Friday, April 10, 2009

Sedona: Gift of the Canyons

There is a place past the city limits of Sedona, in canyon-country Arizona, where giant purple and rust colored bluffs stand like monumental sculptures touching the sky. I like to take the drive early in the morning beyond Dry Creek Road, where the view of the majestic red rocks opens up revealing the land of the ancient Sinagua, the Yavapai and the Apache. Remnants of their cliff dwellings remain camouflaged against canyon walls. The drive twists and turns deep into Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness and as the car slows down, the peace of the canyons pulls me in. A hawk soars overhead and I offer a silent prayer to the ancestor spirits, Kachinas, and the deer and coyote, asking for permission to enter their sacred homeland.

At the entrance to Boynton Canyon a sandy path leads through a scraggly forest of sycamore and cypress trees. Prickly pear cactus and yucca plants dot the red hillside beside the trail. The morning air is crisp with a lingering mist that prevents the sun from penetrating into the canyon. The trail begins to climb and the tall spire of rock called Kachina Woman presides like a sentinel up ahead. Two cypress trees form a gate as the trail narrows. A quail rustles through a nearby arroyo and I begin the climb up the Vista Trail. Red rock cairns are placed to define the path which moves along the side of the bluff leading up to the plateau between the Kachina Woman and a rocky knoll. Reaching the crescent, the sun comes out and I rest with my back at the base of the red rock spire.


The view from the plateau is like no place else. To the south lies wide open country dotted with red bluffs that pop up out of the earth. The pristine wilderness of Long Canyon stretches out for miles to the east broken only by the saddle-like sag of hill called Dead Man’s Pass. Below in the valley to the west, Enchantment Resort with its pueblo like structures tries to blend in with the rocky cliffs. Little golf carts scurry through the luxury development sprawled within the canyon floor. Three small old twisted Juniper trees grace the summit of the bluff. Nothing has changed since I was last here. I sit down on the plateau and wonder about the power of this place that has pulled me here time and again for the past ten years. Once I came here with six other women when we rebelled and left a conference escaping to this place. We sat in a circle and shared our stories and the wind crept up on us that morning blessing us with the fresh canyon air.

Another time I came here by myself one Christmas and ran into friends I had not seen in five years. Together the three of us hiked the entire four miles into the canyon, marveling at the changes in the landscape along the way. From the red rock path that hugged the side of the cliff, we descended into the valley onto a sandy trail through a cypress forest. Before long we were climbing again and now passing through a pinyon pine forest before reaching the small box canyon that marks the end of the trail and the heart of Boynton Canyon. I was grateful that I had company, knowing that I would not have done this hike alone and may have missed the experience of walking the whole trail.

I also came here once with a woman shaman and she guided me on a meditation to the beat of her drum. Afterwards we sat and she gave me guidance on driving to the Grand Canyon, setting the stage for my solo journey to that mother-of-all canyon sights. I remember that I left Sedona at dawn the morning after, ascending the switchbacks through Oak Creek Canyon as the smell of ponderosa pines filled the car. It was cold with flurries in Flagstaff and the snow covered San Francisco Peaks towered in the distance. North of Flagstaff, the drive went through a forest of aspens that shimmered in the morning sunlight. A family of deer softly grazed amidst a white dusting on the ground.

At last I arrived at the Rim. No one else was there. At the first look out point I gasped at the craggy, gigantic, mile deep, massive opening in the earth that went on for miles in every direction. I felt struck speechless and thoughtless from the staggering sight. A deep silence radiated from the depths of the earth. From a map at the look out point I found the giant rocks with names like Venus Temple, Zoroaster Temple and Buddha Temple. Two billion years of earth history unveiled within the canyon walls. I felt like a small child, in a young species, who knows little of the mysteries that envelop this earth. I walked and walked that day all along the rim, speaking to no-one except a raven who called me back when I was beginning to leave.

Finally, my pilgrimage ended, the Grand Canyon released me and I descended back into Sedona at dusk. I remember I lay in bed that night, feeling like the whole canyon was absorbed into my body, or maybe I was absorbed and had dissolved into the body of the canyon.

The sound of a hummingbird buzzing by startles me and brings me back to the present. I look up and see that the sun is now casting shadows on the cliffs of Boynton Canyon. Two hikers are ascending the trail towards the plateau and I get up to look at the view one more time. Far in the distance the sun is illuminating the massive outcrop called Bell Rock and I am glad that the gift of another day of red rock magic is ahead. Copyright© Kathy Stanley
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n.b. Sedona panoramic photo - stock. All other pictures in this post by Kathy Stanley.

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