My friend, Bianca, and I planned to go on a grand adventure. At first we hoped it would be hiking to the top of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S. When we couldn’t get permits to hike Mount Whitney, Bianca asked, “What about Sedona?” She’d heard about it in a song.
“Alright, let’s go to Sedona.”
Sedona, Arizona is somewhat of a New Age hub that’s attracted bohemian charlatans selling crystals, palm readings, energy cleansings, and aura photographs to cashed-up tourists bound to buy them. Unsurprisingly, Sedona is the site of many UFO sightings (aliens want to feel the vortexes, too!). It’s said that Sedona is one vortex, with stronger vortexes dappled throughout its core. These vortexes are thought to bring spiritual energy, healing powers, and even enlightenment to those who visit. Some say that the power of the vortexes are so strong, they can physically move you.
We tossed our clothes and hiking shoes into the back of Bianca’s car. We bid Bianca’s husband and their French bulldog goodbye. To pass the time, I read Bianca descriptions of the vortexes and asked if she believed in them.
“No.” She said.
“Me neither.” I replied. “We should still visit them though.”
Eight hours of driving and tens of snacks later, we arrived to a surreal landscape made of red sandstone monoliths, cacti, and forest pines. We walked through town past shops selling psychic readings until we made it to the trailhead of Bell Rock. On the rust dirt path, a woman sat cross legged, eyes closed, with her thumb and pointer finger together. In the parking lot, one couple sat in makeshift hammocks and sipped beers. The sun lit up the side of Bell Rock like an ember. We watched the scene turn into different hues as the sun fell below the horizon.
Back at the hotel, we glimpsed at a map to plan the next day’s adventure.
“Bianca! That was a vortex! We were just in a vortex! Did you feel anything?” I asked.
“Me neither.” Of course it felt good to stand in front of something so impressive and beautiful. But did it feel different to standing in awe at other idyllic places in nature? I’m not so sure.
The next day, we pursued more vortexes and stopped into the Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village, where you can find geodes and fossils, art galleries, and souvenirs. Most of the shops had a hippie-chic feel to them, catering to the same people who spend money on mystics. Buddhist and Hindu statues were sold alongside one another. Inside one of the charming gemstone stores, I heard a woman ask the cashier if she had any crystal recommendations for coping with anger.
“Oh yes, you need fluorite. Put them in your pocket and your anger vanishes,” the shop keeper told her. The tourist mentioned that she was from Boston and would be joining a guided vortex tour the next day. The shop keeper replied, “I’m from the East Coast too!”
Experience-seekers come into Sedona presumably to make a deep connection with the land. They want to feel the vortexes for themselves, and let the energy from the vortex transport them into a new mental state. As we explored the town of Sedona, I noticed a stark lack of Native American owned businesses. If anyone knew the land, its power, and its history, wouldn’t it be the people who have been residing here for generations? It’s not as if indigenous American cultures are strangers to spirituality or connecting the human realm to the natural one. If Sedona is truly a magical place, shouldn’t we be looking for answers from Native Americans, the ones who know the area best?
Outsiders once decimated the Native American population with disease and disruption. Now, a large part their culture has been overshadowed by a commodified influx of psychic readers and religious masqueraders. As Laurie on Perceptive Travel asks, is the whole town built on a hoax? A majority of tourists who visit happily hand over their money and time to an outsider who couldn’t tell you the difference between the Dalai Lama and Vishnu, but will smile as they package up a souvenir statue of Ganesh.
You can purchase Native American handicrafts and join a themed tour, but one quick look at the most popular tour bookings and shops reveal that white guides, crystal salesmen, and mystics are the ones raking in that vortex tourism dough.
I won’t comment on the validity or authenticity of many of those who’ve set up shop in Sedona, and I think there are many visitors who find value in these types of mystical experiences. But I do have to question the intention on all ends. Maybe it’s like my electrician in Fiji once told me, “If you feel jealousy, the magic will leave your heart.” Was I just envious of those who wholeheartedly let themselves believe in these sorts of things?
I wanted to see if there was something more than what we’d been feeling so far. Was my state of happiness an effect from the vortexes? Or was it just from spending time with my friend in Sedona?
An hour before sunset, Bianca and I scrambled to the top platform of the Cathedral, a large sandstone structure that overlooks valleys, buttes, and mesas below. The sun fell before we made it to the top, turning the sky into wistful shades of pink and orange. Out of breath and sweating from the hike, we stood and admired the view.
“Let’s really take a moment to enjoy this,” Bianca said. “When we’re 80 years old, this will be one of the things we look back on and remember.”
The scene below the Cathedral turned from bright and saturated into pastel hues of their former colors. My heart rate slowed and I thought of Bianca’s words. Even if where I stood wasn’t a vortex, I think I’d be just as enchanted.