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…: A Canyon

One of my favorite things about being out here has been the proximity of so many National Parks. California has nine, Utah has five and Colorado has four (Alaska has eight, but that’s not within reach). Kentucky is surrounded on all sides by states that have National Parks, in addition to its own. But all of those states combined have six total parks. It’s not even close.

So, after visiting Zion, I made my way south to the Grand Canyon. It was actually much different than I anticipated. For some reason, I had in my head that the Grand Canyon was basically a big, long hole in the ground surrounded by desert. It couldn’t have been more different.

GC Tree

The first thing I noticed was the forest I drove through to get there. Many pines and other year-round trees paving my way to the canyon, due mostly to another surprising fact: the elevation. It’s about 7,000 feet above sea level, which explains the climate.

Once in the park, there was more forest all along the rim and different types of trees all through the canyon, changing depending on the various climates in the canyon itself. It’s such a complex ecosystem that I wouldn’t have guessed had I never been.

I stopped at a couple of the viewpoints and went down part of one of the trails. I didn’t go very far, which is probably good because it was a struggle getting back up. It’s something that I underestimated about this trip, but I do wish I was in better shape. I’d be more capable of exploring some of these areas and seeing new things. But as I said before, it just gives me more goals for the future.

In the gift shop, I learned that the Grand Canyon has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park, just this summer. This means that its one of the more than sixty places in the world that are the best for stargazing. The low light pollution lends itself to this and gives me further reason to go back to the park.

GC In Tree

After leaving the park, I headed for nearby Prescott, Arizona. It’s a place I’ve always had eyes for, largely because it’s relatively inexpensive and near some forestry. Much like many of the places I’ve been, however, it didn’t resonate with me. Pictures can only tell so much of the story, and as I said before, the people will truly explain the place you’re in.

So, for the first time in the last three weeks, I got a hotel room. And it was much needed. A proper shower and bed were really great, and it was nice to not have to rearrange my car. And the complimentary breakfast in the morning would prove to be very necessary for my journey the next day: Sedona.

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

trees

have you felt a tree?

not the bark

or the fleshy inside, exposed

by trauma

have you FELT it?

the hum of the rings

echoing its strength with age

the roots, a tight grip on the earth

nourishing the base

and holding its place

the branches stretching upward

always in pursuit of more

most will physically feel

but will your soul also?

~

Photo by niko photos on Unsplash

 

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

In Search Of…: An Old Friend

Well, I made it. Sort of. Made it to the coast at least.

I was in Vancouver, Washington Sunday morning, sat in a coffee shop, planning my next moves. And the longer I sat there, the less I wanted to stay where I was. Which is a bit ironic.

I first got the itch for the west coast in college, when I visited Corvallis, Oregon. So, specifically, the Pacific Northwest. I love rainstorms, I love the mountains and trees, it’s perfect.

I know that I’ve grown and changed a lot over the last ten years, but I didn’t expect it to be this drastic in terms of things that I enjoyed. But it makes sense when I can pull myself back from it. When I visited the PNW last, I was a kid. I hadn’t been through any of my mental health issues (though it had started). And I loved to be miserable.

It sounds counterintuitive, but I was only happy when I was unhappy because misery was what I was comfortable in. I didn’t want to change, because change was scary. Fast forward ten years, and I’m just different.

I don’t want constant rainy days. I need the sun because it truly does help pull me out of those bad moods. The scenery, while gorgeous, became repetitive and by the time I got to California, I was over it.

But first, I had to get through Oregon. I drove straight through Portland. My experience in Seattle shook me, and honestly, I wasn’t ready for another big city. I made a stop in Salem for lunch, then headed west, through Corvallis and ended up in a town called Newport. It’s situated on the Pacific Ocean and was my first time seeing that ocean in person.

Oregon Coast Beach

I parked, made my way down to the sand and started for the water. I never had a plan, indicated by the fact that I still had my boots on, I just walked. As I got to the high tide line, I started taking my boots off. Again, no plan, just doing what felt right. I rolled my jeans up and walked straight into the tide. And I broke down.

I don’t know if it was just the symbolism of being on the opposite coast, experiencing something up close for the first time, or the fact that the ocean made my water-signed heart so happy, but it was a moment.

I’ve never associated with the ocean much. We went once when I was a kid, in Jacksonville, Florida. It was really overcast, I was afraid of basically all ocean life, and there was just nothing remarkable about it. It should be noted that it was the middle of winter when I went.

Oregon Coast Coral

But this experience made me question a lot. Why am I on this journey? What happens at the end of it? Do I just go back to living my normal, ho-hum existence, or do I find my next adventure? And how do I start making these experiences happen more regularly?

I’ve never doubted the trip. I’ve never been nervous. I’ve never been in awe of the trip or myself. All of this is because I’ve known from the beginning that this is where I’m supposed to be and when I’m supposed to be doing it.

Before this trip, the only thing that worried me was that I might get to the end of this and then there was just….nothing. Now, it doesn’t worry me because I believe I’ll know what my next adventure is at the end of it.

I headed down the 101 toward Redwoods National Park, and the drive further sank in my looming fit of depression. And the last, unanswered question came to me. What if I get to the end and there isn’t some enlightened sense of purpose? That there is just…nothing.

But I’ve found on this trip that when I interact with people, it pulls me out of the funk. And it’s really starting to sink in how much I value human connection. It’s hard for me to find people that I resonate with, but when I find those people, I need to maintain those connections and keep them healthy and strong.

I spent that night alone, at a blocked off rest stop. There were a ton of other people parked there, already tucked away for the night, and no WiFi signal to speak of.

When I woke up, I headed to Redwoods. And it was beautiful and amazing, though with the film of unease draped over it. I was blown away by the size of the trees. You truly can’t understand it completely until you see it in person. It was remarkable.

I didn’t stay long, though. I wanted to get to Sacramento at a reasonable time, and I was starting to feel that dis-ease permeating every bit of my body. The drive didn’t help a lot, but I feel myself pulling out of it a bit.

Generally, I am feeling a bit of apathy toward the trip. I’m not sure if it’s just a phase or a permanent feeling, but I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted. My sleep and body have held up much better than I thought they would, but with all the new experiences and exciting places, I thought I’d be happier. Hoping sometime in the sun will fix a lot of this. Lucky for me, I’m in the perfect place for it.

In Search Of…: The PNW?

I’ve made it to the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, Washington more specifically.

I left Boise on Friday and headed for Seattle. And once I got through all the smoke (?) in Oregon, Washington proved to be the most beautiful state I’ve ever been to. There was some sort of mountain range, lush forest or hop farm every step of the way. The farms almost reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the Italian hillsides where they grow grapes for wine.

After making my way through the state, I came upon my first stop: Snoqualmie Falls in Snoqualmie, WA. After a fitful sleep, I woke up Saturday morning ready to check out the falls, the first waterfall I’ve seen in person to my recollection.

Snoqualmie is a small town about 45 minutes outside Seattle, and it’s gorgeous. One of my favorite stops on the trip so far. The falls were easily accessible and covered in fog. But it didn’t hurt the aesthetic at all.

Washington Falls

After the falls, I had plans of visiting the Washington Park Arboretum, the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Space Needle. I didn’t get as far as I had intended.

The Arboretum was beautiful, but the experience was marred by the people of the city. I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to keep my head up, headphones out, and engage in some way with as many people as possible. In Boise, it was the easiest thing in the world. Everyone seemed to be friendly and at least nod their heads at you as you walked past. Not in Seattle.

I found the active avoidance in human contact unnerving actually. Even in Chicago, people were plenty polite. And I should acknowledge, not everyone was so isolating. There were a few people that I had small moments with, but in Boise, I literally got into full-blown conversations with random people. Even in Snoqualmie, there was a bit of interaction. I might be overvaluing these moments, but it was enough to sour me on Seattle.

I tried my best to shake off the isolating feeling by heading down to the sculpture park, but by the time I got there, I was in a full-blown bad mood. The experience in the park, combined with getting into another hectic, construction-laden downtown setting was enough to run me off.

I got out of the city as fast as possible and haven’t thought twice. I know the whole point of the trip was to experience as many places as possible, do things I’ve never done, and generally just enjoy. But that’s the thing. My gut usually will clue me in pretty early if I let it. But it was also about potentially moving, and if I’m not going to enjoy a city in the short term, I definitely won’t enjoy it long term.

I’m starting to feel that sense of isolation and loneliness though. It could just be because of this experience (I am feeling better in Vancouver), or it could be because of my time on the road. I’ll see how the next few days go, but there are a lot of potential factors to this mental hurdle.

The big cities seem to be my undoing, though. They seem so cramped and chaotic. And I may not know exactly what I’m looking for, or what I’ll find. But I know I want freedom and open spaces. The big cities typically don’t provide either. As noted before, it’s so cramped, and because the cost of living is generally higher, you’re working just to pay the bills. It’s no way to live. Not for me anyway.