October 2005

The Faux West

By David Feela

Rodeo Days reminds us that the West is not only a tourist attraction but also a celebration of tradition for folks in Cortez. A law firm in Durango may have “partners,” but we still call them “pardners.” Irritants may get on people’s nerves but around here, burrs get under our saddles. Spurs and chaps, cowboy hats and belt buckles – the accessories for holding out against a new frontier.

This is the case, sometimes to the extreme, in the Faux West, places where tourists flock to mix up the old with the new. And the most faux, faux away location I’ve encountered since moving west of the Mississippi is Sedona, Ariz. I know. I’ve been there, once in 1976, and then just a month ago. Lucky I only had to draw on my credit card twice. A tourist guide oriented us by discussing the three regions we’d encounter in Sedona: Uptown, West Sedona, and the Village of Oak Creek, where our B&B was located. She called ahead to check directions. On a map she pointed to an important intersection where 89A and Highway 179 divided. I asked, “where?” She said, “Y.” I asked, “Y?” and she drew an “X” on the map at a spot referred to as the “Y.” Since we were searching for a place to sleep, I figured our guide was proposing that X plus Y would equal a few Zs. She was right. We pulled in at the Cozy Cactus. Its name prickled the hairs at the back of my neck, but what attracted me was how my Cactus bed had back-door access to some of the 1.8 million acres of national-forest land. If we stepped off the patio and climbed through a ready-made opening in the fence, we’d be playing footsie with the wilderness.

After unpacking we visited the uptown district, a Faux West at its best, or worst, depending on where you take your stand.

Uptown operates under the notion that it’s still the late 1800s. Places like the Western Trading Post, Mesquite Grill, Hitching Post Restaurant, Stage Coach Emporium, and Olde Tyme Photo Works testify to a veneer of Old West fantasy.

I expected to see a sheriff amble out of a saloon when a man packing a cell phone on his hip bumped into me as he stepped out to the street. I glanced at the shop sign: The Hummer Store? We went in opposite directions. I counted 20 paces, glanced behind me, but he must have been occupied in his mind, polishing chrome.

We’d planned on hiking to the Boynton Canyon Vortex, one of four local vortexes, spinning like a spur on the west side of Sedona. A vortex has no association with the Old West but is a New Age phenomenon where psychic rejuvenating energy collects like hairs in a shower drain. The vortex was a simple hike, not even a mile, but we still have not purchased a Red Rock Pass. The pass is required for vehicles parking on the national forest and for parking along access roads that pass through national forest, and probably for peeing at the side of the road. Twenty dollars gets you a year of access, $5 gets you a day.

People say that’s reasonable, but it strikes me as a way to disguise an additional day-use fee. There’s an entire page in the Forest Service’s “Recreation Guide to Your National Forest” justifying the fee, telling readers that 17 percent of the revenue went for the cost of collection. If my aloud if the twisted juniper growing near our septic tank in Cortez is also a sign of vortex activity. I told her, no, it’s probably from flushing the toilet too much.

That evening, we decided to see the national forest on the other side of our fence, where the ancient rock formations persist despite New Age thinking. Bell Rock is so perfectly contoured, its shape repeats its name. But it’s Castle Rock where we decided to climb. On a small promontory we stopped for a breather and to look at the landscape we’d just climbed above. And that’s when I saw it so clearly, the line that explained everything about the old and the new, a line defined by a simple wire fence with a series of Forest Service signs: Healing in Progress.

A mile below us it looked as if the Village of Oak Creek’s tide of development had hit an indestructible, wire wall. On the opposite side of the fence, national-forest land luxuriously stretched.

It was, and still is, a duel: two ways of life squaring off to see which one will survive.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.