Phoenix. However, commercial orcharding declined in the 1970s and all but disappeared by the 1980s. Many former orchards have been converted to either subdivisions or state

The Sedona area experienced the most dramatic changes post WWII, as more leisure time and pleasure seekers were able to explore the West. A groundwater aquifer discovered in West Sedona allowed for new residential developments, and new residents in the form of both retirees and spiritual lifestyle seekers joined the original homesteaders. Movie making, particularly in the heyday of westerns during the 1940s and 1950s brought the beauty of Sedona to the big screen, with nearly every major studio and star of this era working on a film in this town. They built sets and shot films in the backyard of a multitude of real-life ranchers and cowboys that were hard at work riding, roping and branding the livestock that roamed far and wide among the canyons. Residents recognized opportunity with the growing number of visitors during the mid to late 1940s; some built additional cabins on their creek-side properties, while a new market, cafes, taverns and motels were built to accommodate residential and visitor needs. And while the Sedona airport opened in 1957, Sedona remained relatively quiet and secluded until the late 60s and early 1970s, when local ranchers and homesteaders sold property to developers.

The theme of art and religion in the Sedona community had been prominent since WWII, attracting many artists and religious or spiritual seekers inspired by the red rocks. The spirituality of the area also encouraged less traditional forms of religion, and by the latter half of the century Sedona was considered one of the preeminent centers of New Age consciousness. In the 1950s, a new age adherent named Page Bryant employed methods of “ley lines”, developed in the 1920s to draw lines between sacred religious sites, to identify the four main vortex sites in Sedona at the site of ley line intersections (node points), which also happened to boast magnificent rock formations. With a firm complementary identity already established as an artist and writer colony and great place to retire, Sedona transitioned into a new age designation, with the arrival of “Ruby Focus” and their quest for energy in 1963, providing one of the earliest historical references to vortex energy. The Ruby Focus group changed their name to Rainbow Ray Focus and established their center near the Airport Mesa Vortex, considered one of the most powerful positive energy vortex sites in Sedona. This group and others that followed were assisted by a resident Hatha Yoga instructor named Mary LouKeller who was interested in new age practices, metaphysics and alternative healing.

While Sedona was steadily establishing itself as one of the premiere centers for new age practices and healing before 1987, it seems the harmonic convergence of that year propelled it forward. The harmonic convergence was the first globally synchronized meditation events, which coincided with an unusual planetary alignment consisting of the sun and moon and 6 planets, in August of 1987. Many new age adherents believed this alignment to create a shift in the earth’s energy from a warlike state to a peaceful state on the planet, which could be reinforced by their convergence upon several identified power centers throughout the world. Their presence and meditation at one of the 12 global power centers, such as Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, Mt. Fuji, Mt. Shasta and Sedona, the most powerful spiritual energy sites, would facilitate the shift towards a new era in global peace. Bell Rock, the strongest up-flow vortex, was the focus for the Sedona contingent, with visitors anticipating either a UFO landing or the rock to break open. While neither occurred, following this festival, in a time of global unrest, political shifts and spiritual awakenings, Sedona moved into a more prominent spot as a destination for enlightenment.

The question remains whether vortex energy is real or imagined and the answer is found within the individual. From a purely scientific standpoint, geological characteristics of this area with transitions from mountains to flatland, with faults abundant with deposits of magnetized basalt, have relations to the variations in the earth’s gravitational field. In essence, as with most matters of faith or even supernatural experiences, an “enlightened” individual, open to receiving spiritual energy and messages, will be able to experience the energy transmitted. Many residents that embrace the new age culture and consciousness refer to a common theme of a “calling” or quest that led either them or someone they know to Sedona. The doubter or skeptic will most likely experience nothing beyond fatigue from the hike to some of these elevated points. But even the most hardened skeptic will find it difficult to not be inspired by the breathtaking natural monuments carved over time, inviting pause, reflection and a moment of peace.