Day 258 – Rabbit Ears & Bell Rock

We’ve picked an easy hike today, just 5 miles to the distinctive Rabbit Ears rocks that we’ve seen in the distance from a number of view points.

We start from the Bell Rock Pathway parking lot, which is crammed with people coming and going to the Bell Rock and its vortex. I’m very happy when we take a turn away from Bell Rock, out past Courthouse Butte. The trail’s pretty narrow but not at all steep so we make good time.

The trail ends well before the actual rock formation but we have a good view and take a couple of selfies before we head back.

Before we get back to the car, we diverge up the Bell Rock Pathway so we can climb up the rock and experience the vortex. We go up a good ways and wander around; there’s still a lot more rock above us and we can see people who made it up very high but there’s no defined path and we realize it’s a lot easier to find a safe route up than down.

We take some more photos and then head down the rock.

Any day on the trail is a good day.

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Day 256 – Banff Mountain Film Festival

We’re very excited that this festival of outdoor films is coming to Sedona, if only for two nights. We usually see it at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC, where it runs for a week.

It’s a lineup of 8 different films – ranging in length from 3 minutes to nearly an hour.

The evening starts with a 3-minute film about a group of people who are standing, squatting and doing tricks on a surfboard that is tethered to a slackline. If that doesn’t make sense, it’s because it’s a crazy idea. We notice that they’re all jumping off and deploying parachutes. They’re in a 2,000-foot gorge so essentially they’re base-jumping off a surfboard tethered to a slackline. Wild.

The next film is about a Sherpa guide who was gone up Everest 21 times. We’re thrilled by the scenery, even if the film turns out to be more about Apa Sherpa’s attempts to increase educational access in his small village than about his hiking experiences. It’s a nice movie but it doesn’t begin to compare to our favorite Banff movie of all time about two guys who climbed to the top of Everest and then paraglided off it. When they opened the gliders, the wind was so strong that they didn’t so much take off as pop straight up.

There’s an intermission and we’re told there’s to be a raffle drawing. The ticket-taker took our entire ticket so we don’t know how this is going to work. We ask a volunteer who tells us we should have written our name on the back of the ticket. We would have, if we had been told to do so, I tell him before Walt hustles me away.

When they come up to the stage to hold the raffle, we see that there is a box of tickets and there is a box of paper printouts – could it be that we might be entered? Actually, Walt and I won’t be entered at all. Since Lauren bought our Sedona Film Fest tickets as a gift, we used her account (but not her credit card) to buy these tickets. I noticed when I downloaded the confirmation page that it had her name listed as the ticket holder. I tell Walt that they might call Lauren’s name and explain why.

So they raffle off a bag of Clif bars, which we could have used; some Kicking Horse coffee and a travel mug, which I always could use; a Yeti gift certificate that we’re OK not winning; a discount ticket only good in Lake Louise, where the real Banff Mountain Film Festival is held. We’re also OK with not winning that.

Next up is a $50 gift certificate for Mountain House freeze-dried meals, which is what we take on our overnight hikes and definitely would use. The name called is: Lauren Wise.

Now the emcee had said that in order to help facilitate delivery of the prize, the winner should shout “vortex” so the winner can be located in the audience. The word “vortex” was chosen by the emcee after the Banff Mountain Film Festival representative asked him to give a word that’s indicative of Sedona for winners to shout out. Most people are, let’s say, not giving it their best effort. Me, I’m a rule follower and I shout “vortex” in a very loud voice. Walt later tells me I was the best “vortex-shouter” in the place.

Anyone following this blog devotedly (Jean) might remember that Walt won a raffle at the bonsai festival in Asheville last fall and we’re now proud owners of a bonsai pot (it’s in our storage pod). He’s always been lucky. Me, not so much when it comes to these types of events. I am certain that the reason we won tonight is because the ticket was in Lauren’s name: that’s Walt’s lucky DNA at work.

So the films continue. There’s a short about a woman in Alaska who’s been a Denali guide and now is a private pilot into Denali; another short about a woman who is a mountain biker and an artist so her drawings are included in the film; a short film about a crazy guy skiing what looks like a glacier half pipe; a film about a young British man who, in his quest to bicycle around the world, is now biking the Yukon in winter.

We also see a fabulous film about three people who are first hiking then kite-skiing across the top of Greenland, then hiking under ice bridges in what they had hoped would be a kayak-able river before, finally, kayaking this crazy river over waterfalls into the ocean. Their trip was insane and even one of the participants said if someone had described it to him beforehand he would have said “no way.”

The last film is my favorite of the evening because it’s done with so much humor. It’s primarily about a one-armed climber and her quest to climb a 5.12a (a type of climb that’s so hard there’s books and websites and all sorts of “how to train” information out there). Maureen Beck repeatedly states that she doesn’t want to be a good one-armed climber or a good female climber; she just wants to be a good climber. Along the way, she and her climbing buddies – most of whom are missing a leg – ridicule able-bodied people who find them “inspiring.” It’s just so refreshing in a pc world.

Leaving the theater, we realize there’s a bit of a jam just before the door: they are giving out packages of Mountain House meals. Walt and I each get a “biscuits and gravy” and I am laughing to myself because I don’t need to turn to see the grin on his face. Walt loves biscuits and gravy and we’ve been planning an overnight hike before we leave Sedona. I know what we’ll be eating for breakfast.

Day 251 – Cottonwood

We had planned to go hiking but it snowed overnight and while the snow didn’t stick on the roads at all and only on the higher part of the mountains, it’s still gray and cloudy and we don’t want to be out on slickrock when it’s wet.

So we head to the nearby town of Cottonwood. We’ve been told that it has a nice Main Street with shops and lots of wineries that do tastings.

There are neat little shops. We have a great discussion with the owner of a local artists’ gallery about what to see and do when she visits Virginia and DC later this year. We pick up a few odd treats at Little Moo’s, a gourmet food shop that, surprisingly, doesn’t devote itself to Arizona-crafted goodies but instead imports stuff from around the country. I am seduced by a Portland, Oregon-crafted “adult” peanut butter with espresso nibs – coffee and peanut butter, yum! – and a bacon-peanut-butter-cup from a small company in Massachusetts.

Walt gets into a discussion with a carpenter-turned-artist at another local artists’ collective. He was a lather in a California Carpenters’ local for years before turning his hobby into a full-time job. We love his side tables: slabs of waxed mesquite or eucalyptus on elegant iron bases. I take his card to add to my collection of furniture we might want some day, when we have a house.

We come to Larry’s Antiques, noting the huge area of signs and industrial iron pieces in the yard behind it. Turns out Larry’s got a huge building, two barns, a couple of small buildings and all kinds of stuff in the yards in between. We spend a good deal of time hunting through everything. Unfortunately, as usual, most of what we love are the old iron pieces that would make great yard sculpture and are way too big and heavy to fit in our car.

Still, I find a couple of books and a really nicely done brass basket; I’m pretty sure it’s from the 1940s, it is so heavy and detailed that it has to be old. I’m out of the store for less than $20.

We continue wandering, stopping at a gourmet oils and vinegars shop only because it also advertises homemade fudge. We buy a sample to take home.

After a bit more meandering, we are lured into the Colt Grill, by the meat smokers at the far end of the outside patio. It’s a casual place, with orders placed at the bar and picked up at the far end but the ambience is very nice and the food turns out to be great. Walt orders a brisket platter with beans and I get a small salad with smoked turkey and a side of scrumptious mac-and-cheese. I’m so stuffed, I can’t even contemplate getting a “cowboy cookie” from the huge jar on the counter. I’m tempted to get one to go but Walt reminds me that we already have plenty of treats we’ve bought today.

For a zero day, we’ve had a lot of fun.

Days 245-250 – Sedona Film Fest

It’s the start of the Sedona International Film Festival and we have tickets to a bunch of different films, courtesy of our Christmas present from Lauren and Bobby. There’s nearly 200 films to choose from and we’ve got a mix of features and documentaries lined up.

Our first film is one I’ve chosen, about two French photographers who go around taking pictures of people and then printing them larger than life and pasting the photos on buildings. They just travel to little French towns, like a declining mining town, meeting interesting people, learning their stories, taking their photos and pasting these huge photos. We both enjoy “Faces Places” and later learn that it is up for an Academy Award in the documentary category (it didn’t win).

Our second film is one we’ve both chosen – we made our list by each reviewing the synopsis of the films and making a list of the films we wanted to see and checking against the schedule, many films only get shown once and they run about 6 films simultaneously so some films didn’t make the cut – about famed architect Bjarke Ingels. It’s not quite what we expected – a little more about his personal struggles than about his projects – but still interesting.

We have a bit of a break – we are starting with 3 films in one day – then head to the 40th anniversary showing of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” complete with star Richard Dreyfuss taking questions afterward. I’ve never seen the film but Walt has. I think the most interesting part of the film is how few people it took to make it. We just saw “The Black Panther” a couple of weeks ago and it took hundreds, if not a thousand, people, mostly in the digital effects fields, to make the movie. “Close Encounters” had maybe 100 people listed in the credits.

After the show, Richard Dreyfuss comes up to take questions. He says there’s no time limit, he’ll stay as long as there are questions. I’m expecting high-brow filmmaking type questions but this is Sedona, so the first few questions are about the movie’s depictions of the aliens. I’m already checking out and there are other people leaving but Walt’s hanging in. We do get to a few questions on the actor’s other film roles before someone asks him to “continue the discourse on civics” that he started during a talk after a previous film shown here.

Apparently the actor has started to push the idea that the nation needs to re-start teaching civics in public schools. He recites the preamble to the Constitution and then lectures for at least 15 minutes before we head out.

The next day we’re back for what I thought was a documentary about a disappearing tribe of people in the Himalayas but turns out to be a feature about the tribe. I had hoped for great mountain scenery but most of the film is shot at night, in cloudy weather, deep woods or a combination. There’s all sorts of violence and fighting and death. Definitely not a Liz film. There’s no director or actor from the film, so no Q&A.

We see a great feature about two guys who are chasing a rare blues album, a short feature about a Chinese mountain guide and his son, and an interesting documentary about the 2015-16 first round-the-world flight of a solar-powered airplane.

We think we are heading for a documentary about current actors who have been influenced by Charlie Chaplin and his films but the program is a little different than what we expected. It’s more of a talk by a guy who has studied Charlie Chaplin his whole career and taught Johnny Depp his incredible Chaplinesque moves in the movie Benny & Joon and taught Robert Downey Jr. how to be Chaplin in the 1992 movie about him. We do get to see an excerpt of a Chaplin film and a full short Chaplin film but then there’s a big discussion with the audience about what makes the film so great and enduring. It’s interesting but we’d have loved more Chaplin.

All in all, we’ve really enjoyed the film fest; we’ve seen a lot of movies we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Days 243-244 – Sedona’s Highest Point

During most of our Sedona hikes, we’ve been walking around rocks, in canyons but not up mountains. Sure, we’ve hit some high spots on our Turkey Creek, Hangover Loop, Brins Mesa Overlook and Cathedral Rock trails but every time there’s still been mountains above us with no trail to the top.

So today we’re headed to the highest point in Sedona, Wilson Mountain. At nearly 7,000 feet, we’ll be towering over downtown Sedona just to the south of us. There won’t be anything higher nearby. The San Francisco Peaks, which we’ll be able to see, north of Flagstaff are taller (in the 13,000s) but they’re some 60 miles away.

Not only does this hike have the views, it also has the advantage of being a hard hike. So when we park our car in the Encinoso picnic area to access the trailhead, there’s only one other car in the lot on this cool, slightly overcast day. And the couple that gets out is carrying a cooler to a nearby picnic table.

We are alone on the trail. Yippee!

We almost immediately head up a steep pitch but then the trail eases off and we’re walking back through a canyon. It reminds me of the start of the Sterling Pass Trail, which is located just a little north of where we are today.

As we head west, we realize it’s a long ways to the top of the canyon and we’re not exactly sure how we get there. It’s big red rocks ahead of us with no visible trail.

Abruptly the trail turns left into another canyon and now the red rocks are to our right. I still don’t see a trail as we head south into the canyon.

A few hundred yards later, the trail switchbacks to our left and it all becomes clear. We are headed up the left side of the canyon. The pitch becomes pretty steep and we keep switchbacking for nearly a mile until we finally step up on what’s called the First Bench of Wilson.

We’re still going uphill but at a much gentler grade south across the mesa. We can see the top of the mesa to our left (east) on the other side of Route 89A. It’s the first time we’ve been high enough to look down on other mesas. After a bit, we stop and turn around and, just as the guidebook promised, we can see the tops of the San Francisco Peaks to our north. There is no mistaking those snow-covered mountains.

We keep going – the mesa part feels much longer than the ½ a mile the book says it is – and the trail gets muddy. Sedona had a snowstorm a few days ago; nothing stuck on the ground because it was too warm but apparently we got enough snow to saturate the ground pretty good. I’m used to Adirondack mud, which is pretty gooey, but this stuff has got a lot of clay in it. It sticks in clumps to my boots so much that I can feel the weight accumulating. I stop and scrape off my boots and the tip of my hiking poles (or try to). This stuff is awful!

So now we’re trying to walk just on rocks or on the grasses of the trail. Hikers are supposed to stay on the trail but this is ridiculous. The mud just collects and sticks like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

I am getting frustrated and cranky. The wind is blowing, the mud is sticking and we’re still nearly 2 miles from the peak. Nothing to do but continue.

After what seems like a long time, we come to a junction – the peak is accessible from the south and the north and we’re at the point where the two starting points meet – and we turn up a long series of switchbacks. We haven’t entirely left the mud behind but it is rockier here and easier to dodge the mud, although it still seems like a lot of work.

We keep looking up at the mesa that’s still above us, trying to figure out how the trail accesses it, when the trail takes a turn southwest, away from the peak. I re-check my map and realize that we’re headed up a small valley toward a junction point. When we reach it, we turn left and go another half mile up to the peak and down a little to the lookout point south of the peak.

The views are amazing of all of downtown Sedona, Cathedral Rock. We’re looking down on the mesa where the airport sits. We can see views out to the Hangover Trail, where we were just a couple of days ago.

It’s pretty overcast and windy, so we head back up to the peak and down to the junction, where we sit on a huge downed tree for a little snack. We are out of the wind here, which is nice.

We have seen a few other people on this part of the trail and there was a large group at the top but all of them seemed to have come up from the south trailhead.

We continue our downward journey. It’s much easier to navigate around the mud on the downhill, although the trek across Wilson’s First Bench is still annoying; it’s just very hard to dodge the mud and once it accumulates on my boots and poles, it is very difficult to remove.

Once past the mud, the switchbacks seem easy and then it’s just another mile or so out to the car, where we take off our boots and unzip the muddy bottom half of our hiking pants so we don’t get too much mud in the car. I have a trash bag in my pack that we throw all of our muddy gear into.

We’re hungry and decide to pick up a pizza on the way home. We’ve found a little place near us that serves a variety of draft beers and makes a good pizza. I have a pair of clean sneakers to slip on in the car but Walt is just wearing his socks into the restaurant. If anyone noticed, they didn’t say.

We enjoy our beers while we wait for our pizza and then head home.

I don’t know that it was our favorite hike in Sedona but it sure was nice to be on the highest point of Sedona.

Days 240-242 – Back to Hiking and It’s Good

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The weather has cleared up and since we know Steve won’t have our fridge part today, we head off on another hike in a new direction, just northeast of uptown Sedona.

Using my map and our hiking guide, I have crafted an 8 ¼ mile hike to make up for the lost week. We head in the Munds Wagon Trail, which is listed as an in-and-out hike of 2.8 miles each way with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation. I’ve got us going in on that trail but instead of turning around and coming back, we’re picking up the Cow Pies Trail (named after some big rock formations) and then the Hangover Loop, which is billed as a “hard” hike that is “extremely difficult in places.” Plus there’s another 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Sounds like just the ticket for us.

The Munds Wagon Trail is gentle with ups and downs. We’re in a fairly wide canyon and can see red rocks on one side and mountains on the other.

It doesn’t take us much more than an hour to get to the junction with Cow Pies. Shortly after we make the turn, we are hiking up the red rocks to an area with lots of black lava rocks scattered about. Turning we can see the caldera, or rim of the once-upon-a-time volcano, behind us. It’s a very clear semi-circle, reminding me a little bit of Diamondhead in Oahu.

The lava area is supposed to be another “power vortex” area but all we feel is a strong breeze. Maybe that’s what constitutes a vortex?

We continue on, now we’re on the Hangover Loop Trail and we wonder out loud why they call it the “hangover loop?” Is it because there are steep drop-offs and narrow ledges, as our book says we’ll be traversing, and you wouldn’t want to do them with a hangover?

The views are pretty. We can see the canyon and caldera even better, but since we’re also up on the red rocks (and climbing a bit), we get neat views off the rock formations directly below us. Eventually we head up diagonally on the red rocks to a saddle, where we can now see off to the northwest and Midgely Bridge. We enjoy the saddle and then continue walking, now on the other side of the butte from where we were and we can see the steep dropoffs. We’re not worried but we are constantly marveling because this trail is open to bicycles. There is no way I could bicycle this without careening off the rocks into a canyon below.

The trail takes us to a spot where the red rocks “hang over” the trail – ahh, we’ve found it. Once again, Sedona has proven to be very literal.

The trail keeps going, with great views and eventually we come all the way around the butte and, oh my, we catch the breeze that has now grown into a strong, gusty wind. We’re pretty high up and it’s a little intense. The wind is strong and, as we look for the white blazes marking the trail, we realize we are going steeply downhill. I sit down at one point because the gusts are just too strong. Walt says he doesn’t think he’s ever hiked in such strong winds. I have, on top of a Haystack Mountain in the Adirondacks, where a gust caught the back of the hood on my rain jacket and lifted me off my feet and across the top of the mountain. I landed in some shrubbery, scraped but otherwise unharmed but more than a little shaken up.

We manage the down portion ok (the pictures don’t really show how steep it was) and then continued our way, winding around the butte until we reconnected with the Munds Wagon Trail. From there we only had a mile and half back to the car.

It was a great day, despite the wind.