Jean and I just returned from Red Rock Country, Sedona, Arizona. The beautiful landscape exceeded all the superlatives that friends, family and guide books had used to describe the place. The Red Agave Resort had the best view of anywhere I have ever stayed. In four days we hiked to all the well-known spots in the area (Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Oak Creek Canyon, Airport Mesa, Boynton Canyon and Vista). We enjoyed the hikes so much that we let go the opportunity of visiting the Grand Canyon on a windy day and stayed in Sedona. We were intrigued by the claims about psychical energy flowing from some of the rocks (“vortices”). I cannot attest to any such energy, although I did feel some tingling in my legs and arms as we sat at the foot of Bell Rock.
However, after several days I felt a spiritual attraction to this desert, rocky terrain that is difficult to explain. I felt that I was absorbing the beauty and mystery of the place through every sense available to me. The dramatic changes in light and shadow from morn to evening were always fascinating. The many flowering plants and shrubs in the desert brought unexpected splashes of color to my eyes. The dry desert conditions, both soil and air, were invigorating to my breath (as long as I remembered to drink plenty of water!) The beautiful red colors absorbed and reflected the light in different hues throughout of the day. Sitting on the rocks gave me a feeling of being in a huge armchair surrounded by these friendly giants, who have been here long before humans discovered the region. But even the rocks have been slowly changing over vast time periods. Their stillness and majesty are temporary reflections of the divine energy that created them. If there is a mysticism of the Red Rocks it lies in the directness and immediacy of this divine energy reflected in nature.
The rocks themselves began forming 350 million years ago, when the area was at the bottom of the ocean. About 80 million years ago the shifting of tectonic plates caused the land to uplift some 5000 feet. Nearly 80 million years of wind and water erosion have sculpted the landscape, leaving spires, chimneys, buttes, mesas, and mountains. Sedona rests at 4500 feet above sea level, but just 30 miles north the land rises to 7000 feet at Flagstaff (a challenging drive through the hairpin turns of Oak Creek Canyon). It seems clear that a divine sculptor has had a hand in fashioning the rocks into recognizable forms, and made it easy for locals to name the rocks after a Bell, a Courthouse, a Cathedral, etc…, a bit like the naming of the animals in Genesis 1. But the wonder is the myriad shapes that have resulted, each one very different from another. Some of the columns look like human figures carved out of the rock; others look like the columns of a Greek temple. On hiking around the rocks one gains different perspectives. From another angle the rock may be unrecognizable.
The original inhabitants of the land, the Yavapai Indians, had the love of place common among indigenous people. “This love of place, the feeling of oneness with the land, conceptualized as Mother Earth, permeates Southwest Native American thought and culture as strongly today as it did 300 years ago. The land lives and all people respect her. Southwest Native Americans are of the land; they do not exploit it.” (The Native Americans, Chrysalis Books, 2004, p.37).
Perhaps it was this love of place that held my attention and found a place in my heart during this special vacation. Later this week Good Friday is also Earth Day, a reminder that no place and no one in God’s creation should be exploited.