Seeking peace in Sedona

Sunday, July 28, 2002

SEDONA, Ariz. -- Emir Bjelajac's skin was raw from months of hitchhiking. Beside the clothes he was wearing and a watch that had broken months before, he didn't have much by the time he got here.

But as Bjelajac took a drag from a cigarette that was no longer lit, he said he was happier than he had ever been.

He said he came to Sedona seeking peace of mind but found much more. After sleeping under a tree off Sedona's main drag for two days, Bjelajac's watch started ticking again, he said, thanks to the majestic powers of the land.

About 4 million people travel to Sedona's Red Rock Country every year, enticed by its majestic limestone and sandstone cliffs and mesas. Many, like Bjelajac, also come searching for something more -- inspiration, enlightenment and renewal that New Age devotees say comes from local vortex sites, areas said to possess energy.

"Energy is created by belief," Bjelajac says. "When people believe in something it happens."

New Agers say there are four primary vortex sites in the area -- Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, Cathedral Rock and Airport Mesa -- and each provides something different, from helping with decision making, to enhancing intuitive and artistic qualities, to making old memories surface.

"It's very much about what you bring to it as far as what you will receive," says Star Prairie, 50, of nearby Cottonwood.

New Agers say there are other vortexes around the world, such as Stonehenge in England, California's Mount Shasta and the Bermuda Triangle.

But in this city of 7,500 nestled in a canyon where women read auras for $33.50 behind curtains of purple beads, where there is a surplus of psychics, and coffee shop chatter deals with meditation and the latest UFO sighting, it still takes more than the ticking of a faulty watch and fervent testimonials to convince everyone.

"I believe in all kinds of metaphysical things, but I don't believe that the rock itself has this mystical swirling within that changes anything," says Thom Stanley, editor of Sedona Excentric, a satirical publication.

Sedona is oozing with people living on the fringe of reality, Stanley says.

"They still jump out of tie-dyed VW buses and say 'Where's the vortex, dude?"' Stanley says. "People are just searching for something, and if they want to find it in a vortex I have three in my house and they have three handles and you flush them and the vortex goes around and around."

Alicia Lyons, 38, says she's heard of strange things happening at the purported vortex sites, such as people lying there naked.

"I believe they exist, but whether I believe they have powers, that's another story," says Lyons, who has lived in Sedona for a year.

Believers say many people are skeptical because no technology exists to scientifically prove vortexes are real.

But scientists across the world concede there may be high-energy fields even though they cannot yet be measured, says Pete Sanders, founder of Sedona-based Free Soul, a self-described education program designed to help people explore their potential for "psychic perception."

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