One of the subtle nuances that is part of driving a stylish convertible Mini Cooper half way across the country is that eventually you have to drive it back.  Well, I suppose that’s not strictly true as it is possible to sell the car to a complete stranger and use some of the proceeds to purchase a plane ticket back, but that didn’t seem right after the heart bond that ultimately manifested while sharing the adventures — man and automobile — that we have shared on our way from Dallas, TX to Moss Beach, CA a few months before.

Our Mini packed, we carefully plan our route back home to Dallas and identify severe flash flood warnings in northern Arizona.

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This is an excerpt from the NOAA that day:

Urgent – immediate broadcast requested flood watch national weather service flagstaff az [..]  …flash flood watch now in effect through Tuesday evening… the flash flood watch is now in effect for …most of coconino county…and far northern apache and navajo counties. [..] very high amounts of monsoon moisture will combine with a passing trough to bring the threat for heavy rain [..] storms will be capable of rainfall rates exceeding one inch per hour.”

As adventure seekers, we decide to tent camp there… in Sedona, Arizona.

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For those readers who know me, I have had to let my travel hat go.  It has been with me for a decade from the floor of jungles in Laos to the top of the Mayan pyramids in Belize.  I went online and found a 6″ Brim Crown Gus hat with Guatemalan standard palm at Sun Body Hats in Houston.  I’m taking it out for a first adventure and I’m a tad apprehensive.  Will this hat be THE hat?  I don’t know. Like the Mini, the bond must be natural and unforced.

The fist part of our journey we drive south along Highway 101 through the rolling hills along the Salinas River in central California with the Santa Lucia mountain range between us and the Pacific.  We drive through San Miguel, Paso Robles, San Louis Obispo, Pismo Beach, and finally to Santa Yenez.  This stretch used to be the trail El Camino Real between the Spanish missions dotted along the road, a day’s ride between each from San Diego to San Francisco.

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We visit some family and then make our way to Thousand Oaks to meet with FBI agent Anne and her family.  Anne, who visibly carries a gun on her hip and who seems to enjoy taking off the safety when asking me about my personal background or recreational vices, is the long time friend and college roommate of my travel companion.  We spend the evening and then make our way to Los Angeles.

Here in Los Angeles, including Hollywood and West LA, income inequality is very real and very rampant.  It is not just populist campaign rhetoric of the left.  It is due to an eroding middle class that is unfortuantely not as good looking as the upper class.  Worse, the 99% in Los Angeles cannot sing and dance as well as the one-percenters.  A few make it through and eventually get on camera but it’s a real problem for a majority of the American People in this region.   I heard that a well known California congresswoman is running for reelection by promising tax-payer funded means-tested free acting classes.

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We pick up two more travel team members along the way.  These young women have been following the blog and adventures over the years and it’s with a bit of religious fervor that they decide to pack up, sell their belongings, and join our journey across the United States.

Tay is an artist and an expert in hieroglyphics and ancient iconography.  She could be useful on this trip as we drive through ancient grounds of the Hopi, Navajo, Apache, and Arapaho’s.

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Michaela is a fashion and cultural travel expert.  She will be very handy in selecting the appropriate travel wear for the different environmental settings along the way.  I’m nervous her letting me keep the hat.

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It is a long drive and we make Phoenix around  8 o’clock that evening.  We decide on dinner before continuing to our camp site in Sedona.  We go to Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana.  This is an excellent place with a real Italian wood stove and their pizza is certified by the V.P.N Verace Pizza Napoletana and the A.P.N. Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletan.

No, I didn’t know that pizza could be certified but having been to Naples I am sure any reason to create more bureaucracy in this Italian region is considered a good thing by government and regulatory officials.  We ordered the Bufala Verace S.T.G. which was excellent.  The owner or manager there even brought us out some unique lemon cello on the house.

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Very close to where we were eating the very last stage coach robbery happened in 1899.   Fantastically, the stage coach robber armed with a .38 revolver was a good looking 28 year old girl!

Her name was Pearl Hart.  She and an acquaintance of hers — a man named Boots — were working a claim he had.  They were looking for silver.  They didn’t find any.  So, they decided to rob the Globe to Florence Arizona stage coach instead.  She cut her hair and they ambushed the stage coach at a watering hole.  Hart got $431.20 and two firearms.  She handed a dollar back to each passenger, took the driver’s revolver, and galloped away.  They were finally caught by a posse while they slept.  Because she was a girl, they put her in a temporary jail separated from the male inmates.  It had plaster walls.  She made an 18 inch hole in the wall and escaped.   She was later caught and put in a better jail.  At trial she said she needed the money to go see her mother.  The jury acquitted her and Boot to a flabbergasted judge.  The pair were immediately arrested again, this time for tampering with U.S. mail.  Both were found guilty. Boot got 30 years and the more attractive and younger Pearl got 5 years.  She became a celebrity and was endlessly interviewed by the press who sensationalized her.  The Arizona governor pardoned her after two years.  She joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and owned a cigar shop in Kansas City where she was arrested for receiving stolen goods.  The jury acquitted her on that one, too.

It’s now getting late and we have a 2 hour drive to our camp ground in Oak Creek Canyon.  There are several along the stream and we are looking to stay at a walk-in site called Manzanita Campground.  It’s a long drive in the dark and it begins to rain.  I call ahead to the 24 hour reservation line run by the U.S. government —  There’s an 800 number as well. As much as I lean towards the side of less-is-more when it comes to governments of any country, I have to say that I found the folks on line extremely helpful and, dare I say it, courteous.  They obviously missed the mandatory training done by IRS recruits.  And even more incredulous, the website works and probably cost a bit less than a recently released government self-service site I won’t mention.

It turns out camping along side a creek on Federally sponsored camp grounds during a NOAA severe weather hazard alert is frowned upon.  My trained eye notices that my travel companion, who drove the entire leg of this journey, is getting a tad cranky.  Our headlights reflect  turn signs on highway 17 going north from Phoenix like Dead Man Mesa and Bloody Basin.

We decided to make camp at one of the Kimpton properties — the Amara Resort in Sedona.  The rooms were spacious and we had no trouble pitching our tent for our first night camping in the wilderness of Arizona.

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As all Kimptons, this is a great hotel and the food is fantastic.  Sedona is a must visit place with its red sandstone formations that are remarkable. Sedona has also become a New Age destination.  It is known for its vortexes.  According to metaphysical experts, vortexes in Sedona are swirling centers of energy.  These vortexes are well-known in crystal-hugging-flute-playing circles.  The energy, they say, resonates with the Inner Being of each person that comes within a quarter mile of it.  The resonance operates very similarly to the energy centers in each person.  There is even a map of the vortexes in Sedona and guided tours.  Here’s some headlines from one of the quides — Sedona Spiritual Vacations — blog sites:

Friends:  “This was a very special Sedona Vortex day when my inner child and the client’s inner child became friends.”

The Elephant:  “That’s right, an elephant!  Came right out of a slit in the air.  Even I was blown away.”

The Fairy People:  “A special and talented singer’s dance with the Fairy People.  Wow!”

There are more.  And this is only one of many vortex guides.”

Of course we decided to go on one of these vortex hikes — to the Secret Mountain.  We pack and bring plenty of water.  I also put on my new hat still a bit nervous in front of the travel-ware expert now part of our team.

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The trail and hike were beautiful.  A man who was previously playing a flute handed us each a heart shaped piece of sandstone and explained that only our imaginations were between us and the meaning and power of these palm sized stones.

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In the photo below my travel companion begins to feel the effects of the vortex.

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It might have been the energy of the vortex, or the simple beauty of the Sedona landscape, or it could be the special bond I began to share with my new hat. Whatever it was, we decided then to start a techno-banjo band called the Hearts Of Stone.  Here’s the album cover below:

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It was a gorgeous hike and we made for the car and a vegetarian lunch in Sedona at a nice place called the Field Organic Restaurant.  That said, it was a little hard to get my travel companion in the car after being vortex-ed.

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The next day we left for New Mexico, oblivious of the adventure that lie ahead.