Staring Long into the Vortex

 October 8, 2017. Sedona, Arizona.

By this point, word of my travels had made the social media rounds and five people demanded I go to Sedona because it changed their respective lives. Well, I’d already checked out all the large holes, along with the ghost town’s smaller, haunted hole, so I couldn’t think of any reason not to.

We had breakfast at a Mexican joint called La Villa DF. I don’t know what the DF stood for. I could correct this at any time, but I prefer the mystery. They brought us a bowl of chips, two squeeze-bottles of red or green hot sauces, and a little bowl of pickled red onions, which I’ve since learned are called escabeche de cebolla. I’ve never had a place not give me some form of salsa or pico, but the onions were good. Surprisingly spicy. I’ve looked up recipes since to figure out what I was dealing with (the Ecuadorian version is called ceballos encurtidos) and it seemed like they must have added hot sauce or peppers to the brine. I ordered a breakfast burrito in clunky Spanish. The waitress humored me the entire time, speaking in the tu form either because I was younger than her or because my valiant attempt at bilingualism reminded her of a tiny, stupid child. When they hit me with the breakfast burrito, I was awed to discover it came with tater tots. Tater tots! For breakfast! They’re basically hash browns! I’ve wasted so much time cooking hash browns.


Back on to I-40 and all the way up the state for more sand, scrub, saguaros, and the occasional Ponderosa pine. Probably just my Pennsylvania privilege, but Arizona flora is not what you’d call particularly diverse. But if you’re into endless, flat expanses of sand, it really can’t be beat.

Then, all of a sudden, mesas sprung up and started changing colors. Red mesas were pretty standard issue all over New Mexico and in the non-flat parts of Arizona, but the ones outside of Sedona started red, than turned distinctly orange. This is the only place this particular phenomenon happens, and they took that right to heart.

took this myselfi took this myself. copyright Bastard Travel LLC all rights reserved

Wandering through the dozens of kitschy little retail shops taught me that Sedona was really proud of red dirt. Many of the shirts were the same color red as most of the landscape, and sported screen prints that read “Dirt Shirt”, “Dirty Old Man”, and, my personal favorite, “My Grandpa Went To Sedona And All I Got Was This Dirty T-Shirt!!!”. If it hadn’t been $28, you better believe I would be wearing it right now.

I also spotted a lot of signs of “Earth healing” and “Spirit tours” and “Vortex balance” and other New Age mad libs. Turns out, Sedona is the epicenter of some vague, shamanic ley line energies that crop up in spots that are suspiciously close to scenic vistas, typically of the pay-per-view persuasion.

I’m a try-anything-once kind of guy, especially if that thing promises the supernatural and I can get away without making a long-term commitment to a religious sect that pays undue attention to the moon. In most shamanic traditions, there’s the belief that the Earth is a font of primal, often restorative energy. Chi, qi, mana, prana, ether, akasha, life force, whatever culture you’re nearest to is gonna have its own pet name for Spirit Healin’ Juice, and there’s a 90% chance it’s gonna come from the Earth (otherwise from the sky, from the sun, or from medieval elemental concepts like “air” or “fire”). Since I didn’t seem to be dragging any Apache ghosts with me today — far as I could tell I had my usual shit luck and no new ghost-borne illnesses – I reckoned another supernal meet-and-greet was in order. This time, the brochures promised “tingling sensations across the neck and shoulders” as well as possible run-in with “Earth spirits”, who I pictured as earth elementals from early 2000s Everquest.


Airport Rd led up to a five-mile hiking circuit that would allow views of nearly all the scenic overlooks in Sedona. The trailhead for this, the main draw of the town, had 8 total parking spaces. A mile up the road, one of those scenic overlooks sat right next to a gravel parking lot with port-a-pottys and a tollbooth where a cowboy collected $3 from you to park your car. Annoying in principle, but it didn’t break me. Remember my Grand Canyon diatribe about people going to natural wonders and ruining everything by planking on the Statue of David? Full effect. I skittered into the “woods”.

The trail was 5 miles total, but only a mile from Revenue Point down to the trailhead which, according to the internet, was the location of the only vortex you didn’t need to pay for a $400 Pink Jeep tour to check out. Not that I’m cheap; I would’ve ponied up the cash if I could get a guarantee on the earth elementals.

The Girl was salty about the hike, but made a heroic effort at hiding it. When we arrived at the trailhead, a few people were clustered around yet another scenic overlook, with more atop a nearby mesa, laying in the sun.


“Is this it? They up there tanning on the vortex?” I asked the closest people to my age.

“I think so,” the skinny neckbeard said with a shrug.

“We’re looking for it, too,” the girl with the bob haircut said, eyes darting around uncertainly. Her jeans were far more Mom-ish than you’d expect for her age or figure.

“All right,” I said. “I’m tryna tingle, I’ll go check it out.”

“Shout down if you find the vortex!” the neckbeard said, and I threw back a thumbs-up and shimmied up the slope to the top of the mesa.

I was immediately disappointed by the lack of earth elementals. Would’ve even settled for gnomes. Nope. Just tourists. Although, I did have a moment of blind panic when I noticed that one of the girls laying spread-eagle on the rocks, absorbing the voodoo, looked exactly like a young lady I knew very well during undergrad. How did she get here? Plane, probably. Why did she get here? Earth healing. Where did her abs go? The freshman fifteen must’ve been extended release.

She sat up and opened her eyes and it wasn’t her, so I stopped staring in alarm lest I be misinterpreted as creepy.

Of the vortex itself, I did not feel tingling, so much as a ton of wind. I waved up my alt-couple and we all hang out in the epicenter together, feeling a ton of wind.

“You feel healed?” I asked the Girl. She shrugged and sat on the rocks.


When we had cultivated enough sunburns, the Girl asked some dad with a camera to take our picture. I didn’t plank.

“Let’s go drink beer,” we said, but it was a lie because Atlas Obscura informed me that, hidden somewhere deep among Sedona’s tiny trees and windy vortices, is the only Buddhist Stupa in America.


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