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.

Days 232-239 – Taliesin & Zero Days

The weather forecast doesn’t look good for the week- rare rain and clouds – so we head off to Scottsdale to visit Taliesin West, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’ homes. We both like FLW’s architecture, especially the way he also designed interiors so that the chairs, tables and lighting fixtures were all harmonious with the building’s architecture. I have never known how to pronounce the word “Taliesin” and practice after our guide tells us it’s “tally-ess-inn” and is from a Welch word.

We enjoy our tour, do some shopping in Scottsdale (sneakers and golf shoes for Walt), have a nice late lunch and head back up to Sedona.

We spend the rest of the week going to the gym and the driving range, working on getting our taxes together. Just as the weather clears late in the week, we realize our refrigerator is not really cooling much. A quick text to our landlord brings immediate help in the form of Steve the repairman. We spend several hours while he takes apart the fridge and lets us know he needs to order a part that will be in tomorrow afternoon sometime.

We spend the next day going to the gym but anxious about straying too far in case Steve shows up with our part. We have bought a couple of cheap coolers and bags of ice, with everything stashed in the garage because it’s still pretty cool outside.

Our part doesn’t arrive until late in the day, so Steve comes over the next morning. After another several hours, he determines that he needs yet another part but because it’s the weekend, we have to wait for Monday for the order to go, which means the part won’t be here until Tuesday.

No matter. We spend our evenings watching the Olympics.

Days 228-231 – Hike, Work Out, Repeat


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Airport Loop

I owe Walt a vortex where I’m not cranky so we head for the Airport Loop. The vortex is just off the parking lot so we head out for our hike first. It’s just 4 ½ miles and not a lot of elevation gain but I’m surprised to find that the airport is not located on low, flat ground but is perched on top of a mesa. We start off hiking the east side of the mesa, below the airport, with great views of Bell and Cathedral rocks.

As we get to the far end of the airport (we can see the airport fence now above us), we are going up in elevation, then down, then back up before turning out to Tabletop Point for our first look at Pyramid Rock. Just as with Submarine Rock, there was no doubting which formation was Pyramid Rock once we saw it.

We drink in the views, take a few selfies, and head back down the trail. We’re now on the west side of the airport and we can see planes landing. It’s not a big commercial airport, so the planes are just little 2- and 4-seater types.

After about 90 minutes, we’re back at our car, dumping our packs before we head up to the vortex.

It’s a beautiful red-rock formation. There’s a few people (but no flute player) and the sun is shining. I plop down in the sunshine, pull my hat over my eyes and assume my favorite “happy baby” yoga pose to stretch out my back and toast a bit.

On our way down to the car, I ask Walt if he felt the “energy” of the vortex. “I felt a nice breeze,” he replies.

“I did too. And the sun was very nice. But it was better two days ago on the mesa, where it was just us.”

A “zero” day

We’ve settled into a nice pattern of hiking 3 days a week (weekdays) and going to the gym and (sometimes) playing golf on the off days so that’s what we do today, just head to the gym, smack (and lose) some golf balls on a nice sunny course with red-rock views.

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Devil’s Bridge

I had read about Devil’s Bridge, a natural rock arch formation that hikers can not only walk up to but also walk on. Unfortunately, I had thought that we wouldn’t be able to hike there because the trailhead is down a very rough forest service road that our convertible cannot manage. When I was re-reading the directions in my guidebook, I saw that there is an alternative parking area that sits just before the paved road ends. It’s going to be about a 6-mile out-and-back hike, which is fine.

When we arrive at the trailhead, the road nearby is filled with cars; apparently there are a lot more people interested in walking on Devil’s Bridge than there are high-clearance cars. We’ve arrived at a good time, when the early-bird hikers are leaving so we manage to get a good parking spot in the lot. We set off, being cautious of the mountain bikers who pass us on the trail. We always get off the trail for them.

The hike is easy, through red rocks and junipers with gorgeous views of the canyons and mountains all around us. Although there were dozens of cars, there aren’t a lot of people on this trail, which is the longest way to get to the bridge. Most people just hike the forest service road, which is shorter but also dustier. We’re enjoying ourselves; the views are beautiful.

When we finally hit the nearest parking area for Devil’s Bridge, we are just about a mile from it and now there are plenty of people. I’m amused to see a little white, fluffy dog whose entire bottom half is tinged rusty pink from the red-rock dust. We pass people and dogs of all sorts and I’m starting to get nervous. I hadn’t thought how busy this might be. Too late now.

We start climbing a little bit and make good time until we get to a steep pitch. There are stairs more or less carved out of the rocks but there’s no handrails and it’s intimidating, especially for non-hikers on their way back down. We stop and wait while a very slow foursome mostly sits and scoots their way past us.

There’s a whole bunch of people waiting to come down but I call up to the next couple waiting in line, asking if they would mind waiting while we come up. They ignore us and while the guy makes it down pretty easily, the woman with him is a bit slow.

“I guess not,” I remark out loud as the guy steps next to us.

“There’s a lot of people waiting to come down,” the guy says.

“We know that,” says Walt (much to my surprise, he’s usually the quiet one in these situations), “that’s why we wanted to come up and get past all of you, so you can come down.”

“I’ll wait,” says the next woman on top waiting to come down. We thank her and scramble up the rocks in about 12 seconds.

“You’re quick,” says one waiting guy as I stride past him.


Once past that section, it takes us no time to get up to the bridge, where we are in the shade and it is blissfully cool. We wait till some girls leave, then Walt motions me out to the bridge so he can take my picture before we trade places. The bridge is pretty wide on the one end but then narrows to less than 6 feet, which seems wide until you realize that we are standing about 50 feet up in the air. A fall would be extremely painful.

We head back down, navigating the rock staircase with ease (having hiking poles and knowing how to use them makes it so simple) and stop off at a couple more vista points for pictures and a snack before heading back out the same way we came in.

It’s one of those hikes that I’m glad we did but one we’d only do again if we had friends we wanted to take there. Way too crowded for me.

Days 225-227 – Flagstaff, Golf and Our Best Hike

It’s the weekend, which means no hiking for us. Just too crowded in most places.

Instead we head up to Flagstaff for a day trip. It’s a gorgeous drive up on a fast, winding road with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet, which makes it a bit chillier than Sedona but it’s sunny and still warm.

We find an REI so we can re-stock a few items, then a used bookstore so I can re-stock (I tend to read non-fiction history of science/exploration and could barely find any non-fiction in the two Sedona used book stores, never mind my specific genre). Starlight Books provides me with several books – one on feathers, one on 18th century exploration, etc. – and I’m thrilled. We find a jeweler to get Walt’s watch fixed; he lost a pin on the trail and needs a new battery. Then I Google “best lunch Flagstaff” and we wind up at Lumberyard Brewing Co. for a really tasty lunch.

We’re too stuffed for dessert but that doesn’t stop me from stopping at a bakery I’d noticed for a few treats “for later.” We locked them in the trunk so they’d actually make it all the way home.

All in all, a great “zero” day.


Golfing the short course

We’ve looked at a couple of golf courses nearby but the first one we’re trying is an executive course. Par 3s are really more my speed (I hit horribly) and Walt’s content with an easy short course. We especially like that they’re willing to just let us play as a twosome instead of pairing us up into a foursome. I’m very intimidated by playing with other people even on my best day and we haven’t played about 6 weeks so today is not going to be a good golf day.

The course is very nice and we each have some good hits although my putting leaves much to be desired.

Doesn’t matter. It’s hard to complain in 67-degree sunshine while walking a pretty golf course.

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Brins Mesa Trail

In our quest to keep hitting new areas to hike around Sedona, we’ve come to Uptown Sedona and veered west. The Brins Mesa Trail goes about 8 miles up and over the mesa and then down the other side.

However our guidebook says we can go up the mesa, veer right on a side trail and come up to a high point with great views.

The views are pretty nice just from the top of the mesa, looking out over Sedona and the mountains and red rocks but we continue, first to an outcropping where we take pictures and then back on the trail to the knoll overlook.

While hiking across the mesa, we can’t tell exactly where our knoll is. We can see mountains but we can’t see any sign of a trail to get to the top and they look a lot higher than the extra 300 feet of elevation that our book says we’re doing. But we know we’re on a trail so we keep going.

Soon we run into a group of people coming down from the (still unseen) knoll. One of the hikers asks if we’re going to the top and when we say “yes” he tells us that the view is great, which is exactly what we want to hear. (BTW, we never ask people “how much further” it is; it’s so subjective and it doesn’t matter anyway, we’re going.)

It’s actually just a little bit further until the path narrows with scratchy shrubs on either side and we can tell we’re headed upward. Then we come to some rocks and start up them. They are gorgeous red rocks that have been sculpted beautifully by the wind. Some are like steps, others remind me of red-rock versions of the big fungi with rippled edges that grow out of trees back East.

We get up to what I think is the high spot and Walt takes my picture but then as I’m waiting for him to ascend, I turn and see that the rocks keep going up a bit behind me. There’s no marked trail but the wind-sculpted rocks make it easy to pick a path all the way until I’m clearly at the highest point we’re going to get to today. Another dozen feet back and the rocks end abruptly in a sheer cliff.

The huge mountains that we have been looking at are on the other side of this little canyon, still looming over us.

Walt comes up and there’s no one but the two of us. We take pictures, explore (safely) the drop-offs, sit and eat a snack and just enjoy the views. We pull out the map to try to figure out exactly what we’re looking at. We can tell Cathedral Rock in the southern distance and I think Dry Creek Canyon to our north.

We can’t help ourselves from commenting over and over how spectacular the scenery is.

Eventually we see another couple heading our way and decide to let them have the same solitude we’ve so enjoyed and start heading down.

It’s an easy hike to the bottom.

To cap off our best hike yet, we stop at Oak Creek Espresso and Bakery, whose sign says also announces it carries “gelato.” It’s actually a homemade ice cream and it’s a yummy post-hike treat.

Days just don’t get better than this.

Days 221-224 – The Hikes Just Get Better

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.