Westerners Walk on the Wild Side

October 13, 2017

By Curtis Kommer

Sycamore Canyon as seen by hikers in the dry stream bed. Note the massive red walls and the various size rocks found in the stream bed. A Sedona Westerner hiker in the photo shows the scale of the Canyon

Like a queen on her throne, Sedona sits in the middle of an extraordinary variety of wilderness areas.  Well-traveled trails provide access to arches, canyons, buttes, and waterways throughout the area, providing some of the finest hiking in the world.  On the edge of this magical kingdom is the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, remote, wild, and mostly undiscovered, 56,000 acres accessible only on foot or on horseback.  Due to its pristine beauty and its scarcity of hikers, it has long been a favorite destination for the Sedona Westerners hiking club, and on a recent Thursday a dozen Mustang hikers, co-led by Walter Krywucki and Curtis Kommer, geared up to explore the area.

The centerpiece of the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is Sycamore Canyon, the third largest canyon in Arizona (after the Grand Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon).  Stretching 21 miles from Williams to Cottonwood, Sycamore Canyon drops over 2,000 feet and its width varies from 50 yards to over a mile.  Throughout its course, the Canyon's steep walls provide magnificent cross-sectional views of 290 million years of sandstone, limestone, and basalt layers.

The Westerners' access to the Canyon was the Dogie Trail, which starts at a well-signed trailhead located about 12 miles west of Sedona on Forest Road 525C.  The Dogie Trail initially winds through a rocky landscape dotted with red-rock monuments, and eventually drops down through forested areas to enter Sycamore Canyon.  The Canyon floor is a ribbon of tumbled boulders ranging from fist-sized to bigger than a house, and the Westerners’ hikers are always very careful in placing their feet when hiking there.  The colors are a photographer's dream, with light bouncing off the walls to illuminate and shadow the Cottonwood and Sycamore trees that line the dry river bed.  Due to the long drive and its isolated location, it is rare to encounter other people in Sycamore Canyon, so there is a stillness and solitude that heightens every hiker's experience there. The Westerners enjoy lingering in the Canyon as long as possible.  Eventually the hike leader, Walter Krywucki, felt compelled to lead the group back, as the return trek on the Dogie Trail to the trailhead involves over 1,700 feet of elevation gain.  In classic Sedona Westerners style, Walter Krywucki had a cooler full of cold, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks waiting for the tired group back at the cars.  He provided a refreshing end to a remarkable wilderness hiking experience.

Sycamore Canyon is a special destination, but because of its isolation the Westerners take some extra precautions when hiking there.  It is typically hot, so they take extra water and sunscreen, and wear a hat.  If you are thinking of hiking in the Canyon, check the weather, and if rain is in the forecast, DON'T GO! (Sycamore Canyon is subject to flash floods and can quickly become a raging river).  Take hiking poles to help with the rock-hopping.  Take a map and compass (and/or a GPS) as people do get lost there, and inform someone where you will be hiking and when you expect to return.  Finally, it is a long hike (about 9 miles) with significant rock-hopping and elevation gain, so budget your time appropriately and be sure to consider the hiking abilities of everyone in your group.

If you are interested in joining the club, visit the Sedona Westerners website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership.  You are invited to our next monthly meeting Thursday, November 9, at 7 p.m. at the Sedona United Methodist Church, 110 Indian Cliffs Road.  Sedona Westerners, written this week by Curtis Kommer, appears every Friday in the Sedona Red Rock News.


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