There is no other place on Earth like Sedona. Some consider it to be the most beautiful city in the United States. A home for artists, yogis, healers, countless spas and galleries with signature southwest art and souvenirs, Sedona sits among majestic red rock formations surrounded by almost two million acres of evergreen forest, and shines like Arizona’s biggest diamond. It is famous for its vortex sites that supposedly emanate a concentrated energy from within the Earth. Many people experience a lift just by coming into Sedona. The photogenic Cathedral Rock towers over the city like a stone cathedral. A day after our visit to the Grand Canyon we drove to Sedona from Flagstaff with no plan and even less preparation.
If, like me, you have a strange impulse to google "the most spiritual places on Earth", you won’t find Notre Dame Cathedral on this list, but Sedona will be there. Some guides recommend a visit to Sedona alongside trekking in Tibet, studying yoga in India or meditating with monks in Bhutan, if you are looking for enlightenment. The city is happy to use this new age propaganda. Local website states that Sedona is a cathedral without walls that has been a holy place for centuries, and that it possesses cosmic powers. Apparently people feel inspired after visiting this city. You can find stories online about being renewed, energetically charged, and uplifted by Sedona. We should not be surprised if on the trail we encounter people meditating, stretching in asanas, or listening to healing vibrations from crystals. To our surprise, we encounter only a few hikers. And that is just fine.
Because, still, so far it’s the only place on Earth where a roadside suburban cafe offered us several types of freshly baked vegan gluten free cookies and exotic vegan ice creams, and a local pottery shop next door wished us to “Have A Nice Clay”.
It is also the only place on Earth where we can see these particular red rocks as the rocks towering over Sedona and rising to over 4,000 feet are the only such formation in the world. They are formed by the unique Schnebly Hill Formation - a thick layer of red to orange-colored sandstone found only in the Sedona vicinity. They look incredible illuminated by the setting sun, and when you see them, you know that it is true, no other place on Earth compares to Sedona.
The journey from Flagstaff took us two hours. The landscape was definitely worthy of slow drive. When the giant red rocks gilded by the sun rose over the horizon, we felt that we were up to something quite different and adventurous. We entered Sedona as if entering Chirico’s paintings: the place felt remote, wild, hot, empty, and mysterious. Brown stone buildings were casting long shadows. Silent orange-red rocks gathered round like meditating monks.
The geology of the area makes it truly beautiful. The process of the iron oxide weathering turned the rock its signature red color. It is hard to imagine that rocks are a form of life and not inanimate matter, but if they were actually alive, that would explain why their presence around Sedona feels so striking. They rise above the city and look down as if watching us.
I don't think my native Polish language has a good word for "bliss". "Joy", "pleasure", "happiness", none of these feels right. English dictionaries define bliss as a state of perfect happiness or great joy. The less common definition speaks of a state of spiritual blessing. Sounds good. Achievable after death, the dictionary adds (famous "eternal bliss"). Okay, but what about the bliss while we are still alive? I notice “wedded bliss” - marital happiness despite the passage of time, and there is also "pure bliss" - a feeling of full happiness, without the slightest discomfort. A moment to cherish and to lock behind glass, in the museum of memory. Peace, inner peace, contentment.
I’ve also found a popular saying: "Ignorance is Bliss" (if this was true, our world would be a blessed place).
And last but not least, a phrase from Joseph Campbell: "follow your bliss."
" If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living."
And that's exactly how I feel when climbing Bell Rock in Sedona.
“I could fly”, I convince my husband (strangely, he does seem convinced). We are standing on one of several Bell Rock terraces in the amazing Red Rock State Park. The weather is beautiful, the sun is slowly sliding down the rocks, white clouds float above in the intense blue sky. The brick red ground below is covered by yellow grass and cacti, colors faded from the sun. A panoramic post card of pure beauty presents itself to us.
"I could fly", I repeat, despite the slightly uncomfortable feeling that it sounds like a scene from a kitschy movie.
I really believe I could.
Bell Rock (a powerful vortex) is located off of Route 179 between Sedona and Oak Creek. We visit it just because we've noticed the rock while entering the city, and it attracts us like a magnet. We don't have a route, agenda, we don't know anything about this place. And it is for better. Our minds are more free, our perception is more direct.
Our whole trip to Arizona is so spontaneous and packed among dozens of other important activities, that apart from reading National Geographic’s guide through National Parks, we’re not prepared for it. We hop on a plane right after work, and drive from Las Vegas through Nevada and Arizona to arrive at Flagstaff: a combination of trendy destination and Swiss mountain resort. And now I want to climb both Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock, and there are only a few hours left to twilight. We gaze at Sedona along the way: countless galleries, hotels, motels, cafeterias, spas, boutiques, yoga studios. The orange color of rocks around the city provides us with intense stimulation of neurons. The outwardly landscape delivers the feeling of awe.
Climbing is gentle and easy. Of course, it’s worth having an extra bottle of water, but we cannot complain. Late September has the best weather for exploring the 300 miles of trails winding among cliffs and terraces around Sedona. "Follow your happiness and the universe will open doors where there were only walls before," states Campbell's online paraphrase. The problem is that we can have a very different definition of happiness from the universe. Developing the habit of questioning our own thoughts and feelings helps, and we can ask ourselves: “Are you sure that this will make you happy?”
As for traveling, I'm sure that it makes me happy. Even if our trips are escapes from, they are also escapes to. And there is nothing embarrassing in the need to add some adventure and unpredictability into a structured life or the discipline and order of travel into a messy life. Seeing the world anew, with new eyes after returning from a trip makes me even happier.
Because opening to unknown experiences and traveling to places where you have never been before really opens up new spaces and helps to appreciate whatever comes your way. Traveling is magical, even if sometimes we need more than a travel to places. Traveling itself is a bliss.
I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.”
~ Joseph Campbell
I never underestimate an opportunity and a joy of visiting new places. Gratitude comes naturally as our reality is so rich. I hope that my images reveal something of this richness, in a meaningful way.