The weather is glorious, especially compared to all the unusually icy, chilly places we’ve just come through. The nights are dipping below freezing but we wake up every morning to another endless blue sky and temperatures that rise into the 50s. It doesn’t feel warm enough, to us, to golf but it is perfect hiking weather.
We already have a hiking guidebook and a trail map but we’ve read that we need a parking pass in order to park at many of the trailheads. Of course it’s the weekend of the federal government shutdown, so we’re not sure if going to the nearby ranger station will do us any good. Instead we stop at an outfitter’s shop where the friendly guy behind the counter not only can sell us a parking pass ($5/day; $15/week; $20/year – a system that seems designed to ensure the tourists do the bulk of the paying) but also gives us some great advice.
First he tells us that there are a lot of “social trails” jutting off the main trails. Social trails are trails where locals have made their own way, whether to avoid the slow-moving tourists or to make a shortcut or get better views, we’re not sure. Derrick tells us that the way to avoid social trails and ensure that we’re staying on the main trail is to ignore any “turn” of the trail that doesn’t have a stone cairn marking it. “All junctions are clearly marked with a cairn, so if I’m in doubt, I just go with my forward momentum. The main trail will never make a sharp turn without a cairn.”
We will almost immediately benefit from this advice, as our first trail, the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail, is in an extremely popular area (as are most Sedona-area hiking trails) and there are little paths all over the place.
Derrick’s second piece of advice also comes in handy on our very first hike. He tells us that while we will cross a dry wash – essentially a dry creek bed that floods into a stream during rainstorms – the trail will never be found going up a dry wash. When they’re full of water, no one would think a dry wash is a trail, but we see immediately upon coming up to our first dry wash how an unsuspecting hiker could be lured into thinking the large, flat stones (eroded smooth by torrential water) are the trail.
Courthouse Butte Loop
We start our Arizona hiking on this easy 4.2-mile loop with only 500 feet of elevation gain for several reasons: our packs didn’t fit in the car and Lauren is shipping them to us next week so all we have are snacks in our pockets and a bottle of water each; we haven’t hiked in over a month; the elevation in Sedona is about 1,500 feet higher than Asheville so we want to be sure we’re acclimated. Plus, we don’t know what the trails and trail markers are like; if we’re going to get lost then I’d prefer it if we were on a relatively short hike.
I have, of course, brought along the map and directions for the hike, which turns out to be a good thing because while the directions tell us we’re on the Courthouse Butte trail for most of the way, the signs actually say Bell Rock Pathway Trail for the first half of the hike. Even though we don’t have any “scenic vista” points during this hike, we find the hike very scenic. For the whole first half, we are walking around Bell Rock, a huge red-rock formation, then we’re circling the far side of Courthouse Butte with a view off to the mountains east of us. Stunning.
The friendly dogs we run into on the trail are also a highlight of the hike (for me, anyway). Since the trailhead is located right off a residential neighborhood and is an easy walk, lots of people just do this for their daily dog walk. We meet a really friendly poodle/terrier mix and a cautious 12-week-old miniature Australian shepherd, who was right to be cautious ’cause she was so darn cute that if I’d gotten a hand on her, I’m sure I would have squeezed the stuffings out her. It’s well known that I love cats but I also cannot resist puppies!
Boynton Canyon Loop
We’ve taken a day off to find and join a gym and explore our nearby golfing options but now we’re back on the trail. Walt is intrigued by the vortices (although the locals call them vortexes) around Sedona. He was not pleased when I told him that there was one on Bell Rock but it wasn’t on my small hike map and I hadn’t paid attention to how to get to it. I’m sure if we’d just walked up the side path to the “vista” – the National Forest Service doesn’t seem to recognize vortexes as real and refers to trails to them as vistas (which I hadn’t realized when we did our first hike). Anyway, Walt really wants to go to a vortex. Neither one of us believes in these “energy fields” but we’re here so we might as well check them out.
We hike about 3 miles up Boynton Canyon, which gets narrower as we go, until we hit a sign that says “don’t go past this point” and find ourselves sitting on some beautiful red rocks near the end of the canyon. There’s another couple also sitting on the rocks but otherwise all is quiet and peaceful.
Our hike back out is uneventful. The vortex I promised Walt is near the mouth of the canyon so we get almost to the car before turning up a side “vista” trail. Just before we get that far, I hear a flute playing. Apparently a local guy regularly climbs to one of the vortex rocks to play the flute. The flute is pretty and I don’t mind until, just before he starts to play a new song, the flute-player shouts, “This next song is for releasing. Release everything you don’t need or want.”
This is not why I come to the woods.
It’s bad enough that since the vortex is near both the trailhead and walking distance to a major resort, there are a whole lot of people headed up the trail, stopping in the trail, talking, taking pictures, etc.
We go up to the vortexes (turns out there’s a male vortex rock and a female vortex rock) to find our flute player has come down from his perch on top of the male vortex rock (the shorter of the two) and is cheerfully telling people about the power of the vortexes and the energy. Walt wants to climb up the male vortex rock and heads up nearly to the top. I wait more toward the bottom, bemused at the two women who can barely find their way around the base but who are talking about how to climb to the top. There are no signs warning anyone about climbing but I have to wonder how many people fall during a single year?
I finally coax Walt off the rock and we head back to the car, leaving the crowds and flute player behind.
Do I believe in the healing, soothing power of nature? Of course, that’s part of the reason why I hike. Do I think I need some man playing a flute and shouting at me from the top of a rock to know this? No, I do not.
Walt is amused at the effect all of this has had on me. He’s used to me cranky at the beginning of hikes and mellowing as we go. This is the first time, I think, that I’ve left a trail more out of balance than I was when I started.