"The woo-woo factor is strong here," psychic Craig Junjulas told me the morning I arrived.
"Huh?" I said, doing a double take; I was pretty sure he had said woo-woo, the moaning sound kids make when they imitate ghosts (as opposed to whoo-whoo, the singsong sound they make when pretending to be a train).
"You know, mystical things," he said, vaguely.
I had come to Sedona seeking beauty and had found it in the region's soaring red monoliths and in the rushing waters of Oak Creek. Long considered one of the most scenic cities in the Southwest, Sedona can hold its own among the nation's national parks, including the Grand Canyon, about 2 1/2 hours north.
But Sedona has other attributes too. It may be the only place in the nation where you can get a psychic massage at your hotel, buy "healing crystals" at a burger joint or wear a purple wizard's hat to dinner without drawing stares.
More than a quarter of a century after vortexes -- energy fields with purported healing powers -- were said to exist here, this mystical New Age destination remains unapologetically wacky. In fact, the city's signature quirkiness draws a significant part of the 3.5 million tourists who visit annually. And in today's topsy-turvy world, who's to say a little woo-woo isn't a good thing?
When I visited a few months ago, I tried to keep an open mind and heart. I would become an acolyte in search of self-discovery. And if that didn't pan out, I hoped at least to be able to report some cool-sounding mumbo jumbo.
I found it almost immediately, atop a stunning red sandstone rock formation southwest of downtown Sedona. It was a sweet benediction led by Feather Jones, a fiftysomething herbalist and guide.
"I give thanks to Earth Mother for nourishment and support and to Sky Father for the air we breathe. . . . "
We'd been climbing a nearly vertical slope for about 30 minutes when Jones stopped on a level sandstone shelf, said her prayer and sprinkled herbs from a leather bag.
The trail had been slippery and harrowing in spots, a steep climb that gained 600 feet in about half a mile. It went straight up the side of the rock, forcing me to clamber upward using hands, feet and posterior to keep from falling. But the view was spectacular: The green bowl of Sedona is rimmed by luminous crimson peaks and set off by a brilliant blue sky. A hawk circled and soared while I absorbed the vibe and tried not to get too close to the edge.
We were near a vortex, Jones said. Could I feel the healing energy? No. But the scenery was beautiful enough to make me feel as though I were in an open-air house of worship. Jones urged me to say my own prayer, to make an intention for the day.
"I intend that I am healthy and strong and balanced," I said aloud. "And that I not slip off the rocks on the way down and kill myself." Heartfelt, if not eloquent.
Cathedral Rock, the formation we'd been climbing, is one of several sandstone monoliths -- the Red Rocks of Sedona -- that ring this city of 11,500. The formations have descriptive names -- Coffee Pot, Snoopy and Bell Rock -- and provide an awe-inspiring backdrop for an array of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, four-wheeling and otherworldly pursuits.
Bell Rock was ground zero for many of those who came here in 1987 for the Harmonic Convergence, a pseudo-religious event that drew believers to mystical places throughout the world. Thousands arrived in Sedona for the meeting, hoping for a global awakening of harmony and love. Many gathered on or near Bell Rock, waiting for its top to slide open and a flying saucer to glide out. When it didn't, they just partied on.
Some have been partying ever since. The town's substantial contingent of New Age devotees and practitioners includes some aging hippies who arrived for the convergence and never left.
They and other metaphysical therapists offer an array of services: crystal healing; psychic, aura and tarot readings; spirit dancing; vortex tours; and soul counseling. They even have their own professional organization, the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Assn.; among the membership are therapists who advertise brain enhancements, past life regression and sacred soul journeys. Some of the therapies are loosely linked to Native American beliefs.
Indeed, Native American influence has been strong here for centuries; Indians called the area a sacred place long before Anglos arrived. Petroglyphs, pictographs and cliff dwellings still can be found in the region.