Sedona Part I: Summer of 2011

So we roll into Sedona, winding through the starry and three-quarter moon-lit landscape. As we curve through the corners past Slide Rock, the parents talk about their previous romantic escapades to this place about twenty years earlier, when Sedona was, at least in my opinion, a better town: a genuine town. It went the way that all pristine, close-to-the-highway destinations seem to go: becoming overdeveloped.

In a very Edward Abbey-esque way, I feel an anger coursing through my veins when I see, for example, the Glen Canyon Dam (which we passed on the way) knowing that it destroyed 200 miles of stunning and ecologically brilliant canyon, for the sake of cheaper electricity. And now people ignorantly boat and water-ski on the buried remains of that pure beauty. Similarly, as we enter Sedona and the valley opens wide before us, I can’t help but realize that it’s quickly becoming a Disneyland of sorts, capitalizing off of the New Age culture that used to exist freely here (and probably still does, but to a lesser degree). That’s what I mean when I say that it is now, silently, disingenuous. It has been afflicted by that virulent strain of kitsch that befalls every site deemed worth “seeing.” Its culture has now been subverted and warped into something that tantalizes the tourist. It has been designed with profit-motive and disregards the real mysticism it sells. One can see this illustrated in the number of “New Age Culture” shops that have sprung up around town with sleek purple designs. “Power Crystals” are now a big advertizing point, because they’re such a foreign thing to people (“oh honey this new age stuff sure is cute, let’s get some amethyst for the kids, ha-ha, they’ll think it’s so weird”)- though I don’t think anybody really knows what they’re for. That they are part of a very sincere spiritualist practice in meditation, which happens on supposed energy centers called “vortices”. I suppose that does sound a bit funny.

I just like the idea of this place being a hippy town. Simplistic, vegan, red. I like the idea of the days of the old single road that wound through town, and the Black Forest Motel which afforded cheap, basic lodgings in which one would merely use the bed and maybe the bathroom and then be off early the following morning to find a stronger energy center for meditation. As opposed to now, with the luxury condominiums all crammed in next to each other in their cutesy adobe facades, and the cutesy little UFO cafes which all emanate this self-deprecating feeling, and the comparatively massive road network with multiple roundabouts that makes it easy for larger volumes of people to flood in like ants.

Maybe I’m being overly critical of Sedona right now. Maybe I’m just hungry. Something doesn’t feel right, though.

Morning is a pretty glorious event here, the red rock on opposite side of the valley slowly illuminates strata layer by strata layer, moving slowly downward and warming the oldest rock last- as if it has a special “best-for-last” kind of love for the oldest sandstone. Combine this visual impression with coffee and a few pancakes and you receive a veritable Broadway show of sensation. The desert mystique.

It’s sunday. I hate mass, and we’re going there now. My mom took the coffee I was sipping and threw it out. We go: past the adobe McDonald’s and KFCs. My mood is pretty foul.

Well, mass actually turned out to be a pretty vivacious affair. And inspiring. There’s a community here that permeates and warms you upon entrance. I don’t give a shit about the religion, but this dynamic is so unfamiliar and welcoming that I was transfixed. The priest must have smoked a joint right before mass, because he was almost overly chilled out and friendly to newcomers like us- we were pretty easy to identify against the crowds of elderly retirees.

This place makes me want to get involved in something, something meaningful. I want to indulge and flaunt my hippy side: plant a garden and get my hands dirty in some sort of hard, hot, agricultural work. I want to bake something, eat fresh produce and “live off the fatta’ the lan’ ” as Lennie from “Of Mice and Men” would say.

If ever there was a statement of the industrialized tourism Sedona has experienced, however, it’s Slide Rock State Park. When my parents came here in the mid 80s, Slide Rock was a lesser known attraction in these parts- not many people came through anyway. it would require a hike of sorts to get to the spot- which itself is very majestic: algae and the smooth sandstone create a natural slide as the water runs over it. Exceptionally beautiful. However, the paving arrived, along with stiff $20 fees for car entry. Now, obese hordes of tourists have immediate access to this beauty- they leave their trash everywhere and the place smells of sun-block. Of course, I realize myself and my family are part of this crowd and we stunk it up with our sun-block just the same, but I didn’t enjoy doing that. I think the primary killer of natural beauty is ignorance; nonchalance. I lament that sort of obliviousness.

The fourth day into our trip, my mind’s in a bit of a shambles. The Sedona landscape gets to you after a while. The heat, the sunburns and the near constant physical exertion makes you a bit stir-crazy if not a bit nauseous.

I had a moderate form of heat exhaustion yesterday: mountain biking in ninety-five degree heat without adequate water tends to have this effect. I was reduced to a sort of zombie state, where I couldn’t do anything really except eat and drink and piss for hours on end. I woke up the next morning fairly nauseated.

There was a tunnel we investigated today, way out north of Flagstaff. It was a lava tube created about 700,000 years ago in some geologically cathartic explosion. It was fascinating and cold (32 degrees). Chunks of ice were mixed in with the rock on the ground.

A quick remark about the native ruins of Palatki and Honanki that we saw today:

The whole time we were rushing through- on account of the restlessness of my father- we saw these fortress-like contructs in the archways of the ancient sandstone. These ancestors of the Hopi, I could see them in front of me and the climate changed before my eyes: cooler and wetter, friendlier to life. I was like a kind of movie in my mind.

All of the sudden I felt this POWERFUL urge to live in this area, like the Park Ranger, Tim Kelly, and his wife. I want to absorb myself in that holy landscape. The landscape of the ancients; the landscape of hundreds, thousands of generations of natives who marked their sacred emblems on those walls. That weighty sense of awe fell on my shoulders harder and swifter than the mightiest and largest of the cathedrals I have ever visited. St. Peter’s basilica is nothing next to this.

I hope that one say I may return to the eternal chief with his chin lifted in challenge to the world; watching over his people. A level of wisdom impossible to attain: a god.

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