Let me tell you a little bit about vortexes. See that juniper tree over there, the way the branches literally spin around in an axial twist, aching to follow the swirling energy flow all around us? Take a moment—reach your hands toward the heavens, feel the feminine energies flow through you, soak up the mystique of Sedona….Just like the juniper trees, let yourself go free, follow the slow, helical spiral along the length of the branches back into the earth.
This is what my mom and I are overhearing as we are hiking up the steep cliffs of Cathedral Rock, the renowned site of one of the world’s most powerful vortexes. A man in his seventies, his long, white hair curled into waves beneath the ponytail at the base of his neck, his Birkenstock sandals covered in the dusty iron-colored earth (I imagine he’s done this trek a few times before), consults his notebook and verifies that we are standing on an extremely powerful energy center.
This man is a spiritual guide, and he has three white middle-aged American women trailing alongside him, soaking up every single word of New Age-ism he can muster. One woman, wearing a long blue dress and gigantic sunglasses, outstretches her hands and whirls around in a circle. “Oh my God,” she says, “I can feel it. Everything. The earth, my soul, all of it, just pulsing through me.” The spiritual guru nods in deep understanding.
The second woman turns to the third woman, and in all sincerity, laments the fact that she does not feel the same sacred energy pulsing through her energy chakras. “But it doesn’t matter,” she says sweetly, gesturing toward their friend spinning around on one of Cathedral Rocks’ iron-colored mesas, “because seeing Shirley’s experience here makes everything worth it. Just look at her communing with the gods.”
My mom and I look at each other, stifle giggles, and continue our morning trek up the mountain.
Now, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a skeptic, but, well, when it comes to our beloved Arizona red rocks, I can’t help but feel a little bit protective of the way an ancient Native American spirituality has become commercialized—some might even dare say exploited, if you consider the proliferation of palm readers, crystal shops, fortune tellers, Pink Jeep tours, and boutiques selling sunscreen, straw hats, flip-flips, and all other kinds of tourist paraphernalia—in Sedona. I realize my protectiveness is somewhat hypocritical, as I, too, am here with my family to introduce them to this wondrous place, a place I first visited six years ago with the seriously cute guy that I’d been dating for less than three months (he’s here with us, too, by the way, and has gone from seriously cute guy to boyfriend to fiancé to husband since then). So here we are, tourists all around, crawling like picnic ants over these spectacular rocks, some seeking vortexes, some seeking, well, just a little bit of beauty.
After our morning hike, we decide we’d like to see the majesty of Cathedral Rock from the quintessential shutterbug’s view—the view famously called Red Rock Crossing, a view visitors can see from the waters of Oak Creek Canyon. We drive down the 89A to Crescent Moon State Park, pay the $10 entrance fee, park our car, and begin walking along the path next to the creek. Instead of stopping to view Cathedral Rock from its coveted viewpoint, though, we keep walking.
And then, about a mile in, we start to see them.
They start out haphazardly, a little pile of stacked pebbles here and there. Soon, though, the paths, tree limbs, and creek beds are covered in them, thousands upon thousands of statues created by human hands. A photographer setting up his tripod tells me that we have made it to Buddha Beach, and these are life’s little Buddhas, cairns that resemble the Buddha’s plump belly and small head. “You can build your own or add rocks to existing Buddhas,” he adds, “but you cannot take away from them.”
One of the most bizarre—and perhaps befitting—truths to Buddha Beach is literally how little people actually know about it. The rangers at Crescent Moon State Park don’t know; the locals don’t know; the professional photographers setting up their beautiful equipment don’t really know. When we returned home, I scoured the internet, scrolling through official tourism sites, blogs, and travel magazines, looking for anyone who could give me some information on the history of Buddha Beach. The difficulty in tracing its history, though, comes from the fact that it’s not meant to be permanent; each spring, when the high waters rush down Oak Creek Canyon, the Buddhas are meant to find their ways back into the water, where they will be carried downstream and can be rebuilt once again. Last year, however, the monsoons were hardly torrential, and the high waters did not rush into the canyon like they should, so here we are, none of them washed away.
Sometimes, I crave a connection to the earth in inexplicable ways, desperately want to feel some sort of intimate love between me and a greater force. I wouldn’t say I’m alone in this. Today, especially, I can’t help but think about all the human beings, like me, whose hands have knelt into the earth, sifted through rocks (hopefully not ones that are already Buddhas), and built monumental statues in loving prayer, curiosity, or just the desire to add their own handiwork to this small city of cairns.
I think about my mom, a cancer survivor of nearly seven years now, and I think about what it’s taken to get her here, to this place. I think about my dad, a perennial child at heart, whose love for nature often astounds me. I think about Ryan, about me, about everyone else in my family, about those whose hands have touched these rocks and left their own prayers.
“Why not?” my mom asks, kneeling down to pick through the small, smooth rocks on the ground. “Let’s make one and see what happens. I could use some feminine energy.” We each pick up a few rocks, stack them into a small pile next to many other piles, close our eyes, and pray.
Maybe I can be made a believer of vortexes, after all. Maybe not the hands-outstretched, pulsating feminine energy-seeking kind of believer, but my own kind of believer.
To get to Buddha Beach, enter Crescent Moon State Park ($10 per car for the day), park your car in the lot, walk along the trail until you see the famous Red Rock Crossing, and then simply head upstream along the easy trail (it will merge with Baldwin Trail for a bit). You’ll see Buddha Beach begin in about a mile, when you’ve reached a small lake and the first ground rocks of majestic Cathedral Rock.
Article and all photographs by Kristin Winet.