In Search Of…: Sedona

Yes, Sedona gets its own post. Honestly, I may have to do a second post of just pictures.

Sedona was a place that I wasn’t really conscious of while I was planning this trip, which is ironic because Prescott was on the list early. But as I started to be more vocal about my journey, the place that was recommended to me most, even more than Lake Tahoe, was Sedona.

Driving in seemed very similar to the landscape of the rest of Arizona. It wasn’t particularly unique. But, coming from the north, there’s a bend around a large collection of the notable red rocks, and Sedona opens up like Narnia. Verde Valley is like this secluded, hidden paradise of incredible. It’s, in my opinion, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

The main thing I was here for was the vortexes. If you haven’t heard of them, there are four significant points in Sedona where the energy fields are elevated, and they are considered to be places of spiritual healing and connection. The energy swirls in these places, and it’s reflected in the trees around them.

Sedona Tree

I headed for the Airport Vortex Mesa, very close to Sedona’s airport. The free parking space was closed, so I parked about a half-mile away and hiked. And this ended up being very purposeful.

The hike there wasn’t too bad, but it was almost like we were all conscious of what was to come. Our pilgrimage to the site was quiet, no one speaking much. Very much a pilgrimage in that sense. And once we got to the large rock overlook, it could be felt how reverent the place was.

It was, by far, the most unique outdoor experience I’ve ever had. I’ve had moments where I really FELT a place that I was in. That part wasn’t surprising. But there were lots of people at the top, but there was almost no sound. People were meditating, lying down, or just absorbing it. But no one was talking. A church is the only place I can recall ever being that was held in that kind of regard. I think that’s the best way to describe it.

Sedona Summit

Once back in the car, I knew I wanted to go to at least one more. Two of the remaining vortexes, Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock, were very close to each other, so I went to Cathedral Rock, with the intention of seeing Bell Rock after. And for the best reason, I didn’t make it to Bell Rock.

I had to park about a quarter-mile up the road from the trailhead due to the parking lot being full. It’s such an interesting location because surrounding this huge, impressive natural area is a lot of expensive houses. It makes sense why people would want to live nearby, but interesting nonetheless.

I read ahead of time that the trail to the summit was relatively short, 3/4 of a mile. But it gains 650 feet in elevation, which is kind of crazy. And it really shows how much a difference in elevation makes. At the Grand Canyon, I could barely climb a few hundred feet without stopping multiple times. Sedona is about 2,500 feet lower, and I had a lot easier time climbing this trail, even with the crazy gain.

Sedona Selfie

The entry was amazing and not terribly difficult. But around a third of the way up, there was a ridiculous rock formation. It was honestly more of a wall. There was a narrow strip that was for your feet, and you were kind of on your own. A couple I met on the way up and myself were assured that once you got past it, it was easy from then on. I never saw the couple again, so I’m left to assume they didn’t make it up.

After that, it did get easier, but it was by no means easy. There were still a few steep spots, but once I got to the top, the views made everything worth it.

Sedona Cathedral

This was a less intense, spiritual experience than the Airport Mesa, but it was no less stunning. I spent a long time up there soaking in as much as I could. Once I had my fill, I made my way back down, and by the time I got to my car, I was wiped. No Bell Rock Vortex for me this time.

Lastly, I was in search of some gifts and mementos. I found some shops and headed that way, and I finally found the blemish on this oasis. Sedona is very clearly a town that is mid-scaling to become a tourist trap. The localized shopping and restaurants are mostly contained to one section of the town, and it’s overrun.

Considering it was a Tuesday afternoon, traffic was terrible and the construction didn’t help. Parking was a nightmare everywhere and I was a bit flustered. But, I thought I’d try a restaurant and walk from there. No parking to be found. Ok, I’ll just hit the shops. Nada.

Finally, I found a small spiritual shop that looked interesting and sought refuge there. I love crystals and their energy, but I wasn’t really in the market for more. And that was the majority of the offerings here. I strolled through the tarot books and decks, the jewelry and statues, and was about to leave. But something finally caught my eye.

The front, a red ocean wave enso circle. An enso circle, which I have tattooed on my left arm, is, in Japanese culture, a symbol for absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void. It stood out to me a year ago and holds a lot of meaning to me.

Book 1

Book 2

Surrounding the circle, and wrapping around to the back, mountains, and waves. Enclosed in the cover, a blank journal. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever come across, and I loved it. I’m not sure what I’m going to use it for, but it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever bought for myself. Well worth navigating the tourist flooded streets.

I ended up not being able to get a shirt or stickers or something else that might tell other people that I had been there. I tried, even after the journal, but the place I settled on, labeled as having a gift shop, was empty. I took that as a sign that I had gotten everything I needed from Sedona.

And really, that’s kind of the point of this trip. The experiences and stories I gained can only really be shared amongst friends and family in a retelling. A t-shirt or sticker may open up that opportunity, but until you share the stories, there can’t begin to be a level of understanding.

 

In Search Of…: Something Else

A lot has happened since my last post. I’m in Arizona now, and while I’m enjoying this trip a lot, I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted. The thing I’ve come to understand the most is that most of these places, the cities anyway, are pretty much the same. There’s a Starbucks and some hotels and the same chain restaurants. 
 
The differences come in the people. They’re what adds the character, good and bad, to someplace. And it’s our relationships with those people that make a place worth being. I’m understanding why people stay in the same place their whole lives. And while I still don’t think that will be my fate, nor do I want to stay put, I understand it now. 
Joshua Tree Large Tree
After I left the coast, I traveled to Santa Barbara, across to San Bernardino and out to Joshua Tree. I wanted to stop in Los Angeles, but given the wildfire situation and power outages, etc., I didn’t want to add to the chaos in the city
 
Joshua Tree is one of the places that I had on my list that I was most excited about. Not only had I heard a lot of great things, but lately, there was news of people going into the park and tearing out the trees. These trees are hundreds and some even thousands of years old. I can’t wrap my head around why people would do this in general, let alone to the Joshua Trees. Regardless, I wanted to see them before the area could be destroyed further. 
 
Joshua Tree was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had on this trip. You could feel the energy coming from the forests even in the car. It’s hard to explain, but it was unique. A very similar feeling to being around the Redwoods.
Joshua Tree Small Tree
But when I touched the trees, the feeling was enhanced. The way I wrote it down immediately after was that I could feel waves of sound coming through the bark. It left a residue of sensation, a ringing, on my palms that traveled through the rest of my body. That part was new. 
 
I left there feeling rejuvenated in a way I wasn’t expecting and headed for Las Vegas. And that was the polar opposite of Joshua Tree.
Vegas Sign
I stayed in Vegas for a few hours. I found a delicious local restaurant and ate dinner, went to the Bellagio and played a few slot machines, walked around for a bit, and left. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy Vegas in the way that most do. It’s everything that I don’t find appealing, crammed into a few blocks. 
 
Fresh off the experience in Joshua Tree, my body flat rejected Vegas. I was miserable, and I left not long after I arrived. I did get to see the Bellagio fountain show though!
Vegas Fountain
Next up was Zion National Park. I was ready for a similar experience as Joshua Tree but was let down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, Zion was beautiful and stunning and incredible. But it was Sunday, so it was packed. In addition to that, it felt like a short trip through the park. The places I most wanted to see were part of a shuttle service that I was unaware of until I was in the park already. 
 
It was partly my fault for getting my expectations so high, so that’s what I’d chalk my frustration up to. I’d like to go back someday and do it right. 
 
And that’s how I feel about a lot of these places. I want to go back and take my time exploring them. Do more of the hiking and physical things when I’m more capable. Camp out at the ones that allow it in the warmer months. In the end, I’m grateful to be able to do any of this, so I won’t get greedy quite yet. 
Zion Creek

In Search Of…: A Sunset

While I’m still in California, I’m trying to be careful about how and where I proceed. The wildfires are doing a number on Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and I’m trying to be respectful of the efforts being put in to stop them. I’m here on essentially a vacation and there are life-threatening situations happening around me. Not to put a damper on the proceedings, but I felt like it was worth noting.

So, that being said, Sacramento was a bit of a home base for me for a few days. After my experiences on the coast, I was eager to get back to it, but first, Lake Tahoe.

There were a handful of reasons I wanted to visit Lake Tahoe. It was one of the places I had multiple people telling me was a must-see before I left. Nearby Squaw Valley is also the start of the Western States 100 Ultramarathon, the pinnacle of ultra-endurance racing. At one point it was high on my list of things I’d like to participate in. I’d like to get back to that point.

The trip up to Tahoe felt much longer than the two hours it took to get up there. But once I was there, I didn’t know what to expect. I could see glimpses of the lake, but couldn’t get a good feel for it until I made it to the park entrance and walked out to the shore.

Tahoe Shore

It was by far the most beautiful place I’ve been so far. I stayed a lot longer than I thought I would because I wanted to explore as much as I could. But I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

I stayed another day in Sacramento and then made my way toward the coast once again. The destination this time: Big Sur. I’ve heard so much about how beautiful Big Sur was and wanted to see it for myself. And, technically, I drove right through it.

My phone GPS lost signal and didn’t make it clear as to where I was supposed to turn off at. So I drove past a little inn and some shops, and then I was back in the woods. Big Sur gone. I have tried to avoid quick turnarounds and such, trying to take care of my car. So I drove on. I figured I would have other opportunities to see some amazing sights on the coastal drive.

I headed south and drove for miles along the ocean, trying to find a perfect spot. I wanted to watch the sunset from the coast and finally found it, about a half-hour before the sun finally set.

Ocean Grass

I sat on the edge of a cliff, watching the sunset with only the sound of the crashing waves below me. I almost feel guilty getting to have all these experiences over and over in such short succession. It’s not generally supposed to be this way. I’m very lucky. I’ll close with some additional photos.

Tahoe Splash

Ocean Shore

Tahoe Me

An Ode to my Hometown: Happy Again

I’m back from a short break of preparing to leave. It was a great weekend with friends and family, and it was much needed.

To wrap up my series on my hometown, I’m jumping ahead a half-decade. The healing process was so crucial, but it was also slow, plodding, and frankly, not that interesting. It was a lot of painful days, nights, weeks, and even months. Dips back into depression and learning how to cope and pull myself back out of it.

And this is in no way to minimize it. I still go through these spells and struggle with my past. But I handle it differently and know myself better. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.

Parklands Two Suns

So, I’m jumping to the last few months. In hindsight, I can say that I didn’t smile for nearly a decade. Not truly. It was always a fake smile or a smile drawn out by the pain of another. A mask meant to portray a feeling of wellness when all I felt was unease.

Society, generally, doesn’t handle unease well. We want everyone around us to be ok because it makes us feel ok. We are all more empathic than we realize, and when someone is sad or angry around us, we reflect that. Hide those feelings, because you don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable.

And its all bullshit. The saying growing up was, “Don’t talk to people about sex, money, politics, and religion.” The four taboos. The irony, now that I’m an adult, is that I see people, particularly those older than me, struggle with those topics. We were never taught how to handle talking about them, and now we’re too embarrassed to admit we don’t know enough about them. It’s a vicious cycle.

Regardless, after years of putting on the front, it took my being completely broken again to bounce back to a new level.

Parklands Bridge

About six weeks ago, I had my heart broken for the third time. And this one hurt in particular because, for the first time, I hadn’t felt like I had done something wrong. In the past, even as I was deflecting, I knew I was in the wrong. So, I handled this one differently.

I didn’t eat for two days. I cried, sometimes for overthinking things, sometimes for no reason at all. I couldn’t do anything as part of my regular routine. That was on a Thursday. By Monday, I had to rejoin society. I wasn’t ready, but we rarely are. And all week at work, it was fake smiles. I could barely focus.

Parklands TreeBut then came the weekend. I needed to clear my head, and being in nature has always been the easiest way for me to do that. One of my favorite places to do that is a place just outside the city called The Parklands. Eventually, it will be a 100-mile loop around the city of walking and biking paths. I mostly go there because Jefferson Memorial has always been much farther away.

I started walking. And walking. Poem ideas sprung to mind, I was able to take in some of the amazing views, and my heart rate got going. But no vision, no epiphanies, no final puzzle piece. I walked about four miles, feeling ok, but not having the moment that I so desperately needed. And then, I felt happy. None of the fake feelings I had over years of struggle. I was genuinely happy.

I thought it was because I was in nature. It was the only thing that made sense in that first moment. But the longer I walked, the more I realized that I had been in nature many times. That wasn’t it. It was the awareness that I was going to be ok. An assurance I hadn’t had for a long time.

Since my early twenties, I had always felt on the edge of disaster. Always on the edge of backsliding or blowing up completely. But I don’t feel that anymore. I went through something painful, felt it fully, processed it, and came out of the other side largely within a week. There were additional feelings I had to process after the fact, but if that first week had been the end of my experience with those emotions, I would have been ok. It’s more than I can say for myself at any point in my past.

I’m not sure how much of this revelation and elevation of myself I chalk up to The Parklands themselves. But I know that that was the place where I finally accepted myself. Where I was able to grow my worth beyond other people and where I decided that I deserved a life that I was capable of living.

Parklands Me

Thank you for reading this series. I really enjoyed writing it, and while I feel like this was a new beginning for myself, I also feel like I can finally close the book on this stretch of my life.