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Dispatches From the Road: Sedona, Arizona, or The Vortex

March 30, 2018

In his latest dispatch, Courthouse News’ western bureau chief ruminates on the supposed healing power of vortices in breathtaking Sedona, Arizona.

Chris Marshall

By Chris Marshall

Western Bureau Chief for Courthouse News Service since 2014. San Francisco Federal Reporter and Northern California Bureau Chief from 2006 to 2014. Passionate about photography, camping and history.


“Did you feel anything in the vortex?” a woman shouted to me from a neighboring car.

“A little sweat,” I answered, wiping my brow.

“Yeah, that’s why we didn’t go down,” she replied.

Sedona, Arizona, is known for having many a vortex – a spot from which energy emanates or enters back into the earth. The town surrounded by breathtaking red rocks is one big and powerful vortex that can heal, especially spiritually. At least that's the claim.

The supposed power of the vortices has transformed Sedona into a tourist hotspot where many come to be healed, have their aura examined or palms read, shop for crystals and Native American-themed gifts, or hike the dozens of trails in the area.

We had just returned from Airport Mesa, a popular vortex. The loop trail from the parking lot at the tiny airport provides stunning views of the town.

My father says while he feels a strong energy coming from Sedona, the sheer beauty of the area might be the sole reason why.

I would add that the endorphin rush from the sometimes strenuous hikes in the thin air probably contributes as well, as do, perhaps, the removal from the bustle of daily life, the desire for introspection and the positive energy flowing from fellow visitors.

As we approached the gate to the parking lot a man and two women, one of them walking very slowly with a cane, approached us.

The man asked in a thick accent if we’d been to the vortex, how far it was and then “if it was…”

He stopped, searching for the word. He put his hands together and then pulled them apart, which I took to mean something like explosive, or amazing.

I replied that it was beautiful.

My father, looking at the woman with the cane, said there was a bench approximately 100 yards from where we stood, but the trail itself, while not too long, was rough and descended quite a bit. He pointed out that there was a parking lot at the other end, near the vortex, but it was full when we arrived.

He, like I, must have been wondering if the woman with the cane would make it to the end, and was trying to suggest they should perhaps drop her at the parking lot and then drive back to the airport and hike down to meet her.

The man thanked us and said they would all hike down together, then he would hike back up and drive down to pick them up. I hope for their sake they made it or turned around before they got too far.

Or perhaps the vaunted healing powers of the vortex cured her ills on the way down or when they got there.

I’m not convinced the vortices heal, if they even exist. But I’m not convinced they don’t.

I’ve never been one for blind faith.

But insisting that only what science can explain is true is tricky too, since time and again scientists have proven their predecessors wrong.


And as my father – generally a reasonable man who has also dabbled in many aspects of new age metaphysics and spirituality – remarked, there are many things science has not been able to explain to his satisfaction, at least so far.

He always wonders what happened before the Big Bang, for example, and he notes that the human brain is wired to focus on what it can explain and what it needs to do next to survive.

As for me, beyond a feeling of peace and relaxation I did not experience anything abundantly strange or transformative during the trip.

Nor do I recall feeling any type of special vortex-related energy forces, though the more than 20 minutes it took to get a simple drip coffee at the local Starbucks made me wonder if perhaps we are all sinking into a vortex from which there is no return.

I prefer to accept what science and reason indicate is the truth while leaving open the possibility that there is more to existence than meets the eye.

But when I told my story to a fellow bureau chief at Courthouse News Service, she told me, "You're doing it all wrong!"

She chided me for not using my crystals. Of which I have none.

The last time she went to a vortex in Sedona, her group of friends touched their crystals together and chanted the part of the theme song from the "Captain Planet" television show that goes "By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet."

"I didn't feel any different after," she commented, "but we're still alive, so who knows. Maybe that means it worked?"

After our hike my father and I hit up the Cowboy Club for lunch. Smack in the main tourist drag, the restaurant was designed in the style of an Old West-style tavern like one that used to host miners and cowpokes before Sedona became a popular filming location for Westerns.

The present incarnation comes complete with a horse's ass for a seat at the end of the bar. Even after multiple visits none of us has been relegated to that spot.

There’s always next year.

After ordering an appetizer sampler of rattlesnake sausages, buffalo skewers, cactus fries and cilantro flatbread I checked the status of my upcoming flight back to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Delayed four hours, we would land after the light-rail system stopped running for the night, stranding me more than 40 miles from home.

“It would appear I angered the travel gods again,” I told my father.

“The what?”

“The travel gods. I’m not sure what I did this time, but I’m sure I deserve it, and I’m sorry,” I replied.

I checked for other options that might get me into San Francisco or Oakland while the trains were still running, and found one, but I’d have to rush to make it.

We ate quickly and skedaddled.

I planned on calling the airline to change my flight since the app on my phone told me I couldn’t change a flight for which I’d already checked in. I knew from experience that I could, but I'd need to wait on hold and talk to a real person.

A few miles down the road I decided to check the flight status one more time before calling. The four-hour delay was now only two hours, getting me in plenty early enough to enjoy my long ride to the suburbs of the far East Bay.

In the end the flight was delayed only 10 minutes.

Thank you, travel gods, for looking kindly on me. I will try not to offend you again.

If you exist, that is.

I probably just jinxed it.

Courthouse News Service has provided daily coverage of Maricopa and Pima counties and the United States District Court for Arizona for more than a decade. CNS also provides regular in-person coverage in Yavapai, Pinal, Mohave, Apache, Navajo, Yuma, Coconino and Cochise counties. 


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