Our view from the rim of Doe Mountain looked directly north toward Boynton Pass — one of Sedona’s four revered “Vortex” sites. Beyond lay Arizona’s Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness and all around us the Martian landscape posed striking skylines.

I found myself here as a guest of Columbia Sportswear for a rundown of the brand’s fall 2024 hiking footwear and apparel. I’d been to Sedona a decade prior and it had been a much-less-developed and not-quite-as-busy place. The tourist vibe that dominates Uptown Sedona now is almost overpowering. It’s still charming, but that visitor vibe is hard to ignore.

I was not expecting to learn much about the spiritual realm on this adventure. The Vortex had eluded me before and I expected it to do so again — especially on a work trip. However, I was in for a surprise.

Hiking in the Sedona Vortex
(Photo/Columbia, Richard Darbonne)

Our group stood silently in a line on the ridge, absorbing the scenery. But we were also trying to channel our senses of the metaphysical, reaching out with spiritual feelers and trying to discern some kind of vibration, or to experience a state of flow. I half hoped someone would drop to their knees screaming to the heavens in a fit of divine spiritual ecstasy.

But no one did. And honestly, I didn’t feel anything; nothing except the warm sunlight and the peaceful serenity I always feel when I’m immersed in nature. I was not underwhelmed by the view — but I saw no spiraling, interdimensional spirit gyres before me.

Still, Columbia’s plan to gather six journalists in this strange and vibrant corner of Arizona for its latest product launches was not half-baked. From hiring story-rich guru-adjacent trail guides to slotting night hikes in this dark sky community, I picked up a few tidbits and maybe even had an epiphany out there in the Land of Vortices.

Spiritual Awakening in Sedona’s Vortex

Use Your Intention Like a Map

Our guide’s voice broke the high desert silence. “One of the things I like to think about when I’m choosing where to hike is what I want to get out of it. How can I use nature as a prescription?” He spoke from behind us. No one turned around. But we all listened intently.

(Photo/Columbia, Richard Darbonne)

Jason Danoff started the Trail Lovers guide service in Sedona. His spiel was practiced, but nonetheless genuine. “Someone once told me that when you need clarity about relationships or need to think about others, you should always hike a mountain, climb some rocks, or even a balcony,” he advised. “Go somewhere high up to get a clear perspective.”

By that same token, Danoff continued, when struggling with a memory or something from your past, hike into canyons, caves, or valleys. Delve into the nooks and gorges of your life. And if you need to reflect on parts of yourself, go to a river, a stream, or a lake — somewhere with water.

(Photo/Columbia, Richard Darbonne)

The idea is to physically do what your mind is trying to achieve. Nature can be used medicinally, he explained, to treat ailments of the body — but also of the heart, mind, and soul.

To be fair, in that moment maybe I did feel something. And maybe you could call it a Sedona “Vortex.” I’d probably call it resonance, though. “The Prescription of Nature” had a nice ring to it. It touched on something I’d experienced and hadn’t been able to coherently vocalize myself. Throughout my life, hiking and outdoor exercise have not only been an outlet for energy, but a kind of therapy and a means of sorting out my inner bullshit.

Finding Church on the Trail

Another gem from our guide Danoff of Trail Lovers: Some sacred places are sacred by nature of their construction — like the Great Pyramids of Giza or Stonehenge.

(Photo/keycmndr [aka CyberShutterbug] via Flickr Creative Commons)

Others, like most churches, are just four walls that are sacred because of the religious or spiritual intentions we bring into them. So, what separates a trail, a rock formation, or a mountain from that? Bring the right intentions, and you can put those four walls up anywhere you go.

Frankly, that’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a “church.” So, I easily understood the sentiment behind Danoff’s words. And besides, when you’re surrounded by towering petrified sand dunes, pillars of Entrada sandstone, and slickrock that seems to melt before your eyes, the greatest manmade temples in the world pale in comparison.

Add a little crackling Vortex energy to a place like that and who’d ever need to go indoors to worship?

Crystal Magic?

I’ll try and tread lightly here for fear of upsetting a significant portion of Sedona’s population (as crystals are likely the town’s main export). But I have never understood the “magic” ascribed to crystals.

(Photo/Jon Evans via Flickr Creative Commons)

Sure, I like rocks. I’ve always thought geology and the sciences of mineral formation are cool. But psychic power generators? Energy capacitors? Spiritual modifiers? I have always had a hard time getting on board with all that.

I popped into some of the local crystal stores, and read up on the different powers of the minerals on display. Amethyst is good for “peace, spirituality, and emotional balance.” Lapiz lazuli is a stone of “wisdom and truth” used to “enhance communication.” My favorite, Labradorite, is useful for cultivating “psychic powers.”

You get the picture.

Hiking in the Sedona Vortex
(Photo/Columbia, Richard Darbonne)

But again, and just like the Vortices themselves, the intention you cast upon an object (or place) bestows a power unto it. If I carry a crystal to fend off negative energy and cultivate the positive, who’s to say I won’t manifest that power? And who’s to say that it didn’t actually come from the rock in my pocket?

If nothing else, crystals can be a memento of an objectively magical place. That could provide a certain serenity-on-the-go for some people.

What You See in the Rocks

Many of the iconic rock formations surrounding Sedona have names that any local could tell you if you point and ask (though you might hear slight variations). There’s Lizard Head, Rabbit Ears, The Samurai, Cathedral Rock, The Mermaid, Mother and Child Rock, Snoopy, and so on.

Sedona’s Mermaid Rock at sunset; (photo/Columbia, Richard Darbonne)

What you see in the rock formations is all yours, though. You may be able to project their generally agreed-upon names and see the resemblance. But just like constellations, clouds in the sky, and the iTunes visualizer (is that still a thing?), the object is in the eye of the beholder.

And sometimes you can learn something about yourself from what you see.

I saw a lot of mushrooms, vague animal shapes, ears of corn, plates and bowls — but maybe I was just hungry from hiking. There were also plenty of human figures, faces, statues, and busts that could have come straight out of modern art galleries. The longer you spend looking, the more you’ll discern in the Sedona rock.

And perhaps, the more you’ll discern about yourself.

Sedona Vortex: Don’t Take My Word for It

(Photo/John Weiss via Flickr Creative Commons)

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tendency to believe in the “weird” and psychedelic. I’ve been accused of esoteric speculation and insane conjecture before. But I’ve also never been inclined to put my faith entirely in paranormal, supernatural, or otherworldly forces.

That’s just to say: Don’t take my word for all this. If you have the chance and the opportunity isn’t out of reach, go to Sedona and experience the Vortex for yourself. Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock are supposedly the epicenters of this phenomenon. And each one supposedly radiates its own unique energy. Hike the many trails that surround them and tune in.

The author, geeking out on Sedona’s vibe and Columbia Sportswear with a prickly pear; (photo/Columbia, Richard Darbonne)

Lodging and food can be expensive, sure; but there are designated campsites and RV parks near to town, and eight main areas for dispersed camping with over 200 campsites in total. It can be done on a budget. And it will be worth your while.

Is the Sedona Vortex real? To a lot of people, absolutely. And I’d probably count myself among them now, albeit for my own reasons. You just have to bring the right kind of eyes and open your heart to some super-spiritual hippie-dippy woo — and who knows? It might just might work for you, too.

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