Roaming Southwest – Arizona Ghosts and Vortexes

I craved that bit of land full of desert plains, dusty roads, and mountain views. Despite my endless love of the Southwest, I don’t make it out there very often. My mom and brother set off for a month to tackle the region, a trend that has become more common each year. The need to wander runs deep in our blood.

I only had 5 nights to join my family on their journey, but that can feel a lot longer when you’re going from place to place. At the airport before my solo flight to Phoenix, I relished that beautiful place when you’re in between home and away. There’s power in that limbo. I got to Arizona late that night and greeted the warm, crisp desert air with enthusiasm. Sleeping that night at an airport-area Motel 6 was easy and free.

2Early in the morning we jetted off towards Sedona, a quiet town with incredible red-sand mountains surrounding it. Mom’s rented SUV tore up our frequent side trips down dirt road with power and ease. Staying “on track” is relative when your gut keeps pulling you off the highway. “Bumble Bee”, a ghost town with a population of just 11, boasted little to see besides a few sleepy houses and a nice woman walking her dog who informed us that there was nowhere to buy coffee for at least 20 miles. My mother held the steering wheel with one hand and her Nikon camera with the other, snapping photos from the side as the car struggled to hug the center of the lane.

“Could you please watch the road?”

“I’m watching it through my camera lens”

37En route to the Jerome Ghost Town was Acosanti, a place my grandparents passed through nearly 70 years ago and purchased a hanging brass bell for their yard. The town is no longer, but an “urban lab” attracting students and interns to study architecture, art, and science remains. They still sell brass bells, in tints of orange and mint that hang on metal hooks in the silent sunshine.


Brass bells in Arcosanti

The final side trip of the day was to Jerome. We thought it was going to be more than a roadside ghost town, but a buzzing area full of shops and restaurants emerged instead. Jerome sat tucked into a hillside and was accessed by a skinny winding road with plenty of blind curves. It was sprinkled with art shops, scattered ruins, and one local BBQ shop called Bobby D’s with the best sauce-drenched ribs and brisket on earth.37381718192223

The streets were easy to wander, with the scent of food cooking and the chatter of locals. We stumbled upon a small nameless store with the owner sitting outside crocheting.

“My shop has no name. It’s the shop next to that one over there” (points next door).

Some people connect with others instantaneously. This woman (Erica) was one of those. We talked about our travels and she decided to gift us each a tarot card (selected without looking) from a collection she had gathered over several years. My mother pulled the “traveler” card. Erica asked my mother what her “psychic ability” was, as if having one was presumed. It was an eerie energy that urged me to linger, contemplating the idea of “natural instincts” and our tendency to stifle them. I think she had a clarity that most of us don’t. It haunted me a bit.

2627282932362533That night in Sedona we ate through a hearty plate of food at Elote Cafe—juicy cuts of meat with tangy mole sauce, fresh warm tortillas, and margaritas with orange liquor and lime. I was drowning in tequila drenched flavor and floating into a travel fog. The next morning would start early with a walk to the Airport Mesa Vortex, a natural energy center that is supposed to make you feel invigorated. I drifted to sleep dreaming of feeling the vortex and eating more tortillas simultaneously.

Abandoned shop, en route to Sedona
Abandoned shop, en route to Sedona
Sedona, bright just before sunset


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