Monday, May 31, 2010

Sedona, Arizona: ‘Ride the road of no return’

Vacatin Hot Spot 2010: Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona, are this year's three-generation vaction destination pick.
Words alone cannot adequately describe this part of the country. Exhilarating nature! Scary excitement! Spiritual renewal! The sun and the moon! Incredible historic stories of wisdom and strength! The wild animals, birds and flora! And of course, art! All are surrounded by azure blue skies and clean air.
There's excitement and fun for everyone, regardless of age. The only prerequisites: a passion for God's natural wonders and new experiences as well as a thirst for knowledge of the past.
We spent a week that went by too fast and left many experiences undone. So I'll recreate our trip here and mention some of the many things we did not have time for.
Following my own advice to other travelers, we narrowed down our destination to Sedona and Flagstaff. Drive time and distances were minimal as too much time spent in a closed and sometimes crowded vehicle, even a SUV or RV, can result in boredom and crankiness. Too much time in a vehicle also prevents you from soaking in the atmosphere and marvels of nature.
An easy ride from Phoenix, the road to Sedona curves sharply up and down through mountains and valleys. The red and white cliffs present a mesmerizing panorama. The red rock cliffs are temples of nature and God's handiwork. The mesas (some of which can reached by jeep) have recognizable shapes and descriptive names: Snoopy, Elephant Rock, Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Steamboat Rock (a great walking stop point), Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock and Chimney Rock.
For over 350 million years, erosion sculpted these red rock masterpieces. One of our guides (a geologist) said that in another 25 million years, these cliffs will be no more, eroded by wind, rain and air pollution.
redrocks053110_optOur first stop on the way to Sedona was the Montezuma Castle. A short, easy walking trail took us to the Sinagua Cliff dwellings. A five-story, 20-room dwelling had been carved into the mountainside in the 12th century. In a nearby "apartment", there were 45 rooms. The Castle is about 100 feet above level ground and a creek, which supplied water for a thriving agriculture and hunting community. Rope ladders were used to get to the dwellings and prevented enemies from getting to the living quarters.
The Sinaguas, a prehistoric culture, flourished in the Verde Valley for centuries. No one knows why they moved away.
Our destination: Sedona has been named USA Weekend's No. 1 Most Beautiful Place in America. The area was the inspiration for many of the original Walt Disney and early Western movies. The famed red rock monoliths sit in the 1.8 million acre Coconino National Forest and are unchanged from my last visit in 2002. "Nature's palette" aptly describes the area. While nature has remained as awesome as ever, there are notable changes. More companies offer day trips in the Sedona area as well as to the Grand Canyon. Also, Sedona has become a spiritual center in the southwest and a mecca for psychic healers, aura readers and kinetic energy vortex experts.
Highlights of Sedona were a visit to a unique energy vortex spot that is privately owned and the exclusive Broken Arrow Pink Jeep ride up and down the red rocks.
The location of the Amitabha Stupa was chosen for its energy vortex of Enlightened Presence, which is supposed to radiate waves of compassion to all beings. The 36-foot high Buddhist Stupa (statue) is surrounded by towering red rocks. This Stupa is supposed to be especially powerful because Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, responds to the prayers of all who call upon him.
Our guide for this visit was Shane Niewol, one of the owners of Angels of Enlightenment, a unique spiritual center located in the heart of Sedona. Following tradition, we walked around the Stupa three times, and each said private mantras (prayers or wishes). The objective is to find spiritual peace. After walking around I did feel more at peace.
We then sat down under a canopy to get out of the sun and to embrace the energy in the area. And, believe it or not, my own energy was discernible. Shane's hands hovered over mine. My left wrist area became very hot, and my right thumb tingled. Shane, in essence, amplified the energy flowing through my body, and I felt the change.
When we returned to the center, I had a private aura reading and received a 17-page analysis of the energies that my body emit. Quite interesting.
pinkjeep053110_optAfter lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking a valley, we rode around the area surrounding Sedona in a tram, with a geologist as our guide. The stark rugged beauty of the red cliffs is so different from green New Jersey. There is also a free shuttle bus that runs up and down the main highways and downtown areas.Next on the agenda was the Pink Jeep's Broken Arrow trip — a must for all generations. The open bright pink jeeps have cushioned seats, which made the sometimes scary ride actually comfortable. Specially carved into the mountains (and exclusively maintained by the Pink Jeep company), the road took us upward at 45 to 60 degree angles and dropped down again at as much as a 90 degree angle on the "Road of No Return." Magnificent canyon walls surround high mesas such as Submarine Rock and Chicken Point, where we stepped out of the jeep, walked around the mesa, soaked up the vistas and took pictures.
After the pink jeep ride, we were a glutton for more adventure and took an ancient ruins tour out to a 700-year-old Sinagua cliff dwelling. A winding dirt path went upward several hundred feet. The area was once a trading center. But now the only sounds heard were a gurgling brook and the twill of birds. There is one question that remains unanswered in reference to these ruins and those at Montezuma Castle. Where are the dead buried? There is no evidence of burial grounds at either site, and no one seems to know the answer.
Another must-visit spot in Sedona is the Exposures International Gallery, one of many along the main highway into town. Exposures has a mind boggling array of unique fine art and jewelry.
Most bronzes have very detailed figures, with defined facial
expressions and clothing one can see waving in the wind. Exposures has a number of "unfinished" bronzes that have clean straight lines. The essence is in the shapes, rather than fine details. Powerful oils of Indians and eye catching desert scenes, wood wall sculptures, glass mosaic pictures, colorful glass sculptures, and intriguing pottery are among the thousands of items displayed.
Outside is a garden that has both bronzes and kinetic wind sculptures. I would have taken home three adorable bronze bears, but the cost is $18,000 for each one. While the bear sculptures are costly, many of the art pieces and jewelry are only a few hundred dollars.
In between the must-do activities, one can stroll up and down the main street which has dozens of souvenir shops, with some great turquoise jewelry, and restaurants. Nearby the Tlaquepague Arts & Crafts Village has dozens of galleries and shops as well as award winning restaurants. It is adjacent to the Los Abrigados resort, which is on the main highway and where we stayed.
The full impact of nature's beauty and forms can only be seen on a hot air balloon or helicopter ride, which allow a 360-degree palette. The area boasts of many nature and outdoor activities, from hiking trails with designated difficulty levels and lengths to bicycling, fishing, boating, birding, golf, tennis, horseback riding, and camping amidst tall trees and gurgling brooks. A winery and casino are nearby.

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