It’s no secret that Arizona’s boundless trails offer infinite variety, like traversing red-rock canyons, winding among ponderosa pine forests and skirting cacti that bring pops of purple and yellow to the desert during spring bloom. All fuel the senses, but some of Sedona’s trails also offer a metaphysical element to exploring outdoors, namely the city’s vortex sites.
Some people say there are as many as eight of these energy sites in Sedona, but the four most powerful are in Boynton Canyon, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Airport Mesa, located just two miles from downtown.
Sedona has been considered sacred by the Indigenous peoples for millennia. This reverence for the land is evident in the Sinagua peoples’ prehistoric rock art and ruins at Palatki Heritage Site. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s that spiritual seekers from far-flung regions started making pilgrimages to Sedona’s vortexes, believed to be ideal for meditation and healing.
In the late 1970s, new-age mystic Page Bryant was credited with coining the term “vortex” and actually putting Sedona’s four key sites on the map in her book. Dick Sutphen, a psychic researcher and past-life therapist (his book on Sedona’s vortexes is being published posthumously in 2022) also spread the word about these high-energy sites.
In August 1987, a new wave of believers descended on Sedona to take part in a worldwide event called Harmonic Convergence. Sedona was chosen as a “power center,” where a throng of 5000 people participated in what became the first synchronized global peace meditation event. The event’s two-day time frame is said to have aligned with a host of new-age beliefs based on astrological prophecies, the Mayan calendar and the grand "trine" – when planets align in an equilateral triangle.
Force of nature
Everyone’s experience at a vortex will be different, whether you feel intense energy rippling across your shoulders or simply a serene sensation emanating from the earth. Skeptics take note: science actually explains that these forces of nature are tied to super-string physics and gravity. In short, researchers say such vibrations aren’t linked to electromagnetism but are actually attuned to the topography.
Given its lofty location above the city, Airport Mesa is said to radiate an energy “up flow” (also called “yang” or “masculine”) associated with mesas and mountaintops. Literally a “higher perspective.” In contrast, “in-flow” (“yin” or “feminine”) vortexes are found in canyons and caves. Being cocooned in nature away from distractions lends itself to introspection. Interestingly, some places in Sedona have a bit of both. For example, people say Red Rock Crossing at the edge of Oak Creek is an in-flow vortex, but its proximity to looming Cathedral Rock, an up-flow vortex, influences its energy.
Airport Mesa hikes
As with Sedona’s other sites, you’ll need to hit the trail to experience the vortex located on the upper slopes of Airport Mesa, also called Table Top Mountain. Even if you’re not interested in the esoteric, plenty of people are curious about vortexes and the scenery itself is stunning, so expect the trails to be busy. Depending on how energetic you feel – and how early you arrive at the parking areas – you can choose from a couple of routes.
The shortest trek is the 0.1-mile Airport Mesa Overlook Trail, accessed from a small parking lot off Airport Mesa Road. Spots are snagged quickly, but there’s also an upper parking lot, which will add an extra mile (round trip) to your trip. The rocky trail gains around 105ft in elevation to the overlook at 5000ft. A little mettle yields massive rewards. Spread out before are 360-degree views of Sedona’s low-slung buildings huddled in the shadows of Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Thunder Mountain, Chimney Rock, Ship Rock and Coffeepot Rock.
For a longer excursion, take the undulating 3.2-mile (round trip) Airport Loop Trail, which connects to the overlook trail as well as Brewer, Table Top, Table Top Bogus, Summit, Bandit and Sedona View trails. Although the loop isn’t lengthy, you might want to pass if you’re afraid of heights. Some areas of the path are narrow (you’ll need to walk single file) with ledges, plus there are large basalt rocks to scramble over. The trail loops around Table Top Mountain, traversing rust-colored rock formations that look like a layer cake composed of sandstone and quartz. Added to the mix are an array of cacti and twisted-looking juniper trees, which are characteristic of where vortex energy is concentrated.
Since you’ll be watching your feet when navigating the terrain, keep an eye out for tarantulas, too. They’re harmless but daunting if you’re not used to seeing Arizona’s hairy spiders. Arachnid sightings or not, take time to look up and bask in the beauty around you: expansive views of West Sedona, Thunder Mountain and Wilson Mountain. Interpretive signs can help you pinpoint the peaks.
And, at times, wayfinding can be tricky, making it easy to get off course and unintentionally stretch your hike an extra mile or so. Much of the high-elevation trail is also exposed to the elements, so bring plenty of water; you’ll be hiking for at least two and a half hours.
Of course, the drama of these sweeping summits is dialed up if you arrive at sunrise or sunset. Being so close to the city means it’s easier to jump out of bed at dawn or zip up to Airport Mesa Road to catch the sun’s pink and orange glow, even if you just park at the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout. If you do hike, you might not feel the vortex or find spiritual enlightenment but you’ll certainly experience the transcendent splendor of seeing Sedona from above.
Plan your visit
It’s not part of the Red Rock Pass system, but you do need to pay $3 for parking. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails.
To get here from Sedona’s “Y” junction (state routes 89A and 179), travel one mile west on 89A to Airport Mesa Road. Drive 0.5 miles south on Airport Mesa Road and look for the small parking lot next to the overlook trailhead. To reach the large upper lot (near the start of the Sedona View Trail) continue driving up Airport Mesa Road to the end.