In the desert, we — a group of eight women writers and journalists — were powerful.
We were powerful as we hiked across the red rocks of Boynton Canyon in Sedona, Ariz. We were powerful when, as first timers, we pedaled mountain bikes as hard as we could up steep hills that I refuse to believe were beginner level. And we were powerful when we found ourselves silently weeping while seated on the thick limbs of an ancient tree.
We had left our busy cities (Los Angeles and San Diego) behind to spend the week of the summer solstice in Sedona, that mystical place of towering red rock formations. In addition to its fiery beauty, this town of 10,000 or so residents is famous as an epicenter of spiritual awakening. You’ll find crystal shops and meditation classes galore. And whether you consider that kind of thing “woo-woo” or believe the vortexes are, indeed, real, there’s no denying Sedona’s otherworldliness.
“I like to say we live on Mars,” one of my golfcart drivers at Enchantment Resort told me. Since that red-clay color — the rocks, the hills, the crimson sand — fills your vision everywhere you turn, his Martian fantasy is an easy portal to enter.
During the spring equinox in March, I made a vision board that included images of things I’d like to see magnified in my life: colorful vegetables, books, tea poured from an earthen teapot, a begging-to-be-lounged-on burnt-orange sofa, an abundant greenhouse. I clipped and pasted headlines from magazines that gave words to these visions: “Nurture,” “Where Are You Going?,” “Free to Be Bold,” “True Food” and “Family Friendly.” I had no idea that a quick trip to Sedona three months later would in many ways encapsulate those visions.
Embracing summer, nurturing ourselves
On the night before the solstice, our tiny plane landed at Prescott Regional Airport, which is an hour-and-a-half drive to Sedona. Our ultimate destination was Enchantment Resort, a 70-acre retreat suitable for a family getaway, an adventure with friends or a solo sojourn. I knew the red mountains were nearby but didn’t realize how close they were until the next morning, when I pulled back the sun-blocking drapes of my casita.
I gasped. From the balcony, I could see long stretches of the red-orange range, rising out of the earth’s floor like fortress walls. What makes these mountains more striking is the contrast of the thick vegetation growing from and around the rocks. Gawking at this view became my morning ritual.
The resort houses 218 casita guest rooms and suites that, from the Southwest-inspired interior design to the adobe-style exteriors, blend in with the cliffs. I stayed in a casita large enough to sleep six people. Wood beams warm up the high-ceilings and a beehive fireplace warm up the cool nights. A kitchen, outdoor patio grill and two luxurious bathrooms round out the space.
On solstice day, Cara Nalin, an intuitive healer, led our group in a sound bath, striking pastel-colored crystal bowls as we lay on sofas and beds and let the sounds — some deep and guttural, others high and lilting — wash over us, transforming our bones to water.
From there, we flowed into a larger group gathered outdoors for a solstice ceremony near Enchantment Resort’s sister property, Mii amo, a “destination spa” currently under renovation. Kim McDermott and Wendy Lindahl, members of Mii amo’s mindfulness team, invited us to grab blankets and sit on the lawn, then passed out roses and mandarin oranges to help us “awaken the senses.”
“The solstice is a time when the sun is standing still,” McDermott said. “It seems like it pauses, like it just hangs above us. It’s a symbol to us that it’s time to pause and go within and reflect on where we are and where we need to be. It is time to step into the most authentic and best version of ourselves. To be the light.”
Lindahl played a short melody on her wooden flute. “Be a child again,” she coaxed, motioning for us to follow her to another meadow, where she led us in song and play. Two young boys in the group gazed at us and giggled. We played anyway. “Dance like no one is watching,” Lindahl said. “This is a time to play, create, imagine and be free. Allow your wings to expand and fly.”
After all that flying, it was time for our spa treatments at Spa Suites at Boynton Canyon. I was delighted to discover that my massage therapist was Nalin, the sound bath healer. “I feel like it’ll be a continuation of our sound bath,” I told her. (Clearly, I’m not much of a skeptic with any of this “woo-woo” stuff). I opted for the “vibrational massage,” which consisted of Nalin applying a series of blended essential oils that, she said, vibrate with the frequency of the seven energy centers (chakras) of the body, helping them open and revitalize. As she worked my muscles and energy centers, we talked about creative expression, my ancestors and physical and emotional pain. We talked about national and global issues — problems that feel as heavy as the world itself.
“Yeah, but you don’t have to carry it all,” Nalin, also a mother and artist, said in her slow, melodic way.
And this prompted the first spring of tears.
Where are we going? Into the vortex.
At 6:30 a.m. the day after the solstice, I was on my way to Enchantment’s Trail House, a center that houses information about Sedona’s 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, when I passed three mule deer eating purple flower petals scattered on the ground. The deer were so close I could touch them. Used to humans, they barely paid me any mind. “You’re so beautiful,” I said, then realized I was talking to them like they were puppies. I left them to their breakfast.
I met my group inside Trail House, where Carina Leveriza, an outdoor adventure advisor who moved from California to Sedona 12 years ago (when “Sedona was really sleepy and real estate was still soft”), was waiting to take us on our “vortex hike” at Cathedral Rock. While driving to our hiking area, she pointed out parts of the landscape not to be missed (streets named after coffee, Thunder Mountain, the Kachina Woman), while also teaching us about the early indigenous people, the Sinagua, the first Anglo settlers and the way the town has changed drastically over the last few years, with an average of 3 million visitors annually and soaring housing prices.
The Cathedral Rock area is said to hold the strongest and most balanced vortex energy. The textbook definition of a vortex is “a mass of whirling fluid or air, especially a whirlpool or whirlwind” (lexico.com), but the spiritual definition expands to include special spots on earth that produce “swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration.” (visitsedona.com). Speaking of Sedona’s ancient history, when it was at sea bottom 330 million years ago, Leveriza said the red rocks remember the swirl, the “swirling, cylindrical energy.”
While journalists are skeptical by nature, we were all open to checking out “the swirl.”
“On a cruise, the number one question is ‘Where is the midnight buffet?’ For us, it’s ‘Where’s the vortex?’” said Stan Kantowski, managing director for Enchantment Resort and Mii amo. Leveriza said she experienced the vortex after losing her husband to cancer. “Intuitively, I knew that I was going to heal with hiking,” she said. On a hike more than two years after her husband died, she and her hiking friend heard a strong, swirling wind. That night, Leveriza had a vivid dream — a conversation with her deceased husband. “I asked him, ‘Were you the wind in the forest?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I had heard people talk about the mystical wind at Boynton Canyon, but that was the first time I had heard it. That was the time I pierced the veil. I had been longing for my husband. After that, I could think of him without pain. I could remember him with joy.”
She encouraged us to hike with an intention. “Whatever you bring to the vortex is going to be magnified,” she said.
Our hike was a pleasant one with a gradual climb through soft, red sand and up red plates of rock as we passed prickly pear, juniper, pinyon pine and velvet mesquite. When we came upon Oak Creek, Leveriza directed us to take a seat on the broad limbs of a tree she said was 2,000 years old. She lit some white sage and instructed us to close our eyes before leading us into a meditation focused on gratitude — to the ancient peoples, to the emerald-green waters of the creek, to the tree that held our tired bodies.
At one point, I felt an intense, but not unpleasant, burning on my left shoulder. I didn’t know if the burn was the vortex or the sun’s rays piercing through the pines. I kept my eyes closed and let my tear ducts do what they needed to do. When we opened our eyes, we saw that we had all been in the same tear-filled boat. “Oh great, I thought I was the only one,” Carrie said with a big sigh of relief, and we laughed and laughed, our hoots rising as high as the ponderosa pines.
Powerful and vulnerable. Powerfully vulnerable.
That night, we attended a stargazing party with an astronomer (a real scientist!) who pointed out constellations and our Milky Way. It was pitch-black save the star-studded sky and a couple of soft red lights to aid our night vision. Science and facts are intriguing, but at one point I heard someone excitedly asking if the movement they saw in the distance was a vortex. “Or an alien!” another person exclaimed.
What fun is science without a little sci-fi?
Food, family and freedom to be bold
The desert heat and an endless array of outdoor adventures will keep you ravenous and thirsty. A variety of delicious culinary options on the resort will satiate you — from Che Ah Chi (which offers sweeping views of the canyon walls to go with its modern American cuisine “with a Native American influence”) to Tii Gavo, a casual Southwestern restaurant where the views are just as striking, to the newly added market, where I enjoyed a lush mango smoothie peppered with chili.
My favorite culinary moment was watching Chef Alex Barnes give us a cooking demonstration, his skillet sizzling as the rock walls looming outside the floor-to-ceiling windows behind him were aflame with the final light of the setting sun. Barnes brought the red in with a gazpacho, then made a mouthwatering succotash that included fresh yellow squash, zucchini, roasted corn, a chimichurri sauce and quinoa.
When you’re full to bursting, all you can do is try what you didn’t get to savor next time. Which is what I will do when I return with my family to Sedona. For families with kids ages 4-12, Camp Coyote offers everything from cooking classes to sports and trail adventures. With swimming pools, tennis, pickleball, art and yoga classes and a mountain of other activities, you’ll be savoring it all for days on end.
Though I’ve been back in L.A. for a few weeks, my hiking shoes are still covered in red dirt. I call it fairy dust. It’s a reminder of what Sedona — vortex or not — gifted to me: moments of enchantment, for sure, but also a place to pause and sit in vulnerability. To realize the power and boldness in that.
Speaking of riding the line between vulnerable and powerful, my first mountain-biking experience was a mighty, mighty struggle. Gratefully, I lived to tell about it.
Cassandra Lane is Editor in Chief of L.A. Parent.