Hidden Sedona

I have been pondering the paradoxes of Sedona’s allure and ‘sitting with’ the notion of writing about some of my experiences among the Red Rocks. But, for some reason, I have not been able to adequately articulate the dual nature of Northern Arizona. Is it possible to make sense of the paradoxes confronting anyone who stands before the majesty of the sacred territories spreading across the southwest? One thing is true…There are few roads in these areas, and even fewer ways to access meaningful experiences, beyond the interstate highways.

Then there is the price to be paid for vacationing in these remote areas. I am not speaking of the roadside motels, but the toll that some folks say comes from daring to tread on hallowed ground. Merely stepping into the mysterious unknown invites change.  So if you will indulge my stream of consciousness in this post, let us begin!


Beyond the rivers of humanity flowing in an around Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, the cottonwood trees whisper a story of something hidden from the casual tourist. Beyond the myriad of Sedona’s aura photos and dare-devil trails, the earth speaks of a different grandeur, older than civilization as we know it. And it is of this majesty that I wish to speak; not measured in countless cars and buses, but in infinite ferrous grains of sand.

The throngs passing through Sedona on their way to the Grand Canyon or Vegas seem endless. And there is goodness in the tourism that provides financial livelihood for Sedona’s residents. But when the bus fumes settle and off road adventurers tire from Red Rocks gob-smacking , ready to feed in restaurants, the ultimate yet illusive treasure emerges.

Most folks tend to ‘drive-thru’ Phoenix and Sedona on the way to the Grand Canyon, filling lots of bucket lists. And in doing so, modern society has become master of  technology even in the wild… speeding through trails, climbing mountains, pausing slightly to breath in the vibrant air. Most folks I encounter on the trails are in a hurry to take it all in, see every sight and get that selfie.

Sedona, Bell Rock
Evening view from Bell Rock, looking north.

But what is less recognized about Sedona’s nature is the potential for catalytic quickening or augmentation of life processes. Some say that Sedona has a mysterious way of highlighting both wishes and fears. A friend once told me decades ago to, “Be careful what you wish for in Sedona, because the universe takes you seriously there. You cannot hide among those red rocks!”  Others have said that, after passing through Sedona, their life shifted, changed, pivoted. Just ‘being there’ for a day seemed to shake things up!

Mindfulness and grounding are particularly helpful while exploring New Age shops and vortexes, even if time runs short. Whether driving Sedona’s eleven ’roundabouts’  or watching where you step while looking across panoramic views, it’s easy to get disoriented.

Sedona, Courthouse Butte, Red Rocks
Approaching Village of Oak Creek & Red Rock Country.

Most of us are used to walling ourselves off from the earth, the land, the air… in the name of comfort. (This is not a judgement, for I also prefer comfort!)  But the subtle shifts in altitude and perspective can open the mind to new possibilities.

One easy way to connect with the ‘vibes’ is to sit on a rock and rest (preferably in the shade) for a few moments. I  like to close my eyes and place my hands (and feet when possible) on the rock or dirt, ready to feel the effervescent hum flowing from the earth through my body. It’s so cool! I don’t always feel it, but when it happens I come away feeling refreshed and smiling.

Another way to authentically connect is to explore beyond the beaten path. Anyone who has driven the Interstate running between Phoenix and Flagstaff understands the rugged and raw beauty of the Sonoran desert and the expansive sky that rules over a sea of volcanic debris. Highway signs hint at wild western history and national monuments that almost don’t make sense. But beneath those crusty boulders and rustic vistas reside remnants of vibrant cultures who have all but vanished from the earth.

Peoples of the Anazazi, Sinagua, Apache, Hopi, Navajo and more of the pueblos were brilliant in ways we can only imagine… living nearby a chain of underground springs feeding creeks and rivers.  Peoples, reaching further back in history than humanity can recall, once found their livelihood in dwellings we have yet to discover, as well as several National Monuments, are now vulnerable to the ravages of time.

Montezuma's Castle, AZ, Sedona,
Montezuma’s Castle, AZ

From Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot, to  Wupatki  and Walnut Canyon,  springs still run in an underground river that once supplied the settlers in the early 1900’s  and  formed the source of Oak Creek.

A wide riparian ribbon has run along this north south axis, supporting life in this dramatic climate for eons. And yet, in the year 1085, volcanic eruptions created a lava field of cinder, spreading ash across Arizona.  Sunset Crater  and the area around Sedona. The lands surrounding Sedona known as Secret Mountain Wilderness and the Mogollon Rim were sacred lands of the Puebloans.

Upon reading about the geology of the region surrounding Sedona, I came upon the notion that the land  here comprises some of the oldest landmass on North America, and quite possibly, on earth. It boggles my mind to visualize living on the southwest coastline of Pangea (yes… the first original unified landmass from before continental drift began!) Then to meditate on the Hopi legends of the origins of their people and the Katsina adds even more cosmogonies for us to sort through. Yet, far from feeling overwhelmed, my heart feels close to these legends. They feel like more than myth to me.

The place where we spend time in Sedona opens into the Secret Mountain Wilderness Area, a place where light and shadows play with the mind. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who prefer sleep to inspiration. I also crave open windows both day and night, so I can sense the shifts in the air from day to night, and feel the atmosphere change. It is though the earth relaxes into the night.

I take walks under the full moon that rises brighter than any moonlight in Texas. Moon shadows shape the night landscape in ways beyond description. No vocabulary exists in English for how the depth of field changes as the moon crosses the sky through the night, or the feeling when awakened by the stark intensity of the moon shining through a western window.

Katsina, Sedona, Full moon, moonlight
Katsinas in the moonlight!

Such liquid silver permeates emotions in equal measure. Beyond the dark skies dwell creatures of the night, the coyotes and bobcats, javelina and brown bats, who claim the valley under the shroud of the Milky Way. The coyotes call to one another across the broad valley, sometimes from directly below our porch! Nocturnal creatures abound, for this is wild country; we humans are guests at best and subject to its laws.

The closest I come to camping is sleeping on a cot on my porch. In the near distance, the mountain silhouettes contrast darkness to the starry heavens. Immediately overhead, the constellation Draco spins around the Little Dipper.  I check my shoes just in case a scorpion decides to inhabit them while I am asleep. My sleeping bag is equipped with a flashlight and an extra blanket.  But in that open air filled with ultimate darkness unknown to any city dweller, I find peace-of-heart and soul.  If I am fortunate, a few shooting stars will cross the sky before I fall asleep. And if my silent wishes from those shooting stars come true, then I welcome the wise elders of the mountains, who now walk an invisible path, into my dreams.

I do not fool myself into imagining that I am anything but a guest in these lands. For the power that resides hidden in plain sight allows us all to trod upon the sacred ground. The living earth cannot be possessed. The Nations are its true descendants. And yet, I honor the ancient ways as authentically as I am able.  I bless the running waters that suddenly appear from each rain. I cherish the snow that dusts the red soil and green piñon pines, where secrets and stewardship coexist.

So, there are many ways to enjoy the Sedona area and no one ‘right’ way.  Hidden Sedona eternally awaits, ready to quicken answers; not as an oracle, but as a place to calm the mind and reconnect with something larger than the mundane. The signs pointing to our next step along the way are always presenting themselves and available to everyone. But those who know to watch for them, who are aware that they exist, are most likely to benefit from them.

Who knows? Perhaps the formula of “Open Hearts + Practical Application = Signs pointing to the next step along the PATH” could happen to you when passing through the red rocks on the way to the next step in life!

Welcoming Katsinas by M. McCullough