Karmel Knocking Around National Parks

Reaching for new heights in Arizona

We had traveled to Acadia National Park in Maine in June, visited Israel’s nature reserve En Gedi in July, hit two National Parks in Wyoming – Grand Teton and Yellowstone – in September, and then ventured to Milwaukee and Chicago to visit Melissa’s daughter, Erin, and while not a National Park, The Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park is certainly a well-visited, and well-photographed site (and sight). So how to end 2022 and begin 2023 in a great way. And how to possibly top all of that.

Go someplace warm, she said. Melissa suggested someplace that would be warm, but not hot. I HATE the cold…and she DESPISES the heat. Compromise? I knew Melissa had recently (three years ago) been to Sedona and I still had that destination remaining on my bucket list. I figured that what a way to transition to the new year by doing something spiritual, that also allowed us to get in some great hikes.

Like all of our other trips, Melissa is the planner. Not only is she so good at it, but she had already been there, so I just let her call the shots. I took care of the plane travel, she took care of the Airbnb.

I have done a lot of flying over the years, and the circumstances revolving around airline travel continue to annoy me. Air travel just seems to bring out the absolute worst in people. The attitudes just plain old suck. Part of it is how selfish people can be, how self-absorbed they are, and how there is absolutely no self-awareness or consciousness of another person’s personal space. But a lot of it is the fault of the airlines and the dynamics that they, themselves, created. If you are boarding a plane AT the front, then WHY are you not boarding from the last row to the front? OK…so first class should get to “go first.” But, then, why not just have everyone else board from back to front? The boarding groups make absolutely NO sense. Because there is no apparent rhyme or reason for who is assigned to what group and it just creates chaos.

Everyone is in an absolute hurry to get on that tight metal enclosed tubular thing. What’s the rush? The “rush” is for no other reason than to ensure that you get a space in the overhead compartments for the luggage that no one wants to wait for at the other end. OK…I get that. But why do you allow each passenger to bring one carry-on bag if you don’t have enough space for each passenger to bring one carry-on bag? The naked eye can tell you that there is NOT ENOUGH ROOM! You don’t have to be an aerospace engineer to figure THAT one out! They ALWAYS make an announcement requesting volunteers to check their carry-ons for FREE. We end up handing ours over anyway, so long as it is FREE. As Melissa always tells me…free is good. Overly friendly people sitting next to me; coughing, sneezing, sniffling passengers; and crying babies (for four hours) is not good.

Off to an eerie start

Melissa had a great experience with the Airbnb that she had stayed at before, but she wanted to try a different place. The location we got was great, right at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain with spectacular views in each direction. Except when it is foggy. And it was pretty foggy most of the time. But that wasn’t really an issue.

The “issue” was that the host of the Airbnb was a freak. And creepy. Now I am just as spiritual as the next person, and I get the whole essence of being in Sedona and the spirituality of it, but this guy was out there.

Our flight was getting in late, around midnight AZ time, 2 a.m. our time, and we let him know that. Melissa was communicating with him directly through the Airbnb site and, at some point, he asked that she text him an hour before arrival, and then again five minutes prior to arrival so that he could let us in and show us around. Neither one of us had ever encountered a “welcome” before at an Airbnb, especially that late in the evening. Melissa didn’t tell me that his text messages included heart emojis…she thought nothing of it…at the time, anyway. Crunchy and spiritual like peace, love, and care bears?

Upon arrival, “Mark” insisted on showing us around. Hey, it’s 2 a.m. for us and we wanted nothing more than to get to sleep as we had an early start the next morning. And he didn’t need to show us around, everything was fucking labelled. And I’m not stupid, I know where to find the extra towels. But he kept talking and going on and on, flipping his long blond hair constantly behind his ears, while addressing only Melissa and never addressing me, ignoring the fact that I was even there. He finally took the hint when we said that we were just exhausted and needed sleep.

The next morning, we awoke and dressed quickly to start our day. We exited the house and was promptly met by Mark pouncing on us…as he rushed to exit the home…coffee cup in hand. It was clear that he was watching for us to come out…like he was stalking us. He approached Melissa and said, “Hey, I just wanted to tell you that I had a dream about you last night…” Are you kidding me? Who says that to someone? We are customers. We are not your friends. And, no matter, it was, is, so inappropriate. I would have checked out right then and there…or…I should have just punched him in the face. But…Melissa and I looked at each other and got in the car…discussing how “weird” it was…not wanting to start off our get-away on the wrong foot. So…we basically ignored his creepiness…for a while.

Sedona has so much to explore

We started off with breakfast at The Coffee Pot – so named for the edge of the mountain behind called…what else…Coffee Pot Rock. The restaurant, not the mountain, features 101 omelets and you HAVE to order by number…and there are no substitutions. Heck, with 101 choices, you should be able to find some combination that you like. Oh…they do have other offerings. But how can you not order an omelet at this place? The décor was vintage Southwestern and it was apparent that it was a favorite of the locals. We were served our food within minutes of ordering and it was well worth it and a great way to re-start our first day.

There are literally hundreds of trails to hike in Sedona. But we had only two days to hike, partly because of scheduling, and also because bad weather was expected for Day 3. But I will get back to that later.

Our first hike was Little Horse Trail which is supposed to take you two miles into the Sedona landscape and provided a little of everything that this place has to offer. The beauty of the sky was actually enhanced by the clouds hovering overhead, lending to the majestic view of the mountains. The area is known for its red rock and, given that it had rained for a few days before, there was no shortage of the remnants of water and red mud. It was an easy to moderate hike, with some rocky terrain, but the cactus – Desert Prickly Pear – was not what I was used to seeing on the old Westerns and when I watched Quick Draw McGraw. Melissa promised I would see that – Saguaro cactus – later…on the way back to Phoenix.

The Little Horse Trail is usually 3.5 miles round trip, a distance that we usually like to accomplish on our hikes. But we decided to veer off the path and head to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This chapel is high upon a mountain plateau and you get there by climbing a winding path. Or, if you choose to drive it to the parking lot, you can make an attempt to compete with other vehicles in a tight squeeze on the winding road. The Chapel offered a great view out to the town of Sedona and the other mountains surrounding the area. It was a small but awe-inspiring sanctuary, well worth extending the hike.

In our desire to accomplish our goal of seeking a spiritual experience, we ventured to the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. It is said that this site has healing energy and a sense of calm and peace. And while there were others there who were taking in the spiritual energy – walking clockwise around the Stupa three times and meditating on the grounds, there were others who truly ruined the experience by being disrespectful and having loud conversations with each other and/or on their cell phones. Not to mention the many children yelling and playing in such a spiritual place. Again, absolutely no self-awareness, and no consciousness of others around them.

Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park

There was also the medicine wheel that represents the seasons of our life cycle, representing birth and infancy (Spring), childhood and early adolescence (Summer), self-consciousness of later adolescence and early adulthood (Fall), full adulthood (Winter) and elderhood (Spring again).

We went searching for the spirit and energy in the Sedona mountains

The next day, New Year’s Eve, we again started out early, this time, skulking out, intentionally avoiding our Airbnb host. We went straight to Long Canyon Trail to trek to the Birthing Cave. Rain was threatening and the ground was already wet and muddy, and the rock very slippery. But we pushed on knowing that we had to get about 1.5 miles in to get to the cave.

What I didn’t realize is that, although you are on a trail that is pretty much on flat ground, mostly, to get to the featured and desired destination, it’s a climb. And I don’t know WHY I didn’t realize it, because we were, duh, in the mountains. And while Melissa doesn’t mind climbing to the top of mountains, scaling uneven rock, and hanging off a ledge to take a picture, I, on the other hand, am not exactly crazy about heights nor am I fond of scaling the side of mountains without something to hang onto. We were prepared for rain and sloshed through the thick red mud as we headed to the base of the mountain…taking in the beautiful view as we approached, and seeing trees and cacti that looked like they were out of a painting.

We followed the path but it was unmarked, and unclear, as to how to find the actual Birthing Cave. Actually, it was pretty much like the movie, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” where they are all scampering around looking for the “W” and that “W” was four palm trees that they were all standing right beneath. We found what looked like a path, a rocky stairway, that led up the side of the mountain.

Birthing Cave on the Long Canyon Trail

We began to climb, but as we did, the “stairway” began to disappear and it was pretty much a rock climbing expedition. I had trouble getting my footing and decided that I was going to remain on the last somewhat large rock ledge to try to get my bearings. Melissa, unwavering, decided to keep going and ventured up to the huge open area. She yelled to me, “Hey…is this it? I don’t think this is it.” She took some pics and made her way back down to the ledge where I sat, literally, and had to get back down to the next level by sliding on my ass.

We both then helped each other the rest of the way as the footing was difficult. Once we got to the bottom, we looked, and then realized, that Melissa had, in fact, been in the Birthing Cave, not even realizing that is where she was. She thought there was going to be some big hole that was leading to yet another spectacular view. The view WAS spectacular, just not what she expected. She was disappointed and I asked her several times if she wanted to go back up, but she said, “Nah…” This means we will be going back another time.

We really wanted to get to at least one of the vortexes and, with heavy rain in the forecast, there really was no time to waste. We made the decision to venture to the Boynton Vista Trail and explore the vortex there. This energy vortex is said to strengthen spiritual balance and the energy from the vortex is claimed to twist many of the Juniper trees in the area. Some vortexes are said to have either masculine or feminine energies. The Boynton Canyon vortex has both, which is supposedly ideal for balancing energy within oneself and with relationships. Also known as the Kachina Woman Vortex Site, it’s both an inflow and an upflow site, with the canyon as inflow and the ridges and peaks as upflow. It stretches two-and-a-half miles long, with energy throughout…it is very balanced and calm.

When we got to the Boynton trailhead, we happened upon an older gentleman who was handing out heart-shaped rocks and he handed one to each of us, and expressed his desire for us to have peace and tranquility in our lives. He then began to venture onto the trail ahead of us. Unbeknownst to us, this man, Robert Seckrengost, is a well-known icon at the vortex, and he climbs to the top of the red rock spires each day to play his flute.

The Boynton Canyon Trail was fairly easy and family friendly, until you get close to the vortex. Then the rock climbing begins. Most of it is like climbing a staircase, but there are two parts that are fairly difficult if you are not a seasoned hiker, or at least in shape to extend your legs beyond the normal reaches, and keep your balance.

Once again, you get to a certain point, only to realize that it’s time to climb. And, once again, Melissa was undeterred by the slippery rock and made it up to the next level and on to the plateau at the vortex at the base of the two spires. Me…I kept losing my footing and, again, decided to hold back. Melissa got to spend some time alone at the base of the female spire, and felt an overwhelming release that she struggled to describe. She said she felt like she had been through a cleansing with some deep emotions.

While Melissa was sitting at the female spire, and I was sitting on the lower plateau, Robert played his flute atop the male spire. I felt a deep urge to figure out a way to get to the top, despite the slippery slope. I found a bit of an alcove where I could grab hold of some plant life and pulled myself up, bringing myself to an easier rock stair path. I made it to the top and felt a powerful surge of energy run through my body. I felt extremely emotional, and so many thoughts ran through my head. I can’t explain it, but I felt like a huge sense of relief, like you just know that everything is suddenly going to be okay.

We both took our time to regroup while listening to Robert continue to play his flute. Heading back down the path, it was a great feeling, but so hard to articulate to each other what went through our minds and bodies. But it was something special to just happen to be there when Robert was there…like it was meant to happen that way.

Boynton Trail vortex

It was lunch time by the time we got down and, having done two hikes already, and feeling like we had just experienced something special, we decided to incorporate one of our own specialties – a Hike and Slice. That’s right, we decided to go get some pizza. And we learned that, well, perhaps we shouldn’t get pizza anywhere outside of the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.

We ended up at Sedona Pizza and Pasta Company. Melissa would call it Ricket Pizza Company with a capital “R.” The pizza was thin crust, we asked for extra sauce and there definitely was NOT a whole lot of sauce on there, and the mozzarella did not exactly taste, or feel, fresh. It was like something that had been nuked in the microwave and slapped on…it was a tad…rubbery? Oh…and the beer…not the best reward after a couple of long hikes.

With some daylight left, we decided to take on one more trail, so we went up to the Airport Vista as we figured we would make an attempt to visit one more vortex. We drove up the winding road that had me second-guessing the decision immediately. Even worse, once we got up to the overlook, and paid for the parking, we noticed that there was even more mud here than we had already trudged through earlier in the day.

We made the attempt to begin the trail, but the mud was so thick and sloshy, that we knew it was not going to be pleasant. In fact, a group of eight people, four couples each with a dog to accompany them on the trail…all took a single step and bailed immediately. And all of us were trying to clean the mud off the bottoms of our feet in the puddles that accumulated from the rains in the parking lot, and the rocks along the side of the road.

We still wanted to get in one more activity, and headed to the Sugarloaf Trail to see Coffee Pot Rock up close. I think we were actually, subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, avoiding the noid…avoiding heading back to the Airbnb. Because by this time, it was definitely time to hit the facilities and I was ignoring nature’s calling…to remain in nature. Enough said.

It was damp and muddy, again, as we made our way onto the Sugarloaf Trail. It was more of an easier, family friendly excursion through the mud, over rock, and into the woods. We went off trail and made our own path for a while, enjoying the time alone. But, upon looking up, at the side of Sugarloaf, there were two men attempting to scale the wall of rock. They must have thought they were in some man-made rock-climbing facility because they definitely were not seasoned rock climbers, or even hikers. I mean, you can tell by the way they were dressed, and the way their families were dressed – who wears Converse sneakers and carries a Michael Kors purse on a hike into the mountains? AND the screaming for the two dim wits…I had to look away because you could see that they were going to be struggling to get down as soon as they decided to reverse course.

By the time we got back to the trailhead, the rain started to get a bit more intense and we were pretty much cooked. But, truthfully, scaling the mountains that day was not as stressful as heading back to our accommodations.

We pretty much snuck into our room and got changed to get ready for dinner at Willows Kitchen and Wine Bar. Considering it was New Year’s Eve, it was not very crowded, which was fine with us. They had a set menu for the evening, but we chose to order from the regular menu. The food was really good, the portions fairly large, but they were offerings that you wouldn’t find in many other places. Definitely a place to experience.

The evening was a bit weird as New Year’s Eve, midnight, was happening, and it was only 10 p.m. where we were. Melissa pointed out that she, her daughter Erin, and her daughter Lauren were actually in three different time zones for this New Year’s Eve. So I am not sure if you could say that we were actually up for it all, meaning awake, because we DID say Happy New Year to a number of people at midnight Eastern Standard Time, I THINK we said it at Central Standard Time, but I was definitely asleep by Mountain Standard Time. So I guess it’s all in your perspective…where you’re at?

Why not see the Grand Canyon while we are at it?

On New Year’s Day we scampered to get up and grab something to eat at Starbucks before Chaim Yankel (Mark) spotted us. I felt ridiculous but we just didn’t want to deal with nonsense. We decided to ignore weather alerts and head to the Grand Canyon.

When we hopped on I-17 north toward Flagstaff, we sort of noticed that there were signs indicating the altitude…and that it was increasing. First 3,000 feet. Then 4,000 feet. But we also, sort of, noticed that there were snow plows alongside of us. Not a good omen? Here’s another…Melissa received a text message from Mark saying, “Happy New Year.” Really?

When we were through the Flagstaff interchange and onto I-40 heading west, it began to sleet. I asked Melissa, “Do ya think we should turn back?” She said, “Nah, I’m alright with this.” Okeedokee. Well, once we got off I-40 and began heading north to the south entrance to the Grand Canyon, it suddenly became bright…the sun was actually shining so much that we had to shade our eyes from the reflection. So it appeared that the ignorance (of the weather warnings) could now be construed as willful perseverance.

But as we approached the Park entrance, it began to get a bit dark…just a tad. We went to the first lookout by the visitor center, Mather’s Point. As we pulled into the parking lot, it began to rain…hard. We went to the rest rooms. When I got out, it was a torrential downpour. So I ran back to the car and got the umbrella and returned to get Melissa.

As we usually do, we first went to the Visitors Center. But even though the Park was open, the Center was closed. Holiday. And we are getting wet.

Not to be deterred, we started to walk toward the lookout. I THOUGHT we were walking toward the lookout. Instead, we were wandering aimlessly in a parking lot, and the only thing we saw was a dumpster. Oh, and as the wind kicked up it blew the umbrella inside out, and the rain stopped. And the snow started. And the snow came down…just as hard as the rain had been pouring down on us.

We made a run back to the car and then headed over to the El Tovar historic hotel where we had, luckily, made lunch reservations. We parked the car in the lot and went to look out over the stone wall to see…nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was white out conditions. This magnificent view that we were so looking forward to…could not be seen. Although they told me it was there.

Melissa and Alan at the south rim of the Grand Canyon

The lunch in the El Tovar dining room was great, and well worth it. The décor was like an old lodge and was still decorated for Christmas. The menu had some unique offerings and the food was delicious. Especially the desserts one of which was a pecan pie, a recipe over 100 years old. A truly nice surprise, and what would be the highlight of the day.

We went into the Park’s shop to get a couple of shirts, and happened to speak with a woman who was working the day the movie Vacation was filmed at that very location with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. In fact, we took a picture in that spot, but you couldn’t tell because YOU COULDN’T SEE ANYTHING.

We made our way back and, for the most part, once we exited Park grounds, the roadway was again somewhat normal. But, after about 20 miles, it began to snow again, and even harder than it had been previously.

While we were driving, we talked about heading back to the Airbnb. Melissa’s friend, Heather, lives in Phoenix and she asked if I thought it would be a good idea to, rather than stay another night at the Airbnb, we could go straight to Phoenix, even though it would be a lot of driving. I agreed immediately. We both thought it would be nice to see Heather and her husband, Brian, but we were both relieved at the thought of not going back and having to see Mark.

At that point we were still about 6,000 feet up. As we all know, and sometimes forget, altitude affects the weather…or helps create it. And by the time we got back on 1-40 to head east toward Flagstaff, the deluge of snow was so intense that we couldn’t see the roadway.

“Isn’t Arizona supposed to be the dessert?” she asked.

Tractor trailers and cars were passing us…at first…and then…suddenly…there was very little company on the road. We were alone and the driving conditions became treacherous. There is a reason why vehicles are equipped with chains on the tires…and we were learning that rather quickly. It was 28 miles to get just to Flagstaff. And now I had to drive at 15-20 MPH…at the most…because I was not able to control the vehicle.

Willful perseverance turned back into ignorance.

While I was struggling to keep the car on the road, Melissa remarked, “I feel like a battered woman who is trying to escape her abusive husband in the middle of the night with the kids.” That’s how she was describing her feelings about going back to the Airbnb and encountering our “gracious” host.

Thinking about how upset Melissa was was making me pissed. But, at that point, all I could think of was getting her someplace safely. Not only was I worried that I couldn’t control OUR car, but I certainly couldn’t control anyone ELSE’s car. Even if we WANTED to get off of I-40, there was no place to get off, the exit ramps were closed.

We VERY slowly made it to Flagstaff and got to a Hampton Inn and Suites. The parking lot was a mess with snow. We then realize that Flagstaff is a city that just happens to get a LOT of snow…and just happened to get it when we were passing through. Lucky us. So we decided to pack it in and stay put. Well, we really had no choice because I-17 was closed.

We meandered on foot across the highway to Denny’s where there was but one cook and one server for everyone. The server was genuinely pleasant under extremely stressful conditions. And just about 15 minutes in, everyone’s cell phone went off getting the very same alert about the snowstorm and road closures.

Melissa was really upset about the situation with the Airbnb and our host. So, after he sent Melissa another message about check-out time, this time through the Airbnb app, we sent a message back stating that I would be messaging him when we check out and provided my cell number…so that he wouldn’t make contact with Melissa again.

But the feelings of uneasiness weren’t subsiding and so Melissa began Googling Mark. And, hey, we are both super spiritual and believe in the Universe. But when the subject of time travel becomes the focus…then you have to wonder just what is going on back at the hacienda. Galactic intervention is not something that was in the brochure.

We woke up early the next morning knowing that we had to make it to the Phoenix airport on time. But, first, we had to get to Sedona and extract ourselves from the Airbnb. We were disappointed that we were now not going to make it to Phoenix in time to see Heather and Brian, but we were dreading the possibility of running into Mark.

Heading down I-17 was tough. It was slow-going at best and some areas were still dangerous. The roads were not completely cleared, there was ice, snow, and the fog was rolling in. There were two stretches of about three miles, in the valleys of the mountains, where the snowfall and fog were so thick that you couldn’t see more than 25 feet, if that, in front of you. There were cars stranded on either side of the highway and on the median…some facing in the opposite direction from which they were traveling. I was driving most of the way following the tail lights of a tractor trailer.

As we slowly made our way south, we also began to descend. As the altitude dropped from 5,000 to 4,000 to 3,000 feet the weather began to change. And, then, suddenly, in what seemed like a nano second, we went from low visibility and snow covered surroundings…to SPRING! Like nothing happened. As if it were all a dream. No trace of snow. Like we made it up. Less stress driving but…

…but then we had to get to the Airbnb and make our great escape. Melissa set her watch for 10 minutes. That’s what she wanted…in and out in under 10 minutes. We pulled up and ran in like we were robbing a bank. We quickly packed up, put everything in the car, and drove off…in nine (9) minutes! I guess when you are both veteran runners of marathons…you can move quickly when you have to.

Within two minutes…Mark was calling me. Melissa said, “Don’t pick up.” I immediately sent a text message saying that we had checked out and that the key was by the microwave. But he left a message and it was just as strange as everything else he had said previously. I didn’t respond. We just wanted to get out of there in the worst way.

We had little time to waste. We took some more pics and started to head back to Phoenix. The weather changed and we went from 27 degrees when we left Flagstaff at 7:10 a.m. to 59 degrees as we were heading south on I-17. The weather was changing and, so were the cacti.

Because I finally got to see the sight of Saguaro cacti rising up from the landscape against a beautiful mountainous backdrop. Finally! Go someplace warm, she said. “Now hold on thar! I’ll do the thin’n around here…and don’t you forget eet!”

Of course, Melissa didn’t get it. It’s before her time. That tends to happen with us. LOL

Sedona heart rocks

Inclement weather…treacherous road conditions…creepy host…when you’re in Sedona, you learn to just let it all go. Let go of all that negativity. The time had was one of great energy, positive spirituality, love, and new beginnings. A new year and a new spirit, from Sedona, and all the way home. Namaste.

5 Comments

  • Wendy January 13, 2023

    Omg I feel like I just went to Sedona… you just saved me a trip! Thank goodness because I have no chains for my tires! Loved the story, keep it up! It brought me much enjoyment. Thank you 😊

  • Deborah D’Amore January 15, 2023

    When you researched Mark, your host, what did you find?

    • Alan Karmin January 15, 2023

      There was talk of time travel…among other things.

  • Yvonne Garza January 15, 2023

    OMG. You are a great writer. We just went to Sedona in October and I remember looking at an Airbnb with comments about that host. That’s really creepy. Thanks for the great read!!

  • Arlene January 29, 2023

    What a great story! You had me laughing out loud. Melissa has a lot of nerve, I would have been out of that Airbnb in about 2 seconds flat!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.