Voices from the Road

Grounded by nature: A bucket list road trip to red rocks, vortexes, cacti, and canyons

When I was younger, my parents would often drive us to visit family in the south. The car was always packed to the brim with suitcases and cousins. As I got older, I thought flying was the best way to stretch my legs. Now, I’m reminded that seeing the world from the sky is a lot different than seeing it from the ground. 

Visiting Arizona has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, especially Sedona and the Grand Canyon. When I heard about the swirling energy vortexes in the region, I knew it was something I had to check out. When my partner and I landed at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, I was excited about how the rock formations looked from the plane—but it didn’t prepare me for the drive. We stopped for a quick lunch at In-N-Out and hit the road in our Jeep for Cottonwood, Arizona. The drive along I-17 was stunning. The towering saguaro cacti were unlike anything I’d ever seen—they stood like sentinels protecting the rocks. Being from the Midwest, I’m used to flat land and prairie grasses, and with every spike in elevation, the rock formations seemed to grow. 

Old Town Cottonwood is about 30 minutes from Sedona and is filled with tasting rooms and restaurants. There were so many wineries and tours to choose from. We ended up choosing Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria. While the wine was great, the service was even better. After filling up on wine and food we went back to our Airbnb to watch the sunset over the mountains. Naively, I thought that would be the best sunset I would see.

Taking views for granted

Up before sunrise, we hit the road by 6 a.m. to reach the Grand Canyon before the crowds. As we got closer to the entrance we spotted elk, deer, and other wildlife running around. Luckily for us, parking was a breeze. Upon entering the South Rim Trail, there’s no indication of how truly grand this national park would be until you get closer. Every movie, TV show, description, and photo that I’d seen from this place did not even come close to what the rock formations really look like. I had almost forgotten how much I missed feeling grounded by nature. We weren’t even in Sedona yet, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the Grand Canyon was an energy source as well. Early on into the trail I stopped taking photos because I knew that they wouldn’t do what I saw justice. Sometimes one photo is enough and the rest you have to keep in your memory.

The South Rim Trail was virtually empty at 8 a.m., but the people we did meet were just as excited as we were to be there. The paved trail made for an easy 4-hour trek that seemed to fit all skill sets. By the time we started exiting the park around noon, the trail was flooded with strollers, bikes, and groups of people.

After leaving the canyon, we went back to Cottonwood to get ready for dinner in Sedona. We decided to stop by the Vault Uptown bar and grill at sunset to try the infamous prickly pear margarita and it did not disappoint. The Vault was the perfect location to watch the sun glow against the red rocks. Similar to the Grand Canyon, it looked like a backdrop and it felt like we were the only ones who noticed. After the sun had set, a waitress came up to me and said that watching me enjoy the sunset reminded her that she’d started taking this view for granted. I think at some point, no matter where we live, we take what we see daily for granted. 

Sedona is part of the International Dark-Sky Association, which protects the city from light pollution, and makes it the perfect place for stargazing. We made reservations at Mariposa for dinner and I couldn’t believe how clearly we could see the stars. It was as if every constellation I’ve ever heard about was staring back at me. 

Vortex energy

On our last day in Sedona, I wanted to be sure to dedicate time to exploring at least one vortex. I know the idea of a vortex is up for speculation, but I’m willing to check out anything at least once. Out of the four prominent vortexes, we decided on Cathedral Rock. 

We arrived at 8 a.m. and lucked out with a parking spot in the main lot (vortex energy, perhaps?). The hike starts off relatively easy, with an open view of the trail, and quickly becomes very steep. I am not a hiker, and before this I’d never hiked a non-paved trail. Looking up and seeing other hikers walk hand over foot in a single file line was enough for me to decide I wouldn’t be making it to the top of the trail. But then, remembering why I was there, I told myself this was potentially a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I should find a way to make it to the top. As I continued to climb higher onto the rock, the fear of falling subsided and I started to think about how heavy it can be to carry the anxious energy surrounding something new. 

Once I made it to the top I realized how much the climb was worth the view. I kept waiting to “feel” something from the vortex. Would I feel lighter? Would I see something? Hear something? While I didn’t experience any of those things, I like to think that the idea of the vortex is whatever you need it to be, exactly when you need it. 

After hiking back down from Cathedral Rock, we decided to finish our day walking around the area. Every person we encountered seemed so happy to be around both nature and other people. The sense of camaraderie I felt from other hikers was something I didn’t know I needed. 

As we packed up our Airbnb and headed back into Phoenix, I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to plan another trip back. While I didn’t feel what I thought I would at the vortex, I was able to walk away feeling grounded. It can be easy to get caught up in work and screen time, but if you do have the opportunity to experience something you’ve never felt before, you should take it and let it guide you.

Meosha’s trip

Meet the Roadtripper

Meosha Bates