The year 2011 was quickly becoming the year of "getting back into shape". After our failed attempt to summit Table Top Mountain, in February, I decided that I needed to get off of my butt and get myself back into shape; otherwise, I was never going to be able to do the difficult hikes that we were once capable of doing.
And so, every day during my lunch hour, I walked 3.5 miles - sometimes following a specific route downtown, other times in the Chase parking garage - and on the weekends, I started riding the bicycle that I had received for Christmas 2010 (a 26 inch, 21-speed Columbia Trailhead mountain bike). And slowly but surely, I started to feel the difference. I was getting my endurance back.
Unfortunately, it was getting harder and harder to find time to go hiking. John was skydiving...a lot. Between team training, load organizing, and the Texas State Record, it seemed that he was gone skydiving every weekend...and Mary and I had a lot of free time on our hands. Whenever we found an opportunity to spend time in the outdoors, we took it.
One such opportunity came up on Saturday, April 16. John had a day off from skydiving and suggested that we use that day to go on a hike. The big question was: where to go? There was still a lot of snow in the high country, meaning that many of the forest roads might still be closed; and the desert was just too hot.
So John thought, why not Sedona? True, we would have to buy a Red Rock Pass to park at the trailhead, and true, we would have to deal with the crowds; but if we picked the right trail, it might be worth it.
And, if we went to Sedona, we could (once again) replace the "Looking for Beaver" geocache, which had gone missing...again...
After some research, John came up with a hike that would be perfect for us. Called the Secret Canyon-Bear Sign Loop, the loop is comprised of a series of trails, including Secret Canyon, David Miller, Bear Sign, and Dry Creek. According to the Forest Service website, the trail would be about six miles in length, which was perfect for our little ten year-old hiker. Moreover, the trail would be mostly flat, with one exception: a half-mile, five hundred foot climb to the top of Miller Pass. It would be steep, but short; I said, "We can handle that!"
With our hiking gear loaded in the 4Runner, John and Mary and I left for Sedona, bright and early on Saturday morning. As we headed north on I-17, we talked about our plans for Easter and other upcoming events; and we also discussed our next trip to South Carolina, which was fast approaching. We realized that it would have been Opa's 97th birthday that day; but he had passed away in December. This was going to be our first visit to SC since his passing; it was going to be strange not seeing him there anymore.
Instead of taking the direct, more popular route into Sedona (I-17 to SR 179) that morning, we turned off onto SR 260 at Camp Verde and drove into Cottonwood, to the junction with SR 89A. Taking that route helped us avoid the majority of the traffic that would be heading into Sedona on such a beautiful morning; it also meant that we didn't have to drive through town to get there. It certainly saved us a lot of time!
We soon turned off onto Dry Creek Road...and that was when we encountered the tourist traffic. There were rental cars and jeep tours aplenty that morning. We ended up following them right past the turn off to FR 152C and had to turn around and backtrack.
Once we turned off onto FR 152C, the tourist traffic was still heavy, and a lot of them had no idea where they were going. One man in a rented Toyota Camry stopped us to ask where the Devil's Bridge Trailhead was located. He was in luck, too, because we just happened to have our Sedona Hikes, by Richard and Shirley Magnum, handy; their books always have exact mileage to the trailhead.
"Hey," John smiled as we drove away, "we could have taken your car to the trailhead."
"Not a chance!" I retorted. While it is true that we were once crazy enough to have driven an Oldsmobile all the way to the Brins Mesa Trailhead, many, many years ago, there was no way in Hell I was going to drive my Camry on that road, not when we own a perfectly good high-clearance, 4WD vehicle!
And the road had "improved" since we were last there, in April 2008 (when we hiked the HS Canyon Trail with Erika). Just minutes after we had left the Camry and its driver behind, we came upon an area where it was a good idea to have a high-clearance vehicle - or, at least impeccable driving skills - to pass. At that point, we left the majority of the tourist population behind; there was no way anyone in a rented vehicle was going to follow us...even if they did pay for the liability insurance!
We arrived at the Secret Canyon Trailhead around 9:30 that morning, to find that there were already five cars parked there - all SUV's, of course. After taking a moment or two to apply sunscreen and to gear up, we set off on our hike.
Our hike began on the Secret Canyon Trail, which we followed for the first 2.1 miles of our expedition. For the first mile and a half, the trail is mostly flat and crosses the creek twice; both crossings were rather easy...although Mary did get her boots a little wet. The first mile and a half also offered us some spectacular views of the red buttes that surrounded us in Secret Canyon. It was incredibly scenic.
After 1.5 miles, we got lost. According to what John had read, we were supposed to find the trail junction at the point where we crossed the slickrock; so, when we reached that point, we looked for the trail junction, to no avail. It wasn't until we had searched the area for a solid fifteen minutes that we referred to the Sedona Hikes book and discovered that we needed to keep going, across the slickrock, on the Secret Canyon Trail; the trail junction would be ahead.
And sure enough, at 2.1 miles, there it was: the junction with the David Miller Trail.
We paused for a long break at the trail junction, because we were going to need the rest. The next half-mile would be a groaner of a climb, to the top of Miller Pass - a total elevation gain of about 500 feet from that point (800 feet total, from the beginning of the hike). While we rested, we devised a game plan for making it to the top of the pass - the high point on the trail. John would hike ahead of us and would stop to wait for us; Mary and I would hike at our own pace and stop when we needed to, until we caught up to him at the pass.
Although it was a steep climb, it wasn't as bad as we imagined it to be. Even Mary managed to make the climb to the top without shedding a tear. We stopped often along the way to catch our breath; and when we did, we turned around to take in the view of Secret Canyon behind us. For that view, it was worth the climb!
Despite the steep climb and a somewhat slow pace, we made it to the top ahead of schedule. We figured that we would arrived at Miller Pass at noon and that we would eat lunch there; but we were much earlier than we anticipated. John suggested that we descend from the pass first; then, we could eat lunch at the next trail junction, which was a quarter of a mile away.
The descent from Miller Pass was a steep one - much steeper than the climb had been - but at least we were going downhill, not up. At the bottom of the descent, we reached the junction with the Bear Sign Trail, 3.2 miles into our trek. The area at the trail junction was nicely shaded and provided us with a good place for us to rest and to eat our lunch.
After lunch, we continued our hike along the Bear Sign Trail, which took us 2.25 miles through Bear Sign Canyon, to the junction with the Dry Creek Trail. This part of the hike was very easy - mostly downhill - and, hiking at a moderate pace, it only took us an hour to complete. Along the way, the landscape changed significantly, as we descended. The trees changed from pine to deciduous to juniper and manzanita; and we soon found ourselves amongst the house-sized red boulders that made up the canyon walls.
We found the junction with the Dry Creek Trail at a junction in the creek, where the two canyons intersected. Having hiked at a good clip to reach it, we decided to stop there for an extended break at the signed junction before continuing our journey. While we rested, John consulted his GPS to try to figure out exactly how long we had to go. It was highly unlikely that the trail was only six miles, as we had initially been led to believe. According to the GPS, we still had another mile and a quarter to go to the Secret Canyon Trailhead...and that was in a straight line.
"So, this trail is not six miles after all," I said. Not that it was a big deal...
"Sounds to me like it's more like seven miles," he indicated. It was very possible that the Forest Service had quoted the whole loop as six miles minus the one-mile hike down FR 152C to return to the Secret Canyon Trailhead. Again, not a big deal; an extra mile wasn't going to kill us.
Mary wasn't pleased to hear that at all; she had hoped to be done after six miles. "Well," John said to her, "if we get to the Dry Creek Trailhead and you feel like you can't go on, I can always hike ahead and bring the car back for you. You just tell me how you feel when we get there."
It was a deal!
The last leg of our hike was on the Dry Creek Trail, which took us through the manzanita and juniper, three-quarters of a mile to the Dry Creek Trailhead. The hike was easy and took us only twenty minutes to complete...hardly enough to wear out our little hiker! When we arrived at the trailhead, she decided that we should keep hiking; there was no reason to wait at the trailhead for John to go back and get the car, not when it was just a short, one-mile hike along the road.
It didn't take us long to walk the road back to the Secret Canyon Trailhead - only about twenty minutes. At the end of our five-hour hike, John mentioned that he was certain that we had hiked more than six miles. Later that afternoon, when he dumped the GPS data onto the computer, he learned that the trail was, in fact, 7.1 miles in length, including the segment on FR 152C. Seven miles! That was quite the feat for our little hiker!
Leaving the area meant that we had to drive through tourist-packed Sedona. As soon as we got to the Devil's Arch Trailhead on FR 152C, we encountered heavy tourist traffic on the road - most of it being held up by a rented SUV, whose driver obviously had no experience driving on dirt roads. Eventually she pulled over and let us - and all of the Pink Jeep tours behind us - pass her. Traffic worsened once we were back on pavement; driving through Sedona on SR 179 was slow-going. Had it not been for the geocache that we had to replace, we probably would have avoided it altogether.
We finally made it to the junction with I-17, where our "Looking for Beaver" geocache is located. It is called "Looking for Beaver", because it was placed along the road to the Bell Trailhead, where the Bell Trail #13 goes into the Wet Beaver Wilderness Area. We hid the geocache in September 2007, and the cache remained there for nearly three years, undisturbed. It was "muggled" for the first time during the summer of 2010, and we replaced it on Labor Day, after spending a day at Red Rock Skydiving; it was then "muggled" again, only a couple of months later.
Needless to say, it was very frustrating. As we placed the new container in its hiding place that afternoon, we decided that we would deactivate the cache, if it is stolen again.
With the new cache in place - and a great day hike concluded - we merged onto I-17 and started our long drive home...
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