It is said that Sedona has four vortexes of spiritual energy. They interact with a person’s inner self and can facilitate dramatic transformation. I visited Sedona twice. Both times, I felt a strange kind of vertigo. A squeamish bliss. Like that feeling you get when you have that one drink which pushes you beyond pleasantly buzzed and into the realm of drunkenness. As I drove away, the feeling transformed into intense nausea and a vicious migraine. It took me an entire day in bed to recover.
Arizona is a monumental territory in the cartography of my existence.
I took shelter for the night in Flagstaff during cross-country trips from California to Michigan and back. The Petrified Forest welcomed two different versions of myself – one broken in spirit, the other reborn. The massive Meteor Crater and wacky Tombstone were to be the last places my brother Billy and I would have the chance to bond. An aficionado of tourist attractions, a fun fact inevitably emerged from the intricate recesses of his mind. We became the silly kids that we used to be.
My husband and I, spontaneous newlyweds, stopped by the Grand Canyon on our way back from Las Vegas to my place in Mesa, Arizona. At the lookout points, we held hands and shivered in the bitter winter wind. Monsieur and Madame. What the hell have we done? At the Chief Yellowhorse shop on Highway 64, he bought me ring of polished petrified wood set in silver. We kept our union a secret for years.
I was physically present in Arizona for eight months. Most of this time was spent waiting for permission to join my husband in New Caledonia. I signed on with a temp agency. I made no effort to make friends. On the weekends, I would drive away from the perpetual brown haze of the Phoenix area. Arizona became my companion. The map was my guide. Turn here. Hairpin turns up ahead. The road turns to dirt here. Those are the Superstition Mountains. This is the Salt River Canyon. The two roads that run through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument intersect at a town named Why.
Whenever I passed by the town of Superior, my chest would constrict. A sinister hum, a rattlesnake vibration, invaded my cells. Years later, it would come as no surprise to learn that the nightmarish film U Turn was set there. Those who stop are doomed to stay forever.
The loops widened with each passing week. Two hours became six or more. The road stilled my turbulent thoughts. Frustration with the visa process. Anxiety about my hasty decision. Mental preparation to leave my country behind. Forever.
On Highway 260 to Show Low, a cop pulled me over. I had been going slightly over the speed limit. He walked a slow lap around my pickup truck. He made me turn on my blinkers and open my ashtray. Finding nothing out of order, he demanded to know what I was doing way up there. Where I was going. Why.
I’m just out for a Sunday drive. He narrowed his eyes. You drove up here for fun? I nodded. He curled his upper lip. Well, just watch your speed. He crept along behind me for miles.
These three low quality photos are all that I have of Arizona. I believe that they were taken with a disposable camera. My brief time in Arizona was before the digital revolution. Back when photography entailed more money and effort. When the average person perceived rather than documented. We had, at most, thirty-six shots on a roll of film. Nowadays, we need one hundred photos to prove that we were someplace. But how present were we really? Will my memories of more recent voyages be as spellbinding as those of Arizona?
My biggest regret: not visiting the enigmatic Hopi. No photos, recordings, or videos are allowed. If you are fortunate enough to witness a ceremony, you must never discuss it. Imagine the power of this: knowing that it is the only time you will experience it through the eyes of the person you are now. Like landscapes and seasons, we change. Your perception will stay locked in your mind. Only and forever yours. Memory is the coolest retro filter of all.