Sedona is a magical place. It is a world famous tourist destination known for it’s signature red rock cliffs, new-age vibe and artist community. People from all over the world have made a visit to Sedona’s “Red Rock Country” part of their travel bucket-list.
Sedona was originally homesteaded back in 1876 by JJ Thompson when he claimed squatters rights to land across from today’s Indian Gardens Store. Just a year prior, scouts from Fort Verde (Camp Verde) were still chasing Tonto Apache through this rugged wilderness. As people began to move in to the valley, the need arose for a Post Office. Many of the original names for the Post Office were turned down because they were deemed too long by the government, and so the area was named after TC Schnebly’s wife….Sedona…because it was short enough to fit on a stamp.
I wasn’t originally planning a trip up north, but when I got a call that I was needed on a job site in Sedona for a mid-week meeting I immediately seized the opportunity to get some hiking in. It’s pretty rough being contractually obligated to visit one of the most beautiful and scenic places on Earth. The call was for an early morning meeting that would last until about noon. So the plan was to do the meeting, grab some lunch and then hike part of the Secret Canyon area. Unfortunately, FR 152 (which in best conditions is still a rugged 4×4 dirt road) was closed and I would either face a long hike in, before I could even get to the trailhead or find another hike.
On a suggestion from some Twitter friends, I stopped by the The Hike House for a map ($15), my Red Rock Pass ($5) and some trail advice (free). They were very knowledgeable and helpful and were able to point to a handful of trail options that were open, accessible and would fit into my time frame. I chose to hike Mund’s Wagon Trail which crawls along Schnebly Hill Road (which was also closed). Looking at the map, I could access Marg’s Draw from a trailhead just blocks away from The Hike House and hike that trail to Mund’s Wagon.
The parking lot for the trailhead was a small gravel patch located a block or so behind a Circle K close to the main road. I parked, organized my gear, strapped on my new Osprey Mutant 38 (thanks Phil!) and headed out. Roads were closed and trail conditions were questionable because Sedona had recently seen a decent amount of snow. However, this day was bright, clear and reasonably warm and there was no snow on the ground where I started. By the time I got to Marg’s Draw, I started to get glimpses of what I would run in to. The soil in Sedona is loose, sandy and has enough clay content that it gets very slippery and muddy when wet. With the previous week’s snow melting, parts of the trail were very slick. Marg’s Draw is a pretty flat, easy trail that meanders through the short, sparse Juniper and Pine forest and offers some very nice views of Mund’s Mountain. It’s a pretty low trail, so the views are limited but that allows you to focus on the immediate scenery. High desert landscape can be very beautiful, especially if you haven’t had much experience with it. Blooming Agave plants, prickly pear and yucca are sprinkled in to the landscape along with Manzanita and sage brush.
Marg’s Draw Trail passes over Schnebly Hill Road where it connects to the Huckaby Trail. Taking a left would head you up Huckaby and along Oak Creek. Mund’s Wagon Trail is to the right and takes you to the main trailhead with parking, picnic tables and an automated kiosk for purchasing your requisite Red Rock Pass. From here, Mund’s Wagon Trail twists through Bear Wallow Canyon along a small creek in an area called Mund’s Mountain Wilderness. The creek was mostly frozen but there was still some moving water under the ice. This trail never really strays too far from Schnebly Hill Road and, in fact, crosses the road several times. The main rock formation along this trail is Mitten Ridge on the north side of the trail which rises above a lower formation called the Cow Pies. Mitten Ridge is a sliver of Red Rock that towers high above the trail and, this time of year, is in the perfect position to catch the light of the setting sun and I was hoping to time my return to catch a shot of sunset light splashing against the red rock.
As the hike took me deeper in to the canyon, the ascent was gradual but obvious. The ice in the creek became thicker, the snow on the ground was deeper, the muddy red soil became frozen and hard. Being in a canyon, and the afternoon getting late, most of the hike was in shade and the cold was creeping in. As I looked at the map I decided on-the-fly that a good stopping point would be a feature named the Merry-Go-Round. This is a prominent Red Rock formation sitting on top of a shelf of a harder, lighter sandstone layer that erodes much slower creating a narrow ledge that completely surrounds the main formation in a rough circle, thus – The Merry-Go-Round.
This ledge offers some of the best, unobstructed views down the valley and would have been a beautiful place to wait for sunset and get some amazing photos. I hiked around the Merry-Go-Round for a while and climbed to the top of the main formation where countless people have carved their initials and/or date of their visit into the soft sandstone at the top. I climbed back down and unpacked my NIKON D70 to get some good shots of the view. I also took this opportunity to pull out my handy JetBoil and make some hot coco. Sometimes it’s the simple things, like sitting on a cliff overlooking a scenic canyon with a cup of hot coco at the end of a snow-covered trail. Priceless!
I didn’t stay long. The winter sun was setting quickly and I knew I’d be hiking in the dark before I got back to my truck. I decided, in the interest of time and safety, I would hike back using Schnebly Hill Road instead of the icy trail. There were still portions of the icy, snow-covered road where footing was questionable. As the sun disappeared behind the cliffs to the southwest, the temperature dropped significantly and I stopped to unload the cold weather gear so I could finish out the hike comfortably. The moon was offering enough light to cast a shadow once the sun had dropped below the horizon and I didn’t need to fire up the flashlight until I was close enough to the original trailhead to start double checking the map so I didn’t miss my turn. I returned to the truck after dark, changed into some warm dry clothes and began the long drive home.
Even though I’ve lived in Arizona for nearly two decades, this was only my second hike in Sedona. Now that I have an appropriate trail map and a job that will require me to visit, I imagine I’ll be logging a lot more miles in Red Rock Country.
Total Hike: 9.5 miles RT (roughly)