Monday, December 4, 2017

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock - Sedona, Arizona
watercolor painting by author
Cathedral Rock
travel memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

           Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Coffee Pot Rock . . . the names on the landscapes around Sedona, Arizona are as unusual as the formations themselves. Some are so large it takes a hike of several miles just to walk around them. Others look like pottery which has been fired by extinct volcanoes. Many people believe the rocks have a magnetic attraction and a spiritual significance.
          Gretta and I spent a week in Sedona in January of 2006 to hike and bike for some winter exercise. It didn’t take long for us to get drawn into the fascination of what we could find around every bend. At that time of the year we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Morning hikes required a jacket, hat and gloves, but by noon the warmth of the sun had us pulling off the extra layers and taking our time to appreciate the vistas.
Bell Rock - Sedona, Arizona
         During the week we used one of the larger rock formations, Cathedral Rock, to keep us oriented to our location. Finally, near the end of the trip, we decided to explore it. We drove to the small parking lot at the trail head, and as we started the hike I remember a sign that warned hikers of a strenuous climb of a mile or two, just to get to the gap, or notch, at the base of the towers. In retrospect, I thought it bordered on being a dangerous climb, mainly because of a stretch of near-vertical trail that required each hiker to independently climb the cracks in the cliff, seeking notches and toe-holds to safely make the climb.
Gretta climbing up the toe-holds in the rock (note the road and parking lot at the top of the picture).
          This was not a Disney venue! There were no handrails to grab at the cliff edge and no courtesy carts for the faint-of-heart. And woe to any hiker that might trip at an inopportune time.
          As we pulled ourselves up on top of the mesa at the base of Cathedral Rock, we began to reap the reward of our effort.
Gretta standing on top of a mesa.
          An amazing multicolor view of sky, rocks, and plants stretched out in every direction. The closer we hiked to the base of the awe-inspiring towers, our speech came in hushed tones, and I immediately felt more reverent towards the outdoors and the massive rocks rooted to the earth. We had entered a natural cathedral with the blue sky of thin air as the vaulted ceiling.
Gretta standing at the cliff's edge at the notch on Cathedral Rock.
          I remember it as a very happy time, one which we didn’t want to end. There were no other hikers at the notch. I did have a nagging worry on how we were going to step backwards down the cliffs and cling to the cracks and toe-holds, but the vistas were so striking that I quickly tucked that worry away for a while.
          I had Gretta pose for pictures at several locations in the notch, and I snapped one as she stood at the edge of a cliff shadow. If I were allowed only one photo to remember her from, it would be the one. She had that look of hers, a look of self-assurance, and of peak confidence and happiness. Her conditioning from biking, hiking, figure skating, and yoga, had made the hike seem like a piece of cake. She was happy every day, but she was happiest outdoors, and the photo shows it.
My sweetheart, at ease and full of happiness.
          I’d guess you could call our climb at Cathedral Rock a mountaintop experience. There was something special about it. We sat on a rock ledge, side-by-side like little kids, looking out to the horizon while we ate our snacks of fruit and cheese from the day pack.
Gretta standing in the middle of the notch (this is the ledge where we ate our snack).
          It was a time that made me grateful to have been born so long ago, just to experience the universe that was put before Gretta and me that day. We sat in the stillness, with the silence broken only by and a raven's call which echoed amongst the stone walls. How lucky we were to take in the sun, sky, and all that surrounded us, to appreciate each other and the spot that was a keeper for the memories.
A view for the memories - the notch at Cathedral Rock