Vision Quest to Shaman’s Cave in Coconino National Forest


While listening to the Lewis Howe’s School of Greatness Podcast episode 220 on 8/27/2015 called Find Your Vision, I had a moment of motivation to take action.  Lewis opens the podcast by quoting Oprah Winfrey “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”  Lewis goes on to discuss the Native American tradition of “vision quests” and how to find your vision a.k.a. your greater purpose in life.

In 2015, I have been struggling with a down year in poker.  I moved to Las Vegas after living in Hawaii for fifteen years.  It has been quite the transition and my bankroll has suffered from a final table drought.  I am now praying for rain.  I am looking for a vision, a higher purpose besides just making money to live and pay bills.  Poker has been my means the past two years. It has been a blessing and provided the happiness and freedom I always dreamed of.  I am wondering if there is something else out there that can provide the same.

After I listened to the podcast I researched Native American vision quests. I was able to pull up the following information on the Lakota tradition of a vision quest. It was taken from wikipedia so it is probably not 100% accurate but it provided a good model to base my vision quest on:

“The Lakota Sioux word for vision quest is Hembleciya (ham-blay-che-ya). The word Hembleciya translates to “Crying for a Dream.” This refers to the “quester” both physically and internally crying for a Vision or Sacred Dream. Sometimes this ceremony is called “going up on the hill,” because people would often go to a nearby mountain or butte to complete their vision quest.

Typically the quest is completed deep in nature, far away from civilization. At times it can be done closer to where people live, but located in a pit dug deep into the ground. The person on the vision quest either chooses or is told the location for their quest. They are also instructed in all preparations and on how many days and nights the quest will last by a Medicine Person(aka Holy Person). This Medicine Person will guide the quester in all aspects of the ceremony and provide spiritual support and guidance.

Before a vision quest is started the quester is purified in a sweat lodge, often over many days. On the day of the quest they start their fast at sunrise. They also forgo sleep and food. They give up all that it takes to live in the physical world and rely on the strength of spirit to sustain them for the duration of the quest.

The quester is purified one last time in a sweat lodge ceremony and then taken to the designated place of the quest. There they will stay without food, water or sleep for one to four nights. During this time the person focuses their heart, mind, body, and spirit on the guidance they are seeking. They must overcome their earthly wants and desires and face their human nature to fully receive the Vision.

Upon completion of the quest they are brought back to a sweat lodge. There, the quester speaks of his or her experience to a Medicine Person who provides spiritual guidance and interpretation of the Vision.”

After reading this, I thought of the perfect location in Sedona, Arizona to use as my vision quest site.  A place called Shaman’s Cave.   I had never went on the hike that takes you to the cave on my previous trips to Sedona.  I learned about the cave from reading the book “Call of Sedona by Ilchi Lee”.  The following is a section on Shaman’s Cave from his book in which he describes the cave and the spiritual practices that were held there:

“Shamans cave is said to be a place where Native Americans who were Chiefs or high priests  practiced spiritual rituals. These people would stay here for several days, fasting and receiving insight from the spirits of nature as to whether or not they were qualified to lead their tribe.  When the tribe faced great difficulty, such as drought, war or illness, they would come to this place, burn mystical plants and sing and dance as they sought answers from mother nature.

This place is not widely known to tourists, so there’s not much human traffic here. When I first came here, I felt that the cave refuse people. If you come with a group, you may not notice, but there are probably people who would feel afraid if they were to enter the cave alone. I once came below this cave on horseback, but the horse was afraid and would not go up past a certain point.”

This would be the perfect location. To prepare for the vision quest, I would purify my body by hitting the sauna heavily four days prior to the trip, as a substitute for the sweat lodge tradition.  I would also refrain from smoking pot and drinking alcohol during this time. I planned on camping at my usual spot in the wilderness of Sedona off of Forest Road 152C the first night.  I would then hike to the cave in the afternoon the following day, setting up camp and beginning the vision quest.  I chose to go down Sunday 9/27 so that I would be at the cave for the full moon.  In Mr. Lee’s book he says the “On the night of a full moon, Shaman’s Cave becomes filled with sacred energy.”  I was ready to see it in person.

The sauna purification and not smoking worked out well and I left for Sedona that Sunday around 3:30pm.  As I drove down to Sedona, I was able to watch the lunar eclipse of the supermoon.  It was a great way to start off the trip.  I made it to Sedona, grabbed some firewood for my campsite in the wilderness and got setup around 10pm.  I lit a fire and ceremoniously kicked off the vision quest. I planned on hiking Boynton Canyon Vista trail in the morning then heading to the cave in the afternoon.  My plan was to fast from food from sunrise but allow myself water to avoid dehydration.  

The morning came and I packed up the wilderness campsite and headed to Boynton Canyon.  Modern day mystics believe the vista trail leads up to a so called “vortex”, a sort of energy field emanating from inner earth. The Boynton Canyon vista trail is my favorite hike in Sedona. I love sitting on the east side of the rock formation and meditating as the sun rises over the mountains in the distance.  

boyton canyon kachina 7-27-15

  I arrived at the end of the vista trail and did my usual meditations in the sun on the east face of the rock. Once finished, I went to the west face of the formation to cool off in the shade. As I sat there I looked on the ground and noticed a mushroom cap laying there.  I did a double take and picked it up and confirmed that it was a psychedelic mushroom.  I was not planning on doing psychedelics or even smoking pot on this trip, although I did bring some pakalolo for the return. I felt like the universe was telling me that I found this mushroom for a reason.  That it should be used as a tool, to help enhance my vision quest. I thanked the universe and put it in my bag to take with me to Shaman’s Cave.  I figured if I didn’t receive a vision I would induce one.  To say the least I was tripping, not literally, that would come later. I don’t usually do drugs I find on the ground, but when found at a vortex in Sedona and camping at a place called Shaman’s Cave, it was meant to be taken.  


After I left Boynton Canyon I decided I would get one last sweat in before the quest, then cool off with a quick bathe in Oak Creek.  I couldn’t find a sauna so I used my truck, turning the heat to full blast while keeping the windows up during the daytime in Arizona works well as a dry heat sauna.  I worked up a sweat then walked to one of the spots where you can swim at Oak Creek. After cooling off I was ready to find the cave.  

 I followed the directions I had to the cave.  The cave is about 15 to 20 miles down forest roads from West Sedona in the Coconino National Forest.  The forest roads are dirt roads that range from “easy, two wheel drive rated” to “extreme, not advisable for novice drivers”.  The specific roads I took were of the moderate to difficult range. This area of Coconino National Forest is a great place to bring your off-road vehicle.  I had just painted my truck cap prior to this trip and the Toyo wanted to show off on the way to the cave.  


After navigating the last and rockiest forest road, I arrived at what appeared to be a trailhead.  The trail began going down a hill, with a section of it seen in the distance heading back up and around the small mountain.  My trail guide confirmed this was the trail and I packed up my camping gear and got ready to find the cave.  I had a sense of nervousness and a little bit of fear of the unknown terrain. This was the first time I was on this trail and I was so far down the forest road there was nothing for miles.  The stillness of the trail head setting was eerie.  I could definitely sense that this was a sacred place.  

As you begin to approach the cave you have to walk across a narrow ledge along side of the mountain. The ledge drops off the side of the mountain which makes access to the cave pretty dangerous if you’re not sure footed.  I took a video of the ledge and my initial approach to the cave. It was quite an amazing sight to see for the first time.

Once I arrived in the cave I took in the awe of my surroundings. I unloaded my gear and then burned sage in the cave to cleanse any negative energy there and bless my stay at the cave. There were random items left at the cave such as a watermelon and an onion placed on each side the steps to the cave entrance. There were also some 9mm rounds of ammunition and a rolled tobacco cigarette, half smoked. I am not sure of their significance, if any. 

I found a great spot to setup my “fast pitch” tent, which I really didn’t need but wanted to setup anyway. While I was setting up the tent I was greeted by a couple from Scotland.  They had heard about the cave and came to check out. They were very nice and told me that they explore abandoned historic sites in Scotland.  I told them about my poker career and the vision quest I was on and we exchanged websites.  I definitely want to explore Scotland in the future. They said they’ve been to abandoned asylums and castles that were pretty spooky.  

Below are pictures of what the cave looks like standing on the inside and looking out to the horizon with Secret Mountain in the distance.  Standing there I felt like a Native American chief overlooking the land he ruled, contemplating the next move.   



After my camp was setup, I settled into to meditate during the sunset and moon rise.  I took out the star gazing app on my iphone and located the path of the moon rise.  It would be directly in front of the cave over Secret Mountain.  I lit nag champa inscents, the inscents are great for camping as they help keep the flying insects away. I noted there were a bunch of honey bees flying around.  Their buzzing sound was reverberated by the cave. I set the mood further by playing a calm meditation music playlist on my ipod.  This playlist includes some Native American songs that may have pleased the Native American spirits of the cave.  Watch the video clips below to feel the mood of the cave that night.  The sounds of the wilderness and the way the cave made sound reverb created a pleasant sounding ambiance.  


After the moon rose, the cave lit up from the moonlight.  I would light a fire once the moon got past a certain point in the sky so I could take full advantage of the sacred moonlight. After my first meditation I was inspired and affirmed the vision I had been contemplating.  I had another idea for a custom license plate for the Toyo that is similar to the G-POKER ride.  After saying a few newly motivated affirmations I felt complete and ready to experience the cave in a different light.  I decided I would take the psychedelic mushroom I had found earlier in the day at the Boynton Canyon vortex.  I ingested the mushroom and after fasting all day I knew it would have some effect.  There was also a small possibility that I was wrong about the type of mushroom it was and I could die but I wasn’t tripping over that. I knew 100% what it was, I just wasn’t sure the effects it would have.  Shortly after eating the shroom, I lit a small fire in the cave and decided to roll a joint.  I was starting to feel the effects of the mushroom and ganja is the perfect pairing.  My mind was about to be expanded.

It wasn’t until after I ate the mushroom and lit the fire that I noticed the petroglyphs on the cave walls.  I was amazed when I looked up to the cave wall while sitting near the fire and noticed the zig zag line in white going across the wall.  From my past visit to Palataki Indian Ruin and seeing similar petroglyphs I felt like I knew what this one was. It was possibly a depiction of the mountain ridge line in the distance.  The ancient people could use this as a calendar as the sun and moon would rise over different points over the horizon / ridge line at different times of year.  You will note from the moon rising video clip the moon peaking over the mountain ridge line.  Interpreting this petroglyph, seemed like a direct effect from ingesting the mushroom.  As the mushroom kicked in I started to notice more and more markings on the wall.  I felt as if each one I explored was telling me a different story.  Messages were randomly popping into my head.  


 The cave is also known as Robbers Roost, as it is said to be an old hideout for outlaws back in the late 1800s, early 1900s.  When I recalled this name for the cave during the mushroom trip I got a vision of outlaws arguing at the cave, fighting and eventually murdering one of them.  I had to block that story out and think more about the positive spirits that once occupied the cave. I had a feeling that I wasn’t alone in the cave and that the mushroom had taken me into the spirit realm.  The spirit realm is what I call the trance like state of consciousness you enter when on a psychedelic that opens up your senses to perceiving various forms of energy. This feeling became even stronger when I seen a photo on my camera of the cave that I took just before the battery went dead.  The picture flashed on the camera’s preview screen and I could see a ton of translucent “white energy orbs” thru out the picture.  Experts in the field of paranormal activity know “orbs” to be depictions of paranormal energy when seen in a photograph.  Below is the picture as well as another pic showing the orbs along the top of the cave wall.  Note when you see the pic below on the camera preview screen the white orbs stand out greater. 



Below are some pictures of possible petroglyphs.  The one below of the white zig zag line has been described already but not the black sun looking one in the right top corner of picture.  A closeup of the black sun follows.  I am not sure if someone drew this recently or if its authentic.  It might not be a sun either, it could depict a vortex spiral or even an eye in the center of a vortex.  There were other black markings along the cave.  Can you find the alien head?



The picture below shows some markings next to the circular hole / window on its right hand side.  There is a clearly marked S. I cannot make sense of the black marking next to it.  There also appears to be a black diamond or arrow to the right.


The black wiggle below was to the right of the window as well.  You can note the black marking shown in above picture on the picture below in the bottom left corner.


Three black markings that appear to be animals.  Again not sure if the black markings are real petroglyphs or vandalism.


A picture of the cave taken just after sunrise thru the hole.  It shows the shadow of the cave on the interior wall.  Also notice the position of the three black markings shown above.


Below is a picture of what I thought looked like the island of Oahu with Maui and Kauai next to it.  There is a true story of a Master Kahuna. David Kaonohiokala Bray aka Daddy Bray, who connected to the Hopis in 1950s discovering that the Hopi and the Hawaiians have the same sacred chants and that shamans were sent out to find an island that was there brother, which is said to be the islands of Hawaii. Hopi inhabited this area and most likely used this cave.  Could this be where Hopi shaman’s had those visions of the Hawaiian Islands and carved them onto the walls?  The beauty of the markings is that there is no right or wrong answer.  Any story you create to explain could be valid.  No one will ever know the true meaning.  Interpretation is left up to the imagination.


After seeing the orb picture with the tent and fire in it, paranoia started to creep into my mind. I had to block it out and remind myself of positive thoughts.  I didn’t feel alone, I had a vision I was in a cave full of Chiefs & High Priests from different time periods that used the cave.  Over the thousands of years the cave has been there, I’m sure it has been used by the various inhabitants of the region.  At one point, I actually thought to myself, what if the Native American music I was playing offended a spirit from another tribe.  It was quite silly and definitely an effect of the hallucinogens. That is when I decided to lay down to try and sleep.   

After battling with paranoia about bugs, mainly scorpions and tarantulas, I finally fell asleep.  I had a strange dream of a friend of mine and his son playing with a basketball with the background blacked out.  The setting flashed for a minute then went away, I then awoke saying the word Oprah, but saying it more like two words Op, Rahhhhhhhhh and drawing out the rah part.  I’m not sure what this means, it could possibly be one of the visions I was meant to receive.  After this awakening, I arose to a beautiful twilight of the sunrise below the horizon and ridgeline.


The sun came up over the beautiful mountains and lit up the cave. It was quite interesting when the sun rose, it did so in the same spot the moon had.  This made sense as we had just experienced a total lunar eclipse Sunday night.  It was as if the universe had taught me a lesson on celestial bodies’ movement in space.

To my surprise, I was greeted by two other hikers unexpectedly who were coming to the cave to view the sunrise.  I didn’t expect them but I embraced there prescence.  After they left, I stayed awhile longer to meditate in the sunrise. I then packed up my camp and gathered my belongings, said good bye to the cave and thanked it for its shelter.



Sunrise thru the puka

One observation I noted during my stay at the cave, was the frequent passing by of jet planes in the sky.  They would leave there jet cloud mist “chem-trail” in a pattern that resembled the way an american football field is marked.  There was one trail I noted that ran parallel with the horizon and when it was first made by the plane, intersected the moon.  As time passed the chem-trail gave me perspective as to how fast the moon was moving up in the sky.  I snapped a picture of the chem-trails as I left the trailhead in the morning.


As I left the cave and returned to where my truck was parked, I felt like I had just experienced something special.  The cave left me inspired.  I drove back to Las Vegas that night and stumbled upon some Terence McKenna audio tapes on youtube.  For those not famiilar with Terence, he experimented heavily with pyschadelics and documented his findings.  Since I had just experienced a mushroom trip in the coolest spot imaginable, I figure I would easily relate to his recordings.  Sure enough I found something relevant.  I included a section of one of his workshops, in which he talks about language.  I found it interesting to listen to this subject after what I just experienced in the cave that night with the petroglyphs.  I feel like I tapped into an ancient wisdom that stimulates the imagination in the most mysterious way.  The door had been opened up to a whole new realm of exploration.  I would like to discover more of these ancient civilization sites around the world and continue to document the experience.  I look forward to the next trip. 

Mahalo for taking the time to share in my adventure.  I hope this has inspired you to discover nature and the profound, mysterious beauty she can provide.   

Aloha,   Shaun Suller


Mckenna recording taken from the following youtube post: