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The region known as the Verde Valley, including Sedona, Arizona, lies just off Highway 17 on the well-worn path north to the Grand Canyon. The stunning red rock formations are enough to draw visitors to this section of the country, but there's also more to see and do.

Sedona has something very few places on earth can claim: the mysterious and not-so-easy-to-explain vortex. So what exactly is a vortex? It's a place of extraordinary concentrations of electromagnetic activity coming from inside the earth. The vortex, believers assert, is a place of healing, insight, and empowerment. Others say this unique brand of energy can stimulate mental or creative activity. Not coincidentally, Sedona is home to a large number of artists. The area claims at least four major vortices.

The new age movement was not the first to recognize the significance of these rare "power points." In fact, centuries before the new age concept, Native Americans considered the special earth energy around red rock country to be sacred ground. Whether you believe or not, vortices add appeal to an area certainly worth exploring. Taking to the open road is the best way to view the formations and search for power points. Around every curve, you'll want to pull over and grab the camera.

As you ponder the natural megaliths poised dramatically against the horizon, it's hard to dismiss the spiritual aspect of these rock creations. More than just sheer size or resplendent color, they appear otherworldly. It's as if someone has devised an elaborate movie set depicting an alien planet and plopped you down right in the middle of it. Apparently, filmmakers over the years have felt the same way. Approximately 65 major motion pictures have been filmed in the area, western movies in particular.

If you're serious about locating a vortex, Sedona has specialized maps and guidebooks that lead to the general area, though the exact spots are not so simple to pin down. Another slight complication is some folks are unable to feel the activity. Instead of energy, visitors often say they experience a profound sensation of serenity at the vortex sites.

Remember, a vortex has no sound, shape, or distinctive markings, but that does not stop people from searching! At least you can say you tried.....here's a hint: Vortex Number 3 is at Airport Mesa.

Wonderful hiking in the Sedona/Oak Creek area can be enjoyed year round because of the moderate climate. Many of the most popular trails are maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and are well marked. If you plan to veer off marked trails, a compass is also a practical item to have along. Sedona lies at an altitude of 4,500 ft., with trails in the canyon even higher, so it's not uncommon to feel a little more "winded" on your first few hikes there.

When your legs give out, enjoy the scenery on a jeep tour. Several companies in Sedona offer these off-road experiences, which keep you bumping and laughing the entire time. Seatbelted in the back of your jeep, you'll be safe, as you bound up river beds and down steep rock inclines. Though not cheap, these tours are well worth the price.

For a spiritual interlude, make a stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It sits on Highway 179, just a few miles from Sedona. The parking area here is a sensational photo spot. After a climb up the serpentine walkway, the little chapel beckons with tranquility and a deep sense of peace.

Designed by Frank Floyd Wright and completed in the mid-1950s, the soaring structure blends contemporary styling with the natural contours of the red rock. No services are held at the chapel, but the views from the location 200 feet above the valley floor are breathtaking. You can pick up a memento from the chapel at a small gift shop located in the lower level.

Our natural world never ceases to amaze, and Sedona is a fine example. The centuries of rain and wind have given us rock formations unlike any other. If you find a vortex, so much the better. If not, you won't go home disappointed. For more information on Sedona and the Verde Valley, phone(520) 282-7722.