Raw Arizona

The vortex summit was a half-mile hike down a rocky, bumpy down-slope. On more than one occasion I lost my footing and I’m not a clumsy person. The trope about hikers carrying sticks wasn’t just something in Lion King à la Rafiki or Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild. They’re actually helpful in keeping you from falling down (yes, I didn’t know that and neither did you). Climbing up to the summit isn’t as hard as it looked on the way down. They’re a number of rope assists and makeshift stairs to help the thoroughly uninitiated and winded. As I reached the center of the summit, I once again tried to see if my ki had done anything. My arms were kind of tingling, but as I joked with the girl doing insta-yoga about her insta-yoga, the tingling I was feeling might just be a stroke.

A photo from the vortex summit. 

Compared with the overlook up the trail, the view from the vortex summit is arguably better as it is flatter and provides views of Bell Rock in addition to the others. Furthermore, if you prefer a low work to reward ratio, the view from the vortex gives you the sense of accomplishment of climbing something, you know, if you’ve never climbed anything. I felt accomplished at least. As the sun began to set, I wanted to get a look at the most notable of the Sedona red rocks, Cathedral Rock.

My legs were still burning from the hike down, and I was aware of the fact that the hike back up might be a bit more challenging. The air had warmed up nicely as I climbed my way back up, and somehow I wasn’t as winded as I had been on the way down. A young Japanese couple was whispering sweet nothings between each other on a straggler bench on the trail–the very same bench I had planned on resting. I didn’t however and continued to power through and I was surprised at my persistence and minimal whining. When I reached the summit of Airport Road, I realized that I was warm, energized, unwinded, and surprisingly, no longer felt sick. As I waved goodbye to the attendant on the way out to Cathedral Rock, feeling euphoric from my hike, endorphins surging, the briefest thought crossed my mind: That vortex actually had power and healed me.


….but nah. Right?


When I actually made it to Cathedral Rock, it was about a quarter to sunset. The better part of the hour had been spent u-turning around the neighborhood surrounding the park. The directions aren’t as intuitive as much as it is to simply eyeball the mountain and navigate by sight. (This isn’t necessarily good advice, but it is advice that gave me good results). The park ranger took the $2 for foot traffic ($10 for cars) and give me directions to get the best twilight shots of Cathedral Rock. Jog-walking towards the mountain base, I set up an took my shots.  It’s about a 5-10 minute jog-walk to get good photos, which in the long light of the setting sun, made Cathedral Rock appear to shimmer and glow a brilliant red. I took a moment to bask in the accomplishment of such a productive shooting day–but only a moment because my rental was illegally parked and I didn’t want the buzz kill of a tow ruining my time.



I didn’t think I liked cowboys or cosplay–actually, I’m still pretty sure I don’t like those things–but when you’re in Tombstone Arizona, once the most opulent and lawless city in the old West, you deal…willingly. In researching the southern half of Arizona, I came across the town of Tombstone in considering the Saguaro National Park in Tucson, named for a large number of Saguaro cactus that inhabit the area. Of all the shots that I felt were necessary to capture the spirit of Arizona, I needed to get up close and personal with these mystifying arborescent cacti. What I didn’t realize before, but became increasingly apparent, was how the legacies of the western expansion were too apart of Arizona’s story.

Tombstone is a city located 3 hours from Phoenix in the southeast corner of Arizona, a little under an hour from the U.S-Mexican border.  Like much of Arizona, the land sits on hilly, steepe like terrain that is surrounded by various foothills and mountains, notably a granite dome called the“Sheephead” in the Dragoon Mountains. The dome was named for its uncanny resemblance to, unsurprisingly sheep heads (supposedly there an image of an Apache chief among the sheep, but I couldn’t see it). The town was founded by Ed Schieffelin, a U.S Army Scout on the hunt for ore in the late 1800s and grew to prominence as a destination for miners seeking riches. It’s said that the town got its strange name because of stories of Schieffelin’s various friends warning him not to go to the land upon which Tombstone was founded claiming that if he went seeking ore he’d “find his tombstone”, to paraphrase. Once it was discovered that Tombstone did, in fact, have silver and the promise of riches, people began to settle there. This increased attention brought prosperity as well as infamy to Tombstone. People, like the infamous Earp brothers; places, like the O.K Corral; and the word “cowboy” all have origins in Tombstone’s history.

The Sheepshead as seen from Tombstone, AZ.

Today, Tombstone has a population of a little less than 1500, keeping in line with its historical demographics, if not violent past. Many of the old western style saloons and other architectural fixtures remain intact while trolleys and horse-drawn carriages dot the streets with tourists. Cosplayers–they prefer to be called “living historians”–who dress the way individuals it did in the city’s heyday, catcall for business and tours, and the smell of sweet barbeque permeates the air. What was once a lawless town with a fearsome name and reputation, is these days part small town, part family-friendly tourist destination (though a cosplayer or two might pull a knife out on you or your kids to show you how things were done in the old days).