Some people believe there are special areas swirling with sacred energy known as vortices that exist throughout the Earth. It is said that at such spots, rare cross-sections at which cosmic energy enters or exits the world, a person might experience intense feelings of spirituality and personal revelation. While these spiritual hotbeds are supposed to scatter all around the world, one renowned region of alleged vortices lies right within the backyard of the American Southwest: Sedona, Arizona.
From Cedar City, one could connect with U.S. Route 89 and follow it south past Kanab and the Grand Canyon and into the heart of Arizona. Here, in the center of The Grand Canyon State, the route passes through the city of Flagstaff and spills into a jungled valley of natural red temples and cool flowing waters.
Once encircled by the spectacular, flaming spires of iconic rock formations such as Cathedral Rock and Airport Mesa, blanketed with the rich and vibrant vegetation clinging resolutely to its desert host, a traveler has arrived in Sedona.
It was this majestic place that a group of adventurers from Southern Utah University had the opportunity of exploring through an SUU Outdoors trip over the Presidents’ Day weekend. Staunchly different from the surreal landscapes that surround it, the town sprawls throughout the valley crammed with shops, restaurants and traffic.
“The city [had] a lot of traffic and it was hard to find a parking lot,” said 25-year-old Austrian international student Sabine Bac. “There were a lot of tourists and almost only souvenir shops.”
The popularity of the destination is immediately obvious. Throughout the years, the town and its surrounding wilderness have become hubs for seekers of both outdoor adventures and personal awakenings, perhaps more conjunctive than mutually exclusive endeavors.
As the highway slows along Oak Creek and enters the town, mile-long strips of new age shops, companies offering off-roading tours of the area and outlets selling collectibles abruptly rise against the desert backdrop, sidewalks pumped full of foot traffic and roads pressed with bumper-to-bumper vehicles.
While certainly a charming town complete with all the amenities a traveler might enjoy, Sedona is set apart from other famous red-rock tourist towns such as Moab or Grand Junction by its legends of spiritual vortices and its history of mystical transients. This picturesque city has adopted an eccentric brand that attracts visitors from all walks of life, from weekend warriors to full-time nomads.
A group of nine SUU students and employees set out on Feb. 18 to experience this unique spectacle for themselves. Setting up basecamp at Clear Creek Campground, 40 minutes south into the Verde Valley, the group spent the weekend tramping around the Sedona area, hiking to iconic destinations such as the unmistakable Devil’s Bridge arch, the Seven Sacred Pools and Boynton Canyon and checking out local businesses.
“Sedona was a really cozy small town in my opinion,” said Maris Graudins, a 21-year-old international student from Latvia. “I enjoyed the simplicity and the old-school shops there.”
While this seemed the common consensus among the group, the primary focus of the trip was hiking. Including a stop at historical Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona, they hiked four trails and approximately 20 miles across varying landscapes of sweeping valley views, dense forests and intimate red-rock passages.
“I really enjoyed the hikes, especially the different landscapes,” Bac continued. “It wasn’t just the hiking but rather the overall experience around with the camping, the evening fire and the group connections.”
The party was composed of a diverse set of characters and cultures, from small-town Utah locals to international students from around the world, which provided for great conversation and a unique style of bonding. Graudins recalled enjoying getting to know his fellow adventurers.
“There were nine people from four different countries,” he said. “Despite our different backgrounds, we actually bonded very well and it was interesting to hear everyone’s experiences at the bonfire each night.”
For first-time trip leader Wesley Madsen, guiding this group on their escapade presented him with some rich learning experiences.
“To lead a group of people with ranging experience from expert to novice was a big step up,” he said. “As a loner, it is easy to do things that are easy and basic to you but to transfer those skills along is a skill in and of itself.”
Whether or not the group experienced the mystical Sedona vortices or any sense of intense spirituality did not seem to matter to them. While the area serves as a new-age spiritual mecca for many who make the pilgrimage, the adventurers from SUU seemed more than content just exploring its wilderness, learning about their new friends and pushing themselves out of their shells.
“I had to come out of my comfort zone and get to be more open to new experiences,” remembered Bac. “How this felt is definitely something that I will never forget in my life.”
SUU Outdoors will continue to provide opportunities to get out of one’s comfort zone, try new things and meet new people with future trips including river rafting, canyoneering and paddleboarding.
For more information, follow SUU Outdoors on Instagram, visit their website or inquire at Basecamp, located near the Chick-fil-A in the Sharwan Smith Student Center.
Article and Photos by: Jared Clawson
Cover photo courtesy of: Baylee Howe