Sedona: Does this Vortex Come in a Tablet?

“Do you know where this vortex thingy is?” a man asks heading up the red dirt trail.  “I think it’s up in that direction.  You’ll see a bunch of people meditating.”  I cough, then walk the other way.   “Oh, goody,” he says clutching a Canon Rebel and smiling at his female companion.

Energy Tourists at Boynton Canyon

Sedona, Arizona is a spiritual tourism mecca and one of those places that people say, “You must stop and see.”  I have come in search of energy.  More specifically, in search of the energy vortexes  said to be scattered around the area.  My visit comes at a time when I’m nursing a bad cold, complete with sneezing, fatigue, fever and cough.  I have three days to see four sites.  More than enough time if I can find the, uh, energy.

The problem in locating, precisely, these “vortexes of subtle energy” is that there are no x-marks-the-spot signs indicating “here is the vortex” or “this way to the energy.”  Instead, one must read online accounts and feel their way to the right place.  One website (John and Miki’s Metaphysical Site), the one I use to find the vortexes, says: “You’ll notice that the energy is strong as soon as you get out of your car” in certain areas.  “Strong” is a relative term.

Red Rock Crossing/Cathedral Rock

The first vortex I assail is Red Rock Crossing/Cathedral Rock, located on Route 89A to the west of town.  As instructed, I enter Crescent Moon Park, pay the $9.00 fee, and continue to the farthest point where I can park.  From there, I walk a short distance along Oak Creek through beautiful maple, juniper, sycamore and oaks trees.  Fall leaves are an intense golden yellow with splotches of orange and green.  On the path are pillars, six-inches to two-feet high, of smooth river rocks stacked precariously one on top of the other that people have carefully erected.  My cell phone abruptly stops functioning and turns off completely.  I click it on several times to no avail.

The website says this center “strengthens the feminine side” that exists in all spiritual beings.  I didn’t know that energy has gender, but I’m open to the idea.  As I walk, my heart beat increases, though I am not certain if it’s the DayQuil, extra weight I carry around my midsection, or the vortex.  The prominent emotion building in me is anger.  I scream, in my head, at the other tourists who linger in several landscape photos I wish to take.  My iPhone still will not click on.

I recenter myself – after all, this is a special place and I am trying to have a spiritual experience.  Breathing in the fresh air and scenic location, I build a small rock tower.  Not as nice or elaborate as some, but it adds to the multitude of altars.  I pray and set an intention to welcome more feminine energy into my life.  Then, I walk back the way I came.  Before making it back to my car, I notice a man sitting on a log.  He grumbles, then pushes over some of the rock pillars.  Apparently I am not the only one who feels anger here.

Boynton Canyon 

Sedona Road Runner

The next center I pay homage to is Boynton Canyon, northeast of Cathedral Rock about 4 miles.  In the parking lot, I notice “parking permit required” signs.  Other cars display papers in their windshields, and after minor investigation I see an automatic pay box where for $5 a day I can get a permit – credit cards accepted.  I hate being nickled and dimed, so grumble to myself while inserting my card.  Total amount to see the two energy sites is now $14.

I follow the Boynton Canyon Trail to Vista Trail, just a short walk.  Along the way, my cell phone, which I have clicked a few times, reboots itself.  I overhear someone comment, “I don’t know where this what-ever-it-is is, but let’s go this way.”  I go the opposite direction, not wanting my experience to be disturbed.

Juniper trees jut out of smooth red boulders.  A couple in front of me points out a roadrunner off in the distance.  On this trail, I notice a vibrational hum coming from the earth.  I hear it in other places, but it sounds deeper here.  The website, which I pull up on my iPhone, says this energy center helps “balance the masculine and feminine.”  Again I feel my heart beat faster as I approach the supposed site.

I never find what I consider the exact location of the vortex, but decide my visit here is complete after saying a short prayer in an area where others are praying, meditating and even napping.

Airport Vortex

View from Airport Vortext

The third vortex is due east of Boynton Canyon on Route 89A at Airport Road.  Up a short trail, the site overlooks the city of Sedona.  I see the same “permits required” signage, which makes my masculine blood boil.  Here I decide to use the same permit from the last location – and rush through the experience less I be caught.  Not until later, do I realize that the permits are good for all locations, all day.

Before walking into the area, I center myself to see if I can really feel the energy.  I’m expecting it to hit me like a tab of ecstasy or LSD.  It does not.  By now, I am exhausted from the short walks taken in the name of spiritual growth.  I pause, breath deeply, then walk 200 feet up the path to the overlook.  Other visitors surround me, meditating, talking, walking deep in thought.  Images of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead play in my head as someone shuffles by expressionless.

This location actually has a pile of rocks enclosed in a metal cage that appears to mark the spot.  Offerings – dollar bills, flowers, personal notes, pictures – are placed carefully in between the red stones and wire.  I consider reclaiming the dollar bills, but decide karma might not look so kindly on such an action.  I have nothing in my pockets but my phone and wallet.  I thumb through it for something to leave, but find nothing.  I offer another prayer and set another intention.

Once again I experience a light, rapid feeling in my chest – my heart center – sort of like a strong cup of Starbucks first thing in the morning.  Being that this is the third time in as many locales, I determine the experience must be due to the vortexes.  I meditate, finding a nice, smooth boulder on which to sit.  The few moments I spend are filled with incessant chatter . . . from my own head.

Bell Rock

Bell Rock, Sedona

The fourth and final vortex I visit is located south of town at a pull out just off Route 179.  Pulling into the parking lot, I leave the permit from the previous day on my dashboard hoping to skirt the $5 fee (which I do).  It means I have to rush through the vortex or risk a ticket should some meticulous cop cruise the lot.

Bell Rock is a short, beautiful hike to a very “Sedona” place.  It overlooks a large bell-shaped geological formation covered in smooth red boulders and juniper trees.  The website says of finding the specific location: “Notice the twisted Juniper trees.”  I see branches twisting on themselves in a circular fashion as if growing in a slight whirlwind.  People are abundant in this location.  I notice tourists with cameras, maps, and a familiar look in their eyes – almost as if they have just spotted big game on safari.

This vortex supposedly strengthens all three of the previous areas: feminine, masculine, and the feminine/masculine balance.  I don’t notice much in this place – maybe because I haven’t paid my fair share of parking or maybe because the DayQuil is just kicking in.  Either way, I pause, then say a prayer for the land and breathe in the fresh air, red rocks, trees and land.

I come to the conclusion that feeling energy in each of the locations is nothing like drugs.  In most cases it is not even as powerful as a cup of coffee.  But, if I am willing to pause, listen and breathe, I might notice something just below the surface of perception.

Before I leave town, I catch up with my new friend, Malaika, the Australian/vegetarian/dance instructor I met in Oregon.  She has spent a month in Sedona – full of adventure – and is about to head off to Florida in a van she bought for $4500.  We review her and my adventures, misadventures, love, and loss on the road. It’s fun to compare notes.  We agree to meet along the way, perhaps for lunch in Austin or a swamp tour in Louisiana.

Wagging Tails at Taliesin West

I don’t have much scheduled in Phoenix after my time at St. Mary’s Food Bank and know little about the city.  To find activities, I Google search “Top 10 Things To Do in Phoenix.”  On the fourth page of the list on some website, I spy a short blurb about Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright estate to the North of here.  I have never visited a Wright house – and love the Guggenheim in NYC – so figure it would be worth a trip.

Taliesin West in the Hills

I arrive in the late afternoon, intent on capturing the right light in photos.  Tours are required; no one is allowed to wander around the home unescorted.  A Brooklyn native working the ticket counter assumes I am with the man in front of me and offers two options. “You can take a 90-minute Highlights tour leaving in 5 minutes or a 60-minute tour leaving in 45 minutes.”  It’s a no brainer. Both the man in front of me and I take the earlier tour.

We each reach for our wallets.  He buys two tickets with an American Express Black Card.  When I try to pay for my own ticket, the woman comments, “Oh, you’re not TOGETHER?”  Her NY accent dominates the area.  “No,” I say, “I’m single.”  The other man laughs and walks over to his boyfriend who glares at me.  I cup my own credit card to prevent the men from seeing it and pay for my single ticket.

Taliesin West Courtyard

Carol, a goofy, brown-haired tour guide, invites “all red tickets” to join her in the courtyard.  I like her instantly and she brings Taliesin to life.  Outside, Carol introduces us to the “Phoenix landscape.”  It seems an odd place to start but makes sense soon as I realize that FLW buildings are all about context.  “Notice the hills around the house,” Carol says.  “Frank would never build on top of a hill because it would obscure, well, the hill.”  The main feature in Taliesin, based on the surrounding mountains, is a triangle.  It’s a shape, and non-shape, I might add, that repeats over and over in the structures here.

Mr. Black Card smiles and makes several comments to me about the architecture (“nice chair; it’s actually comfortable”) before introducing himself as Dave.  He and his “partner” are visiting from the UK for a Thunderbird B-School reunion in the area.  The boyfriend, also an amateur photographer, keeps his distance – and a close eye.  It’s a funny juxtaposition: Dave seems to be wagging his tail, the BF seems to be showing his teeth.

The tour enters Wright’s office where he drew and presented work.  Carol clears up any confusion about FLW’s height.  “The average height of a man back then was 5’7”, Frank was 5’8”, so he was actually tall for his generation.”  It’s one of those bits of information that adds to the experience and explains why the building’s clearance is low, and the chairs sit so close to the ground.  I try different seats along the way to get the full experience; some are quite comfortable.

Taliesin Chairs from Above

Next, we enter the entertaining room. “Mr. Wright and his wife had connections to Hollywood and often watched unedited movies sent up from friends,” Carol notes.  “His wife said that Frank would watch just about anything.”  Walking through the concrete tomb of an entertaining room, Dave comments, “It feels like I could build this myself.”  And, in a way, it does.  Taliesin makes modern architecture look years ahead, but also out of context and sterile.

The tour ends.  I thank Carol and say goodbye to Dave and his boyfriend, who smiles tightly at me, then looks me up and down before walking away.  I don’t dare suggest the three of us get together for drinks or dinner.  In the end, Taliesin reminds me to pay attention to the context, not only physical, but also situational.  I guess if I had a boyfriend with a Black Card, I might also squint tightly at the single dudes.

Hungry at St. Mary’s Food Bank

I arrive at St. Mary’s Food Bank in West Phoenix at 7:45 am to volunteer for the day.  My interest in the organization comes from, of all places, a billboard I notice along the highway: “1 in 4 Americans Experience Hunger.”  It surprises me that nearly 25% of our population cannot always put food on their table.  In my own life, although I have lived through lean times, I am hard pressed to recall missing a meal because there was not food to be had.

I enter the food bank through a side volunteer door where I am greeted by Susan, the volunteer coordinator.

“You here to volunteer,” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply.

“You need to log hours?”

“What’s that?”

“For the courts?”

“No,” I say and wonder what kind of people I’ll meet today.

“Fill this out.”  She hands me a two page volunteer application, which I complete and return.

“Sign in here.”  She points to a ‘Benevolent Volunteer’ list.  “We’re really glad to have you today.”

I walk over to an area with a pot of coffee and pour myself a cup, fumbling with the individual half-and-half containers.  It takes five of them to make the coffee palatable.  “Where’d you get that?” a woman asks.  She can’t be more than five-feet-two and ninety pounds.  She is dressed in a white, frilly tank top and extraordinarily tight bluejeans, baby-blue.  “Over there,” I point in the direction of coffee.  “Thank God,” she says and turns to walk the other way.  I notice her cell phone, a pack of cigarettes, lighter and wallet all stuffed in her back pocket.  I immediately like her.

Lettuce in Bag

A few moments pass.  Ms. Bluejeans, I and a ragtag group of volunteers are led into an adjoining room, which resembles a small Costco.  Shopping carts of different shapes, sizes and colors line one wall.  Big box shelves push palates of food and other household items up to the ceiling.  There are ten or so workers busy sorting, prepping, and bagging food in several stations around the floor.  “Grab a cart, everyone, fill it, and follow us outside to the clients.”

I select the best cart from the bunch.  She’s abused, been left out in the rain, has no more plastic on the handle-push part, and squeaks as she goes.  It’s odd to feel this level of camaraderie with a metal basket, but I do.  I hope Shirley – the name I’ve given my shopping cart – and I get to spend some time together.  “Nice cart,” comments one of the other volunteers.

The line of beat up baskets pushes forward and I collect contents from each station:

Station 1: two bags of oranges and two one-liter bottles of soda from a company I’ve never seen.

Station 2: A grocery bag with four heads of cabbage, four tomatoes, two bunches of asparagus, two heads of lettuce, three bunches of cilantro.

Station 3: four cantaloupes and one watermelon.

Station 4: A grocery bag containing two bags of pork rinds, one box of Coscto croissants, three loaves of bread and two snack size cakes from a Latin American brand I don’t recognize.

Station 5: one whole frozen chicken, one bag of hotdogs and a 12-pack box of Chobani yogurt.

Station 6: Bag containing two cans of tomatoes, one can of corn, a can of green beans, one bag of rice, and one bag of dry kidney beans.

Food Cart

There are special boxes available for the elderly and families with young children, but only certain people handle those items.

I take quick stock of the food in the cart.  It’s stuff I would eat, and just looking it over makes me hungry . . . especially the snack cakes which are chocolate covered rolls.  The packaging is in Spanish, so I can’t read what it is, but the picture looks like something I would enjoy.  “How often can people get this food,” I ask one of the employees.  “Once a month,” he replies.  “One basket per address, per month.”

Pushing through the grocery store-style doors with my cart, I enter the main room, which feels like a social service agency.  The linoleum is well used, and 100 chairs face a bank of old school computer monitors hosted by social workers.  A line has formed outside.   “Thank you for being here,” the Director of Client Services says.  “We’re about to open for business.”

Monday through Friday, St. Mary’s, the first food bank in the country, hands out 750 “Emergency Food Baskets” (EFBs), each day.  Doing some quick math, I determine that they distribute approx. 3,750 EFBs per week, and 15,000 per month.  And this is just one location.  St. Mary’s has over 900 facilities throughout Arizona.  Most clients are low income or poor who struggle to put enough food on the table.

The doors open and people stream in.  I wait by a man who takes a piece of paper given by the social workers and pairs people with carts.  “Help them out to their car – or whatever – but bring back the cart – they will try to take them,” the man says as he points at my cart, Shirley, then at a woman.  I escort her out to her car in the parking lot.  She barely smiles, but says “thank you” as I help her place groceries into the trunk of her beat up GMC.  I return to the warehouse with an empty Shirley and begin the process all over again.

This time around the person in front of me is called out for some sort of special delivery.  It means I have to – gasp – give up Shirley and take a different, even more abused, basket.  I try to get the person behind me to jump in front so I do have to give up MY cart, but he refuses and one of the workers frowns at my futile attempt to keep my cherished delivery vehicle.  I begrudgingly push the new cart with food I haven’t selected to the front of the line.  The paper-taking man continues his conversation where he left off.  “We once had to chase a gal five blocks to get our cart back.”

Cantaloupe

Over the next few hours I make the trip around warehouse, main room, parking lot and back again.  In these journeys I meet the people who have come for help.  One woman speaks almost no English.  She has one baby on her back and a toddler next to her.  Unlike many of the others, she smiles.  Her children appear happy, curious and well behaved.  She walks to the facility and brings a metal push basket, which is slightly too small to take all the groceries.  We fit most of them in precariously.  “Gracias!” she says as she waves goodbye.

An African-American woman is next.  When I ask her how she is doing, she responds “I’m hanging in there.  I have one child who is bipolar and another that is paranoid schizophrenic.  It’s a lot of work to keep up with them.”  “I would guess so,” I reply.  I shy away from asking too many questions out of respect, but I am curious.

By lunch time my stomach is grumbling loudly.  I’ve watched all this food and snack cakes go out the door.  I say goodbye to Susan and the other volunteers, then climb into my car and head to a restaurant to eat a meal.  I am blessed to to choose what I eat today: Vietnamese Pho with bar-b-que summer rolls.