A clap of thunder and a flash of light sent two-dozen frightened people scurrying down Cathedral Rock. A monsoonal cell had formed overhead, interrupting a peaceful, meditative hike on one of the area’s most popular picture spots.
My initial, delighted awe turned quickly to terror as the lightning ripped through the sound barrier almost directly overhead.
Everyone dashed down the sandstone slope, bobbing and weaving like football players trying to find an open path through the opposing players. Like Bell Rock, Submarine Rock and every other “rock” in Sedona, we had no clear path. Years of hiking boots have pitted the ground with faded trails here and there. Some lead into a creek, while others ledge out.
After a few wrong turns into the yucca and bushes, everyone reached the crowded parking lot. I could have done a victory touchdown dance.
Never has the force of Mother Nature been so clear.
With dozens of meandering trails, lazy rivers and breathtaking red sandstone monoliths, Sedona usually offers a tranquil retreat, perfect for hobnobbing with family and friends, buying a few crystals and eating unremarkable Mexican food.
Its views and vibes attract a variety of folks, from poky tourists and New Age hippies to outdoors enthusiasts. Honestly, I fall somewhere in the middle of all those groups.
While I scoff at New Age shops and their “aura” photography, I couldn’t take my eyes off a woman demonstrating how crystal pendulums can answer any of life’s questions. The pendulum, she explained, is a way to get in touch with your inner self, where all the answers already lurk.
I bought one, but my brother almost immediately broke it. Go figure.
Some say part of Sedona’s mystique is its vortexes, spiraling spiritual energy areas, where one’s inner self can lasso up with the energy of the universe.
This force is said to have a calming effect, but sometimes this energy has a way of overtaking you. As we raced down the slopes of Cathedral Rock, everyone yearned for just a little less connectivity.
Cathedral Rock, according to Web sites, is an area with a magnetic, feminine energy that should encourage relaxation.
Anyone ever stuck outside in a thunderstorm can recall the way the air takes on an electrical charge and clips with each pop of thunder — anything but relaxing.
Traumatic as almost being electrocuted is, it surely leaves you grateful.
I have stood on vortexes before and did not feel much of anything, except for the jostling of other tourists seeking a good vibration.
Fortunately, despite my near-death experience on Cathedral Rock, I’d already enjoyed lots of those good vibrations earlier just a few miles away on what sounds like a more lowly place — Submarine Rock.
It happened at sunset in a most unplanned way.
After driving several hours from Payson to Sedona, my mother suggested a quick hike.
One of those free travel magazines in the room suggested a place known as “Broken Arrow,” only a few miles up the road.
Now, Jeep Tours are a popular activity in Sedona. They give an up-close view of the surroundings, come with a guide and involve little risk, but deliver great thrills as you amble over slick rocks and rutted roads.
You find Jeep tour companies around town, especially on Main Street, where pink, green and yellow lifted Jeeps and Hummers cruise around.
Unbeknownst to us, Broken Arrow is one of the more popular touring spots.
We wound through an affluent neighborhood to find the Jeep trail beyond a wooden Forest Service sign warning the upcoming road was rough and not passenger vehicle worthy. A large, man-made bump made the point clear: if you can’t get over this bump, turn around now. I studied our red Jeep. While not the most hopped-up four-wheeler, it had newer tires and in the half-dozen years my mother had owned it, it had never been off road (a crime, I know).
As the first of many pink Jeeps zoomed around us, making the bump in the road look like more like a hiccup, my mother questioned my resolve to go further.
While she loves owning a Jeep, my mother is terribly afraid to actually go where they go in the commercials.
After seeing how easy the pink Jeeps made it look, I urged her onward.
While we cleared the bump easily, a steep, slick, red rock shelf prompted my mother to quickly pull into the nearest “oh crap” pull-out.
Another round of pink Jeeps cruised past, driving up the section with one quick rev, then pausing at the top of hill, almost mocking us, so passengers could take pictures.
After such a display, I knew we had to prove our little red Jeep could do it too.
Too afraid to ride, my mother stood several safe feet back as I powered the Jeep up the slope, filled suddenly with a sense of confidence (however false).
Safely around what had at first appeared impossible, my mother climbed back in and tentatively asked if I wanted to go further. Of course I did. We had ground to catch up.
While we never did find that caravan of pink Jeeps, my mother and I cruised over some of the most rockingly fun road.
If you could rate four-wheeling in movie terms, I would say this was PG-13. The touring Jeeps have left a well-etched path, with lots of turnarounds if you get scared.
Our evening crescendo was hiking up Submarine Rock, a rock submerged in manzanita trees.
Up a quick path, the submarine emerges. Indentations along the side of the rock appear like portholes and the rock even narrows at the top like a turret.
I have stood atop many hills in Sedona, but this one topped them all. Maybe it was how the setting sun turned the sky a rosy pink, the lack of houses or the surrounding cathedral of cliffs.
No postcard or guidebook can capture the vibe such a moment elicits.
In one weekend, I found, Sedona had showed both its peaceful and powerful energy.
Maybe those vortex gurus are onto something.
Either way, I better go buy another pendulum.
From the junction of Routes 89A and 179, take 179 south 3.5 miles to Back-O’Beyond Road, head east. Go .6 miles to the trailhead-parking turnout on the left.
The trail is 1.5 miles long if you take it from the parking lot to the saddle. Basket cairns lead the way across a wash and up a gradual slope. At a quarter-mile, the trail emerges on a broad ledge. The trail ascends a steep slope, a few notched toeholds here and there. The trail gets steeper and crosses several ledges before leveling off at a wide saddle. The path continues on around the base and can be followed for some way.
Broken Arrow is a popular area for hikers, mountain bikers and four-wheelers.
Just a couple miles past Bell Rock, turn right on Morgan Road and head past Broken Arrow Estates. If you are going to hike or bike, park in the dirt parking lot off to the left. The trail goes across the Jeep road and after 200 feet, heads south to the foot of Battlement Mesa. The trail winds its way through the forest before ending 1.5 miles later at Chicken Point. On the way back, a half-mile from Chicken Point, a short jaunt leads to Submarine Rock. Returning by the same path, the hike is about 3.5 miles.
For four-wheelers, head over the large, man-made bump at the start of the dirt road and continue on to Chicken Point. The road veers away from the hiking trail, but is roughly the same distance.
The drive should take two to four hours round trip and is accessible to most high-clearance vehicles with four-wheel drive.