On the Road to Sedona

A cleans­ing jour­ney for mother and son


We were about to em­bark on an ad­ven­ture of a life­time, and I was imag­in­ing how silly it could be: my 13-year-old son Ai­den scream­ing out of the win­dow, his hair bil­low­ing in the wind and my­self at the wheel, point­ing at the cacti ridi­cul­ing us with their in­ap­pro­pri­ate poses. I had laughed at that thought while pack­ing for the sum­mer’s two-week haul we were about to take from New Mex­ico to Cal­i­for­nia.

Ac­tu­ally, my son and I are silly enough not to need any­thing new to in­duce more crazi­ness, but we had a tough year, and the silly in us had started to seep out as 2017 waned. Things had to change … and maybe this en­vi­ron­ment would do it. There’s some­thing about rocks that tell a lot about a place. So many times dur­ing our trip west my son and I would say re­peat­edly, “Look at that,” while gaz­ing upon some fan­tas­tic rock for­ma­tion in the desert. From the “Gar­den of the Gods,” the bleached-white sand­stone cairns sur­round­ing Santa Fe, New Mex­ico, shift­ing to red tow­ers like Bell Rock in Sedona, Ari­zona, to the gi­ant gray smudges painted across the Mo­have Desert in Cal­i­for­nia, rocks be­came a kind of tal­is­man for us.

Dot­ted around th­ese rocks are cacti and ju­nipers, con­stantly be­rated by wind and sand, ap­pear­ing un­moved, de­fi­ant to the scorch­ing sun. In Cal­i­for­nia, all that rock sud­denly sub­dues as it be­comes grassy, then turns ser­pen­tine in the vine­yards, be­fore it all plunges into the Pa­cific as a dark­ened ver­sion of its desert self.

While driv­ing from Santa Fe to Sedona, we paused at the Pet­ri­fied For­est Na­tional Park, but as the light was fad­ing, we hur­ried back to the high­way. It didn’t take long be­fore anx­i­ety set in. “I’m lost. We’re lost. What the hell is this road?” I asked, des­per­ately try­ing to un­der­stand Siri’s di­rec­tions. We were south on U.S. Route 89A, ap­par­ently the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, which had turned from as­phalt to gravel and dirt.

“Mom, calm down. You’re al­ways freak­ing out,” said Ai­den. “Why do you have to make things so dif­fi­cult?”

This was the ques­tion that brought out the year’s undis­cussed bit­ter­ness be­tween us: the move to Florida, a new school, a new job, a mother as a teacher and a son as a stu­dent, new peers, new friends, and a whole set of new ex­pec­ta­tions. I said some ter­ri­ble things as we drove along, and he did, too. We cried, we for­gave, and we hugged. I prayed through the night that the new day would set a new tone for the rest of the trip.

That day brought us to Cathe­dral Rock near Sedona, where Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s blue skies meet si­enna sand­stones pulled forth like di­vine threads from the desert floor. As the trail as­cended steeply be­side tight ledges be­fore open­ing up to the view, Ai­den was vis­i­bly tired and out of breath. I had more fierce­ness in me to hike higher. I told him to wait be­low at the lower sum­mit, but he said, “No, mom, I’m go­ing with you.”

We climbed over a deep crevice and re­lied on the few toe­holds notched into the rock to help us as­cend. There un­der the af­ter­noon sun, upon a bald rock, we hugged while

We hit the swim­ming hole be­side the rock and swam for as long as our body tem­per­a­tures could take it.

pant­ing and our hearts rac­ing. “You did it,” I said to him. “I’m so proud of you.”

I was so proud of him for not let­ting me dis­suade him but push­ing him­self of his own ac­cord. Our in­de­pen­dent mo­ti­va­tions to climb this rock re­flected the need to ad­just our ex­pec­ta­tions with each other back home.

We waited a bit, then be­gan the de­scent. We hit the swim­ming hole be­side the rock and swam for as long as our body tem­per­a­tures could take it. Shiver­ing slightly in wet clothes, I picked up a red rock, heated from the sun, and handed it to Ai­den to help warm him­self up. The rock re­tained its heat through the evening, as if it held some magic power. This rock sits upon my dresser now, along with oth­ers col­lected in the desert, and al­though this one is now dark­ened and cold, I re­mem­ber it was part of the mo­ment we re­claimed our re­la­tion­ship: dif­fer­ent, in­de­pen­dent, but al­ways mother and son … on the road to Sedona.

The land­scape of the Amer­i­can South­west was a dra­matic back­drop for this mother-son jour­ney.

The author, Paula Michele Bo­lado, and her son, Ai­den, on their road trip through the South­west.

Left, the author and her son dur­ing their trip to Sedona, Ari­zona (bot­tom photo).

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