March 20, 2019

Catching Red Rock Fever…by James Bishop, Jr.

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Where schedules are forgotten and one becomes immersed in ancient rhythms, one begins to live.
— Sigurd Olson

When the moment arrives for a visitor to say farewell to Red Rock Country and its startling sunsets, timeless red rocks, and wild, undisturbed landscapes, the symptoms rarely vary – a moist eye, lump in the throat, perhaps a last look over the shoulder at shadows stealing over Bell Rock, and often a vow to return someday.

To locals, this distressing condition is simply a case of Red Rock Fever with symptoms familiar to them since, for them, the fever comes and goes all year long. Indeed, many are in these environs because of Red Rock Country’s zest and gusto, not forgetting the mystery and remnants of ancient cultures.  For the unsuspecting visitor, however, this fever arrives like the throb of a new love, and not even the Sedona-Oak Creek Chamber or local knows for sure when it might strike.

It could be at the first light of dawn when the red rocks emerge from rare snowy mists on the horizon like ancient amphitheaters or in the blossoming days of early spring while on a jeep ride to an ancient, native ruin. It might occur during the green golden days of autumn at the sight of a bald eagle falling like a feathered bomb over Oak Creek in pursuit of a Rainbow Trout, or the discovery of a wary deer sipping from Oak Creek’s icy waters near the bridge at Tlaquepaque.

Politicians have caught the fever too, from Chip Davis to Bruce Babbitt. When Stewart Udall went down Oak Creek Canyon for the first time in the 1960s, the young Arizona Congressman blurted, “This place must be our next national park.” Udall went on to become Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.   While that particular notion landed on the political cutting room floor, the belief that Sedona, and environs are a remarkable piece of the planet was burning ever so brightly in the hearts and minds of visitors, and locals alike. “Nothing in this place is normal,” once mused Allan Caillou, the famed author and screenwriter who moved to town from Hollywood after many years of film and TV. “It takes an effort of will power not to find yourself here.”

Inspired by almost improbable natural beauty and delighted that wilderness and modern civilization still can exist side-by-side; new arrivals often discover hidden aspects of themselves. Then, charged by fresh energy, they plunge into activities they had not dreamed about—or had time for—back in Minnesota or Manhattan—everything from kayaking to massage therapy, art classes to new age workshops and balloon flying over the Verde Valley. “I am humming with new perceptions,” said New England visitor, Elizabeth Nolan. “Images, humbling colors, sights and sounds won’t ever be forgotten.” Adds Georgia from Virginia, “I discovered silence as if I had entered another dimension.”

Truth be known, there is a special energy in Red Rock Country. People call it by many names, ranging from the geological to the mystical, but it is noticeable, and it fuels the creative process. For example, an artist can create in any environment says long-time local artist, Jack Proctor, “even in cities full of pollution, even inside the gray walls of a prison. For me, the shapes and colors of Sedona’s red rock country contain a lifetime of artistic study.”

Speaking of this special energy, renowned gallery owner Jim Ratliff told me years ago, “It can only be used in a positive way. If people use that energy to create something negative, they do not stay around long. They have to go somewhere else. The red rocks spit them right out of here.”

Despite the best efforts of legions of poets, writers, musicians to describe the landscape, it has to be seen to be believed. That is when the fever strikes. “I never want to leave,” stated Holly from Missouri. “But how blessed I have been to have been part this utopia here at all.”

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