May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. ~Edward Abbey
I hesitate quoting Messr Abbey in an essay on Sedona. It feels like another act evoking the reeking, bitter stench of betrayal to South Utah. I need to remember, Cactus Ed was a capital ‘P’ Prophet speaking in defense of all Wilderness for wilderness sake, not just the bottom third of one Western State and, I guess, that makes quoting him appropriate to this occasion. In hindsight, it is also apropos for the hikes over the next three days were crooked and winding and hundreds of feet dropping dangerous and we experienced some amazing views particularly while resting in a crotch at the top of Cathedral Rock.
Unfortunately, this was Spring Break so the lonesome component was mostly missing. Not lonesome as in longing for company. Lonesome as in the solitude from which one can enter the serenity necessary for the soul to become whole.
The Information Man
Rather than jump right into a dawn hike, I’m an early bird married to a night owl, my wife convinced me we should visit the information booth at the bottom of the road leading to our hotel. Her travel instincts are top notch so I tend to bow to her acumen. We had to pass that way anyway as it is the only way to get anywhere from our hotel. First, we loaded up on water bottles and trail snacks at the CVS across the street. There was no way I was going to get caught out again on a hike without water and eats.
The information man recommended numerous potential hikes including Cathedral Rock. He also cast the very bright lure of a ‘free’ scenic helicopter ride valued at $200. Once the hook was set, we were gaffed by the requirement to spend a couple of hours at a timeshare presentation. These were events my dad milked for free goodies. To date, I had avoided the trap. But the promise of a helicopter ride over red rock mesas at sunset was too sweet to forego. The fifteen minutes in the air was worth the two-hour sinking of our time.
Cibola Pass / Soldiers Pass / Brins Mesa
By the time we had eaten breakfast, loaded up on trail necessities, talked to the info man, and reached the Cibola Pass trailhead (recommended by Info Man. The other trailhead tends to be very crowded making it near impossible to park) it was closing in on noon. Normally, that’s a bad time to kickoff a Southwest, desert hike. It was in the lowish 60s so from a temperature standpoint, it was perfect. For great, magic hour photos, we were half a day too late.
We parked at the Brin’s Mesa trailhead at the end of Jordan’s road. These lots require a $5 fee paid at a kiosk, money earmarked for trail upkeep. We easily found the trail by the rustic sign with coloration putting it in relative harmony with the country. The thick gauge steel was built to withstand major, physical abuse.
Cibola Pass is a short six-tenths of a mile stroll rising 135′ at the peak then dropping down 119′ where it connected to the more popular Soldier’s Pass trail. In the guidebooks, Cibola is given about as much respect as a bastard, red-headed stepchild. After all the trails we walked and the rock mammoths climbed, Cibola ended up being my absolute favorite of the lot. It is in a designated wilderness area, the Coconino National Forest, which means the trail is off-limits to mountain bikes, horses, and motorized vehicles.
The temperature dropped noticeably the moment we left the sunny lot and dipped into the shaded trail. At the same time, I was hit by a coursing wave of nostalgia knocking me back on my heals, a nostalgia stoking my base impulses. The fresh juniper scent, the contrast of primary burnt red against secondary dark green, the stillness and quiet allowing me to feel my soul…for a few minutes…until it was all shattered like a Trump promise by a person almost as boorish as El Presidente.
A guy on the first red crest we approached was laugh yapping loudly on his cell phone telling whoever was on the other end about the amazing signal in the back of beyond. Yap, yap, yap, and more yappity yap. Argh! His wife was standing nearby smiling at him. Why was she not condemning his selfish behavior? It was as obnoxious as running a circular saw during the blessing of the sacraments at a Catholic mass. The intricate wilderness is sacred beyond the simplicity of the most elaborate man-made structure deserving even more respect than we save for religious temples. Worship should be expressed in the god designed not the human-built.
I jumped from serene to redlined agitation in zero point zero time. I wish the national forest also banned talking on mobile phones except for extreme emergencies. We moved off the trail creating our own side pathway by scrambled over rocks and around the fauna until the couple was far out of our earshot and we could proceed in peacefulness.
Cibola is home to some amazing fauna, from ancient juniper to fleshy prickly pear and century plants, none of which were in the fast growth blooming stage. We came across one century plant drained of life-giving chlorophyll. Did it live to be a ripe old 100 and erect the giant cream tipped phallus or did it fall limp before shooting its load? There was also pothole filled with dead snow but strangely devoid of animals partaking of the desert sacrament.
Escaping the phone troll found us creating a makeshift trail opening to a vista revealing the grandness of sheer, red rock walls, vista similar to those I adore around Moab. I stood in awe of their majesty. Most of my pictures on the four-hour hike were taken in this one short stretch of heaven. It was beautiful, untainted by other people, filled with mesmerizing silence. I could have spent the entire day in abiding in the energy. I’m not talking the mythical vortex energy but the energy of untrammeled nature. The aura of Cibola strongly alluded to god. The one shortcoming, it lacked the twisted manifestations of gods mind revealed in the bizarre rock formations so evident in Canyonlands or Bryce or Arches. I’m more comfortable with a twisted god than I am with a boring linear god.
Cibola touched an itch that needed to be scratched. I’ve been trying to return to Moab for three years but the timing never panned out. This short trail scratched the itch deeply, satisfyingly, but not completely. I would need to return here at least once more before the trip was over and I needed to return alone. I was unsure of how I would make it happen. But it HAD to happen.
Cibola connected to Soldier’s Pass and the next leg of our hike. Soldier’s pass climbs 200 feet over 1.8 miles with most elevation gain in the final quarter mile. Soldier’s Pass is rated higher as a great hike than Cibola. I could not disagree more. Cibola packed more punch as far as scenic ambiance than the 3 times as long Soldier’s Pass.
Soldier’s is a backcountry highway. We encountered a jeep by a massive sinkhole along with a throng of visitors…well….a throng for a backcountry site. There were quite a few mountain bikers for whom we had to stand aside so they could pass. Personally, I love mountain biking and would never begrudge their rights to ride. From a hiker’s perspective, they destroy the solitude like a jet flying high overhead shatters silence. But then so do loud hikers.
The Seven Sacred Pools is listed as a highlight of the trail system. It’s a series of seven sequential carved into the sandstone. Water spills from one to the next on the way to the creek below. The flow between the pools was little more than a trickle.
Typically, in desert conditions, water is an element to be celebrated, a god bestowing life on any being partaking of the elixir. My overall impression was Meh! I found little with which to be impressed. Or there have been other factors inhibiting my ability to appreciate the natural phenomenon.
It may have been the incessantly loud woman with the strong New York accent who seemed to talk for the sake of talking, one of those people uncomfortable with silence because, in quiet, they are forced to experience their inner being. It may have been the nonstop human traffic polluting the tranquility.
Had we been alone, or there been only like-minded people exercising sonic discretion, I could see it being a positive experience. I would have climbed up onto the large rock beneath a brilliant juniper adjacent to the creek and listened. Listened to the wind flowing through the trees, the trickle of water jumping from pool to pool, watching for animals approaching carefully to slake their thirsts. I would have left an offering of nuts and seeds on top of the rock for the local critters and birds whose lives are adversely affected by visiting humans.
I don’t mind meeting the occasional people hiking as long as they understand the sacredness of the open spaces. Most do. Hikers are almost universally people who walk with light footsteps so as to disturb neither animals or fellow hikers. It is those who are obnoxiously loud and treat the outdoors as a local park that I prefer to avoid. The obnoxious American tourist is still alive and thriving and more dangerous to the human condition than hungry bears.
The dream of an enjoyable seven sacred pools was shattered by the nightmare reality. There was so much tension building up in my spirit within moments of arriving, I felt driven to bounce to anywhere else in the trail system. It was a godsend that just past the seven pools the number of people dropped precipitously and we could entertain the illusion of backcountry hiking solitude allowing space for my spirit to return to the rhythm of a meandering walk, like a slow river, in the wilderness. But, the trail was soon to be a steep ascent so, as a flowing river, I had to put forth significant effort to overcome gravity and ascend to Brin’s Mesa. At the top, I wondered, where will the water fall?
Arriving at the Brin’s Mesa trail intersection, I realized my original goal for this particular hike would never be achieved. A big reason I wanted to take this loop was for an entire day meandering without time worries and for the maps showing a spur to a natural arch existing between the seven pools and Brin’s Mesa intersection. I planned to lay beneath the arch admiring the handiwork of wind and water. We never found a marker for the spur trail. The arch visit did not materialize.
About the same time, an earworm crawled out of my subconscious surfacing in my conscious. Time. Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future. We had to finish the hike with enough time to eat before our helicopter ride. The plan to linger, to move at a glacial pace in rhythm with geologic time was supplanted to one of time management. I prefer vacations unbounded by time constraints. But, there are so many places to see and so little time to explore.
Retirement is not a big deal for me. I enjoy my work, look forward to Mondays…most of the time. This, however, was a point I longed to be retired, without time commitments at the other end of the wire. I would have returned to this trail the next day or the day after or a future day when the trails were free of spring breakers and hiking would be with a sense of solitude, a portal to the spiritual and connection with goddess Earth where I could layabout for hours grappling with myself or, like Jacob, wrestle with god for control of the universe.
Brin’s Mesa began with a stretch in the sun. The weather was relatively cool and low humidity making the hike pleasant. We met a few hikers with their dogs in tow. Well, not in tow, the dog’s were pulling the people along. They seemed to relish hiking as much as their human companions.
Halfway across the Mesa, we took a side diversion to bag a summit. Well, a tall rock mound requiring minor free climbing skills. It overlooked the valley we traversed. I envisioned myself the second to last red headed condor in existence surveying my domain seeking a mate or a meal, bumping into a hot condor babe while our heads were buried in the fetid corpse of a rotting cow experiencing love at first bite.
But Condor doesn’t have a red head, you say? Some are tinged with a pink-orange but not red. I am my own Condor…or…maybe Turkey Vulture…no…I’m Condor with a great wingspan casting terrifying shadows o’er the land when soaring close to Sister Sun. Given a choice, I would have stayed perched atop the summit until I became a god claiming all I can imagine for my kingdom. But, earworm kept nagging me, time was not on our side nor was the solitude necessary to transform into a deity.
Brin’s is a high Mesa. Our car was parked in a valley. Elevation was the name of the game. The outward dropped over 330 feet in less than half a mile. We carefully navigated the steep declines grateful not to be hiking in mud season. The severe angles would have found us falling on our asses repeatedly.
The final mile was uneventful, a slowly descending walk on a wide path beneath a canopy of trees. We didn’t see any barefoot ninja wannabees carrying swords. For bits, my wife and I walked silent hand in silent hand marveling at our good fortune to be in Sedona occasionally commenting on the beauty. This stretch was sufficiently different from my beloved that I didn’t experience lust…although I did experience a raging hardon to stick myself deep into Cibola Pass again and again. My wife must have noticed the lustful look flashing across my face.
“Are you enjoying Sedona?” my wife asked.
“Ya…but…I feel like I’m cheating on Moab?”
What does that mean?”
“Moab is where I first fell in love with Redrock. It is a place I can see living my last days and will hopefully be interred for eternity, interred without a casket so nature can recycle me, maybe a vulture will carry my soul heavenward while coyotes grind my bones to dust. Being here, enjoying red Sedona, feels a bit like I’m cheating on my real love like I’m having an extra-terrestrial affair.”
“An extra-terrestrial affair. I feel like I’m cheating on my earth soulmate for a semi-attractive floozy!”
“Isn’t an affair supposed to be exciting?”
“Sedona is enjoyable but being here, enjoying the red rock here comes with an undergirding sense of betrayal. I can’t stomach betrayal…either betraying or being betrayed. It fucks with my sense of self.”
“And you feel you are cheating on Moab?”
“I know it sounds crazy.”
“It sure does.”
“I have a deep sense of guilt gnawing at my sense of right and wrong. I feel…corrupt, dirty.”
“But it’s only land. It’s not like betraying people”
“It’s the land and what the land represents. My first time in Moab was like coming home though I’d never been there before. It changed my sense of reality both internal and external. It’s hard to explain. Whenever I’m out of sorts, going through a rough patch, Moab is where I go for healing. It is my center, the locus of my being. She has never failed me. Not once.”
“I guess if you feel this guilty about land, you would never cheat on me.”
“True data, baby. True dat.”
We finished the hike in silence. Me trying to reconcile irrational feelings of earth betrayal and wondering how I would get back to Cibola, alone, and test my blood. Her, I’m sure, wondering what the hell goes on inside my mind.
After another ridiculously expensive meal with mediocre food, it seems all food in Sedona is overpriced except for the tasty organic Thai Spices restaurant we ate at twice. The first time it was no waiting. The second there was a longish wait so we took our food to go. One of our breakfasts set us back $50 for nothing special, typical eggs, links, potatoes, pancakes. We lunched on two pops, a foot long sub, and a 6-inch sub for which we were gouged for $35. I can see paying a premium for quality food but these were kinda meh, not nearly as good as Subway which tastes better by virtue of being half the price. Before the chopper flight, we had so-so burgers at a very slow serving Bar & grill. On the plus side, the fires were crispy. My recommendation for Sedona either eat at the Thai place or make your own food. It will save a ton of money. After the burgers, we moseyed on up to the airport for our helicopter ride.
Our hotel wasn’t terribly far from the airport. Still, we took the car. The long hikes left a lingering dull ache in my knees. There was more hiking on the horizon thus the car.
Before boarding, everyone weighs in then are arranged to balance the load. I was lucky to be chosen for the co-pilot seat giving me a wide and distant view. The three behind were forced into a more limited perspective. The fifteen-minute ride, normally $100 per person, was way too short especially that time includes the takeoff and landing along with approaches. There was probably 10 minutes, maybe less, to actually view the spectacular landscape. Not nearly enough to absorb the majesty. I was glad we chose to fly late in the evening. The colors were warming up increasing the beauty in the eye of this beholder. It’s really difficult to describe the experience so the pictures must suffice.