It was only 10:30 in the morning and I already had proof there really is such a thing as a stupid question. He was white, middle class and pasty—I could pretty much peg him as a Trump voter—and, pointing at a gorgeous red standstone butte formation, he asked a fellow white, middle class, pasty male: “do you think some of those are man made?” I butted in: “no sir, God made all of those.” I thought that might help him understand.
Minutes later, though, something different occurred to me about my fellow white, middle class, pasty male: he didn’t feel the vortex either. Sedona, Arizona is known for it’s spectacular natural beauty. It is also known for its “vortexes” (and yes, the word they use is “vortexes” rather than “vortices”). The spiritually inclined—particularly those without a traditional religious portfolio—believe these vortexes are some sort of confluence and conflagration of “energy fields” (not the kinds you drill in) that enable one to tap into “natural electromagnetic earth energy, also known as ley lines.” Doing so supposedly amplifies emotional states, enhances spiritual development and taps into “other dimensions.”
Color me just as dubious as Sedona’s rocks are red. With that in mind, Nancy suggested the Center for the New Age Superstore might be just the place to help me see what I wasn’t seeing. We walked in to the Superstore as a crystal-wielding New Ager—half hippy, half George Winston fan—walked out leaving the door open. There were a lot of crystals there. A lot. Big ones. Little ones. And frankly, nearly all of them were beautiful ones.
Seriously, though, amethysts “inspire divine love” and “encourage selflessness and spiritual wisdom” and something called “angel aura” (quartz that is bonded with platinum and silver) “enhances communication with angels” and “brings serenity and peace of mind.” Really? The bullshit meter app on my iPhone said it needed a change of batteries.
It was then, as we reached the heart of the place, that I heard the Superstore’s proprietor—a thin, lanky and heavily wrinkled woman who seemed to have been ridden hard and put away wet—say into her cell phone: “they won’t even close the damned door.” I smiled at her, snarkily wondering to myself “if those crystals are so powerful why doesn’t she get them to close the door.” More seriously though, it occurred to me, she did not exactly seem particularly self-actualized. Not a great advertisement for crystal power.
I was pretty sure the Superstore wasn’t a vortex. Certainly I felt nothing “spiritual” there. Crystals notwithstanding and despite the prevalence of the trappings of New Age spirituality, the Superstore struck me as the very opposite of “spiritual.” If that is what “spiritual” really was I wanted nothing to do with it.
So where were these Vortexes? Bell Rock, quite near where we were staying, was definitely pegged as one. And it was hard not to feel something special at Bell Rock. The red sandstones alone were special, but the way they stood out against the blue sky was remarkable in its own right. The horizontal depositional striations and the shadows in the crags created by the erosional patterns gave the entire thing a timeless air. Vortex, I don’t know, but there was something extraordinary there.
And Bell Rock was not the only supposed Vortex. They’re said to be spread around Sedona, tending to correspond to some of the most spectacularly beautiful features and vistas Sedona and its vicinity had to offer. Perhaps the most spectacular of those is right around Sedona’s airport. As the sun fades the hills light up, revealing time beyond history and a beauty no crystal collection or New Age tome could touch. Those rocks, it seems, do not mean what the Superstore thinks they mean.
The food of Sedona may have been more than the equal of the Superstore and its ilk, but was no match for the beauty of the town and its surroundings. The best restaurant in Sedona is, hands down, Elote Café. And the restaurant’s two best dishes were two involving its namesake: elote (sweet corn). The dish called “Elote” is a take on Mexican street corn and includes fire roasted corn, spicy mayonnaise and cotija cheese. It’s a terrific dish—I’d made innumerable cups of a different take on the same thing during my stage at La Justina.
Perhaps the best dish at Elote Café, though, was the uchepos, Michoacan style fresh corn tamales served with queso fresco, roasted tomato chipotle sauce and sour cream. This was everything a tamale should be: pillowy and light masa filled with goodies offering a flavor and textural contrast and an interesting sauce. As good as the food at Elote Café, and it was very good, the problem with the place is that the atmosphere was distinctly of the “turn and burn” variety. This was exacerbated by the somewhat tired physical plant, the size (probably not quite as large as it seemed) and a staff that seemed to be managing tables more than offering hospitality. That said, the food was excellent.
Unfortunately, Elote Café was the high water mark of our Sedona dining experience. At Creekside Restaurant, another highly rated place, the view was good but the food was uneven. Curried lamb adobo was excellent – showing an interesting parallel of cultures – but just about everything else we had was overcooked. Rene at Tlaquepaque was something else altogether: a piece of the sixties emerging from a time capsule with a whole lot of dust on it and more than a few tattered pages. The best dish there was the beet gazpacho soup and the beets in question almost certainly emerged from a can of pickled beets. Remarkably, though, the dish worked. The rest of the meal? Not so much.
Frankly, our second best meal in Sedona was at the Thai Palace Uptown. Every dish was competently prepared, with the larb and Thai basil the standouts. It is, however, somewhat telling that the second best meal in Sedona was Thai. The best meals in Sedona should have spoken about Sedona and what Sedona stands for. Instead they were about and from a place across land and sea. Ultimately, as a general matter, the food in Sedona was overpriced and under-creative.
As discouraging as Sedona’s food was in general, it paled in comparison to our disappointment at the fact that we really couldn’t go hiking, one of our primary reasons for being there. But our arrival was superbly timed to coincide with a record-setting heatwave. Our first day in Arizona four hikers and one cyclist died in Phoenix from the heat. Hiking, quickly but sadly, went off our docket.
What took the place of hiking, however, may have been even better: Slide Rock State Park, seven miles north of town. One of Travel Channel’s Top 10 Swimming Holes in the United States. At the core of Slide Rock is an 80 feet long and 2.5 to 4 feet wide natural waterslide with a 7 percent decline from top to bottom. Algae on the red sandstone rocks creates a slippery, current-driven ride that is the sort of pure, giddy “fun” of childhood.
From Slide Rock we headed north to Flagstaff and, entirely unexpectedly, our best meal of the trip: Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar. Chef Logan Webber’s menu is New American in style, local and sustainable in sourcing and utterly delicious. Perhaps the best dish of the night was the Chicken Crépinette, chicken wrapped in caul fat and presented with Arizona farro, collard greens, roasted tomatoes, grilled oyster mushrooms, black garlic, carrot butter, salsify and a truffle demi glace sauce. The New York strip steak, something I don’t usually order, was excellent served with grilled asparagus. But it was the pommes aligot that took it over the top. A dish of cheese blended into mashed potatoes (with no shortage of butter, cream and garlic joining the party), native to the Aveyron region of France, it’s enough to make a guy proud of his gout. Even the salads were extraordinary. Webber is one to watch.
At the end of the trip, it seems, everything was not quite what had been expected and yet even more than that in different ways. The best restaurant in Sedona was in Flagstaff. We didn’t get to enjoy the beauty of the red sandstones hiking but enjoyed them instead sliding. And the power of the Vortexes was, it seems, real but it was all about the wonder of nature and had just about nothing to do with crystals.
And not a bit of it was manmade.