Thunder Road

In Journeys
This is a story of a classic American road trip that follows the highways of the Great Plains west to the land of Sedona.

I never expected a long drive through the Great Plains to be interesting and so far my expectations have not been challenged. If only I were a telephone pole enthusiast, then I might find this journey downright captivating. If you asked me right now to prove that we had traveled even 10 miles in the past 6 hours I would not be able to, for the view out my window has not altered a bit. I’m pretty sure we’ve been driving parallel to the same barbed-wire fence since we crossed the Mississippi. The other thing that has not changed is the soundtrack blaring out of the stereo, which is set to the volume of at least 40% louder than necessary. It has been playing the man my partner in travel informs me is “the purest and greatest rockstar in all the U.S. of A.” – none other than Bruce Springsteen. Unsurprisingly, Isaac, the man behind the wheel, is talking about “The Boss” at this very moment.

“…And that’s why the Born to Run album was such an important point in Bruce’s career!” he says.

“Yeah that’s…awesome dude!” I say in a tone that probably falls short of actual enthusiasm. This is not the first time I have heard this spiel.

Isaac glances at me and mutters “Yeah yeah, I’ll shut up”.

As I go back to counting fence posts my mind begins to drift to our destination. Ah yes, I had almost forgotten why we were enduring this trek. Arizona is our destination. Classic, beautiful, mysterious Sedona. I have never been to Sedona before so I do not know if it is any of these things, but I hope it is at least one. Our only real plans are to camp and go on hikes in the desert, which admittedly sounds pretty boring, but I still have big expectations. After this long cross-country haul, I can’t help but picture Sedona as a picturesque oasis, complete with palm trees and gypsies on camels.

“What do you hope to find in Scenic Sedona?” I ask Isaac.

“A rock I can climb and a restaurant that isn’t Burger King,” he responds. I can’t really argue with that, so I shrug and nod.

Suddenly, on the horizon I see something – evidence that this whole highway isn’t just a big treadmill keeping us in place: Mountains! I yank the handle on the side of my seat which lurches the chair and my body back into an upright position. Sedona was somewhere within that magnificent mess of rocks ahead of us. Sedona, where instead of staring at brown rocks and dirt for hours, you can stare at red rocks and red dirt instead!

Then, behind us in the east, the sun roars into view. Rays of crimson light pour across the plains. The sun casts shadows onto the ground off the huge white clouds and ignites the mountains before us. The road beneath us begins to twist and climb into the hills and we are gifted an incredible view of the expanse of land before us. Bruce is still serenading us through the radio, but now I am the one to turn the volume up as I tell Isaac to roll down the windows and hit the gas. He looks over to me with a wide grin on his face and dutifully obliges. The wind pours in through the windows and billows through our hair. As we blast westward, Bruce reaches the chorus and we imitate his powerful throaty tone as we sing “Oh woah-woah Thunder Road! Oh Thunder Road!”

As our car careens through the curves in the road, trees start to pop up beside us. The highway descends into a valley and a forest quickly forms around the road. A sign by the road informs us that Sedona is 10 miles away, which is actually really close . At the bottom of the thin valley a stream gushes over the rocks. I truly think that this is the first running water I’ve seen since Missouri. Other signs of life begin appearing by the road: mailboxes, log cabins, and even a kayak rental service. As we climb out of the valley I get my first glance of Sedona peeking over the bright, red ridge opposite to us.

A few curves later we pass a large sign welcoming us to “Gorgeous Sedona”. Almost immediately traffic slows down and I feel like we are in the downtown of a city. The sides of the roads are suddenly lined with shops and businesses all with words like “breezy”, “pure” or “getaway” in their titles. Isaac guides our vehicle past a Burger King and Joe’s Pink Jeep Rentals, which must be doing quite well since every fourth car we pass is a pink Jeep. Elaborate patios and sidewalks connect ice cream shops and gift stores with huge stuffed animal displays out front. There are people everywhere – families of four with the dads donning safari hats, a pairs of hikers with colossal backpacks, and what looks like half the members of the Allman Brothers Band having a smoke on a staircase. All I can do is stare as we go by Nova’s Palm Reading Haven. I don’t see any camels but apparently I wasn’t wrong about the gypsies. The sidewalks are lined with strange vendors that are manned by people in colorful shawls and shimmering bracelets. I can actually hear didgeridoo music playing over a loud-speaker from somewhere. I wasn’t sure what I would see in Sedona, but I sure wasn’t expecting to find the Times Square of the desert.

Soon we locate our campsite, which features an admittedly nice perspective of the mountains as well as a view of the nearby resort hotel and golf course. I feebly get up out of the car as I stretch and take a deep breath of the dry desert air. Isaac calls to me from the other side of the parking lot and I jog over to him. He points to a sign in the ground that reads “Vortex Trail”.

“Whaddya suppose that is?” Isaac muses. I picture a path leading directly into a giant deadly tornado.

“No clue. Want to find out?” I say and we start off down the trail.

After a short time, we come upon a large rock formation sticking up out of the desert. Some people are standing around the base of it, some are climbing up the side, and others are already sitting way up on top of it. A man with a walking stick and dreadlocks comes towards us on the path. Isaac stops him and asks him what the heck a vortex is. A grin slowly spreads across the man’s face.

“This whole area is a vortex, man,” he says “Vortexes contain pure spiritual energy.”

“Uhh, you’re gonna have to elaborate on that one, man,” I say confused.

“Positive vibes all over this place, dude, don’t you feel it?” he responds “Just get on top of that rock and you’ll feel it, you might even see Mother Earth.”

“For sure…thanks man,” I stammer and we continue walking.

When we reach the end of the path, I turn to Isaac and we decide to try and climb this huge vortex rock thing. It is a surprisingly long and hard way up to the top and I am somehow exhausted even though I have been sitting down for the past several hours, but eventually we make it to rounded peak. Isaac and I stand at the top and gaze out over the stretch of rock formations, sloping hills, and red desert. I can feel the heat from sun radiating off the rock beneath my feet. This spot is an unexpectedly good vantage point and back to the east I can see the colorful rock cliffs, a bit of downtown Sedona, and the highway that guided us here. A strong but pleasantly warm breeze begins to blow, blowing Isaac’s long hair across his face.

He smirks and says “How ya feeling mannnn?”

I grin, squint my eyes, look up at the sky and say “Ya know man…mellow…I feel super mellow man.”

The sun smiles down on us and the wind snickers through the bushes surrounding the great rock we stand upon. As I gaze back over the rocks, cliffs, trails, trees, and over the resort sprawl towards Sedona I don’t see any sign of ahem “Mother Earth,” but I have to admit, the perspective from up here of this slice of earth is nothing short of spectacular.

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