Saturday, August 4, 2012

Red Rock Temples

The more you look without searching, the more you see. The giant stone formed by the ebb and flow of a great inland sea  a millennia ago becomes Cleopatra reclining on her headrest. Or if you look again, Lucy is watching Linus play piano on top of the rock. As with constellations, they begin to materialize before your eyes with a little instruction.

To the right of this rock is another wonder, Snoopy stargazing on top of his doghouse, complete with a rock silhouette of the knob of his famous schnozz. "The more I see it the more it looks like Snoopy," says the spiky haired, blue-eyed young man in the restaurant. And it's true.

This exercise in free-association, documented in the wry little guidebook by Barry Friedman, "Hey, What's the name of that Rock?" is part of the experience in Sedona. On day three I nearly drove off the highway (my usual rental car fiasco: feet struggling to reach pedals) as I identified enormous formations on the fly.

The vision, or truth, of the stone varies depending on your perspective, and the amount of time you spend honoring it with your contemplation. As in life, the clearer picture comes into focus with distance and a little relaxation.

Local myth holds that Walt Disney lived in Sedona around 1940, at the base of Thunder Mountain, possibly providing ideas for  Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain in Fantasia. Perhaps the landscape, sun, sky and storms of this timeless place inspired Walt to create what was the radically new art of this classic film.

As I sit outside on the balcony around midnight and watch the lightning crack down across the sky onto these lumbering ancestral forms, I think of Fantasia's Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven. You can see the Sedona sky as Zeus peers down from billowy dark clouds. Vulcan forges lightning bolts which Zeus gleefully aims at the merrymakers below during the sudden, brief storm.

Much of the cartoon landscape in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in Fantasia, showing the sculpting of the planet via an inland sea, looks like Sedona, too. I swear that's Courthouse Butte there in the background!

How they tittered at the park information center when I asked them about a rock formation depicting a certain unmistakable act of lovemaking. These two ladies have been around a bit, with smiling faces and bright eyes, brighter at the mention of this naughty rock.

"Well, we've heard of it but never seen it," one said, then got so flustered when I showed them both a photo (uploaded by some happy Brazilian tourists) that she forgot to give me the recreational pass I'd just purchased. 

It took a 3rd generation local, the lovely Julia at the Amara Spa, to give me the scoop on Blow Job Rock. "The easiest one to remember," she laughs, "and once you see it, you see it everywhere." There it was, hiding in plain view, visible across the alluvial plain from a terrace just above the hotel. Like an Ebbinghaus illusion, it captures my eye and I can't stop looking: Sedona's funniest rock formation.

Much to my surprise (and secret dismay), my Mom (who dreamed of being a pilot when she was a girl) opted for a helicopter flight with Sedona Air Tours, so on our last morning in this amazing place we climbed up into the air in a bright red helicopter piloted by a wonderful, wise septuagenarian. We learned all that we could from him as we flew past Balancing Rock and through enchanted slot canyons, admiring monoliths pulsating with energy, ancient cliff-dwellings, and the awe-inspiring way the mesas meet the sky.

Spending the week with Mom helped me regress to a more child-like point of view, so when I see Balancing Rock I flash on Wile E. Coyote and his timeless search for fulfillment. How we can all relate to his perpetual frustration, despite his beautiful surroundings! If only he and the Road Runner could have sat around a campfire, drank tea and talked about the meaning of life. Not enough drama or fun for a cartoon though. Maybe that dramatic tension is precisely what we need to stay in balance, after all.

Red Rock photos by Barry Friedman
Balancing Rock photo by Linda Sonrisa, battling vertigo!