The excitement was palpable. After all, we were driving to see the Grand Canyon. After driving for about two hours, massive red-rock formations began to loom large and mighty before my eager eyes. I asked my cousin Chander if we had arrived. He smiled the smile of one having a rabbit in his hat and quietly turned the car round a bend and parked. As I got off, he said, “This is Sedona, Mangala’s and my favourite place. We’ve seen it a dozen times; yet we never proceed to the Canyon without stopping here.” As I partook of the beauty of the place, the truth of his words slowly dawned on me.
A tourist usually looks at places well publicized as ideal holiday spots as choices for getaways. But the thrill lies in visiting the offbeat places which at times lie on the route to famous sites. As one of the natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon in the south western state of Arizona in the United States of America is a coveted tourist spot.
However, outside of the US, not many may have heard of an astounding little city called, Sedona, which is located in the Upper Sonoran Desert of northern Arizona at an elevation of 4,500 feet. Sedona is a small city covering an area of roughly 18.6 square miles with a population of approximately 11,500. The spectacle that Sedona is, it deserves to be a lot more than a poor cousin of the Grand Canyon in the conventional tourist’s itinerary. Singularly beautiful in its own right, it is situated in Arizona’s high desert in the vast Colorado Plateau.
The city got its lyrical sounding name from Theodore Carl Schnebly’s wife, Sedona. Schnebly set up a post office in his huge home, which also served as the community’s hotel. His suggestion to name the city Schnebly or Red Rock Crossing was dismissed as too long and the name Sedona was decided upon.
Sedona’s glory comes from its imposing red sandstone formations that tell stories of a long long time ago. The sun from the clear cerulean Arizonian sky creates dazzling designs in brilliant orange and red reflecting off the rocks in a way that is mind blowing. The sandstone, a member of the Supai Group, it is believed, was deposited during the Permian Period that dates back to almost 250 million years.
What was once an idyllic ranching community became the city of Sedona, which has transformed into a well known centre for the arts. The salubrious climate, the enchanting natural beauty and the slow paced, languorous rhythm of life here have all contributed to the growth of Sedona as a famous art centre. The Sedona Arts Centre, founded in 1958, is said to be the oldest in northern Arizona. The residents of Sedona have such a keen aesthetic sense that they did not allow McDonalds to put up their prominent yellow ‘M.’ Fearing it would not match with the surroundings, they settled for blue. This is the only McDonalds in the world which has a blue ‘M’ that appears as though a patch of the azure skies above Sedona sits on its rose-tinted walls.
For a tiny city such as Sedona, it has more than thirty churches. The unusual buildings that house these churches contribute to the quaintness of this place. The imposing Chapel of the Holy Cross was inspired by the architecture of the Empire State Building. It appears as if it rises naturally out of a thousand foot red rock formation characteristic of Sedona. Interestingly this chapel has a “no weddings” rule!
If there is a stunning landscape, can Hollywood be far behind? Several filmmakers such as John Wayne who made Westerns used Sedona as a favourite location for their action scenes. The awe-inspiring backdrop to the scenes of the Apache raiding parties in Broken Arrow were shot in Sedona. Similarly, Wild America, Starman and Midnight Run have also captured the beauty of Sedona on screen. So enthralled were actors like Sharon Stone, Nicholas Cage and Al Pacino with this city that they even bought homes here. In addition, Sedona boasts of a permanent boarding house called the Sedona Lodge meant exclusively for film crews. The scenic view combined with a culturally vibrant community has made Sedona the perfect choice for hosting annual events such as the Sedona International Film Festival, Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival and the Sedona Marathon.
The region has a disturbing history of exploitation though. In the nineteenth century, indigenous tribes such as Yavapai and Apache were evicted under duress from the Verde Valley with hundreds of people being made to walk a distance of almost two hundred miles to a reservation called the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Some unfortunate ones never made it to their destination. After being incarcerated for some decades, they returned in the early twentieth century. They consider Sedona to be a sacred place with healing powers.
As if Sedona’s stunning beauty is not enough to take one to a higher plane of consciousness, it abounds in vortex sites that further create a deeply spiritual ambience. The vortices are of several kinds: upflow or masculine, electric, inflow or feminine, magnetic, etc.After enjoying the walks on the trails and shopping for some exquisite handicrafts we still had the energy to make an ascent along gently climbing slopes to finally settle down to catch our breath at a vortex site. Sitting down, we gazed at the vast expanse. The sweet smell of pine filled our nostrils. I was surrounded by trees I had never seen before like the Alligator Juniper and Gambel Oak. A hummingbird flew down to rest on a branch. My breathing steadily slowed down and I fell silent. An overpowering sense of calm descended on me and I was lost to the world. “You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but the answer it gives to a question of yours,” said Italo Calvino. In Sedona, I got my answer. Don’t ask me my question! Go with some of your own. Worth it.