So as we’re searching our guidebook and maps to find new hikes, we’re trying to explore a new area each time. Courthouse Butte, our first, was just to the southeast of Sedona. Then we went west of Sedona. Broken Arrow was still southeast of Sedona but north of Courthouse. Turkey Creek was southwest. So now we’re headed slightly northeast.
Sterling Pass to Vultee Arch
There’s an easier (and shorter) way to hike to Vultee Arch but a: that’s no fun and b: we need a high-clearance vehicle to travel several miles on an unpaved, very rough forest service road to get to the trailhead. We don’t have such a vehicle and aren’t going to risk damaging our very low-slung convertible. We’ve taken it – cautiously – on dirt roads but not rocky ones.
So, we park along Rte. 89A in a slight turnout and hike a little ways up the road to the trailhead. There’s a sign for Sterling Pass so we know we’re good. Today’s hike is 5.2 miles round trip, plus 2,000 feet of elevation gain, which is more than double the elevation gain of any hike we’ve done so far in Sedona.
The hike starts out in the shade of a canyon, which is nice because we immediately start going up. It’s not a difficult up, just slow and steady. We are clearly going deeper into the canyon, but since the trail meanders back and forth, we can’t figure out where Sterling Pass is. We keep going, of course, and I have my eyes on some big red rocks to the left as a possible pass but when we get to them, the trail swoops back to the right. We stop anyway to peer through the rocks to the other side but it’s still the same canyon. Apparently this rock juts like a peninsula into the canyon. So we keep going. It’s getting steeper and the “switchbacks” in the trail remind me more of a spiral staircase, they’re so tight that we go just a half dozen feet in one direction before turning back – and up – in the other.
Finally we hit the pass, a nice large flat spot where we take a little break before heading down the other side. These switchbacks are nice and long but it’s clear that we are descending nearly as low into this canyon as we started. About midway down, I comment to Walt that it’s going to be “a long way back up to the pass.”
Walt calmly replies: “Now you think of it.”
For whatever reason, I didn’t think we would descend this far from the pass in order to see the arch. But it’s too late now and it’s not like we haven’t hiked longer and harder days.
We finally bottom out and head up the canyon a good half mile before we see the sign marking the turnoff to Vultee Arch. Another quarter of a mile and we pop out on a big, red, gently sloping rock in the sunshine. We can see Vultee Arch off across the valley. I sit and take off my pack, enjoying the beauty of the sunshine in the canyon and the fact that there’s no one else around. Just us.
Walt hikes up a bit farther to a plaque that commemorates Gerard and Sylvia Vultee, who lost their lives in an aircraft crash on January 29, 1938 about a mile away up on a mesa.
It’s gorgeous but we don’t linger too long before heading back up the canyon to the pass. It goes better than we thought and soon we’re headed down the other side of the pass. The further we descend the more I look back at the pass and rocks behind us. It was a very nice little uphill climb.
So far this is my favorite hike in Sedona. Mostly it’s felt like we were just taking nice long walks but today actually felt like my idea of a “hike.”
Long Loop to Cathedral Rock
After a day off, we head off in a different area. Cathedral Rock is huge, well-known formation in Sedona. Many people hike up it from a very nearby trailhead but, again, where’s the fun in that?
I find a loop hike that starts about 3 miles away. We’ll hike in a long loop with Cathedral Rock at about midpoint. The hike is pretty easy, just gentle ups and downs, until we get to Cathedral Rock. We head up the “slickrock” – Merriam Webster defines it as “smooth wind-polished rock” – but it’s actually really nice to walk on since it’s not “polished” like a smooth, shiny stone you might buy in a store or see set in jewelry. Particularly with the good soles of our boots, we have no problem scrambling up the crevices.
It’s mid-week but there’s still a lot of people heading up and down the rocks, including people who look very uncomfortable. Mostly they’re nervous about being on rocks but we come up to one guy who’s standing with his back to the rock. When I ask if he’s heading up, he says this is it for him. He’s clearly afraid of heights. Too bad because the views just get better the further up we go.
Again, I hadn’t really paid attention to this part of the hike, so I wasn’t sure how far up rock we’d be allowed to hike. Every time we arrive at a small outcropping or viewpoint, I expect that to be the end of the line. Finally Walt points to a flat spot between two huge “spires” of the formation and says that’s our destination. Later I read that it’s 650 feet of elevation from the nearby parking lot to the trail’s end at the saddle.
It doesn’t matter to me; I’m enjoying the rocks and view. Plus, the farther we go, the fewer people there are.
After about 20 minutes, we reach the saddle and are stunned that we get a panoramic view off the far side. It’s just gorgeous. We eat a snack, take some pictures and then head back down the rocks. I can’t resist sliding on my bottom on a few of them; they’re just like a slide. (I’m now really hoping the weather warms up enough before we leave Sedona for us to go slide on some in the streams of Slick Rock Park.)
It’s an easy hike 3 miles back to the car and another nice hike.