Sedona Westerners Hike Hart Prairie
November 17, 2017
By Terri Petrescu
View from the Hart Prairie trail toward the San Francisco Peaks and other volcanic features in the distance. Clear, distant views are possible due to the Forest Service thinning trees from Hart Prairie.
Our first Sedona Westerners hike for the Sunday Drover hiking group was in Flagstaff and was timed to catch the fall color on Mt. Humphreys. Back in May, when it was warm in Sedona, fall seemed so far off; scheduling the hike date to catch the fall color seemed a bit of a coin toss. Which Sunday would be best? One early fall storm and we would find leaves blowing about, no longer on the trees. On the drive up the mountain, we found stands of aspen turning yellow. Today's hike would be a treat.
Starting at Aspen Corner on Mt. Humphreys, we entered a nice, wide trail and began an immediate short descent. This would be our only hill of the day. The forest at this point is mixed pine and aspen. We marveled at the aspen. Each tree in the aspen grove is connected to the other trees, all with the same DNA, all clones.
Wearing sweatshirts was a nice change from the summer hiking conditions at 4500 feet that we usually encounter in Sedona. Here at 9000 feet, it didn't just seem like fall was here, but that we were on our way to winter. We knew that initial temperatures in the mid-40s would quickly warm up, thereby making for a pleasant hike.
We joined the Arizona Trail, which at this point skirts the mountain. The first sign post had the distance to Mexico. We all agreed it was way too far for a Sunday hike at more than 600 miles. Next up, Utah, about 200 miles. Anyone up for a backpacking trip? We discussed that this would be a great trail to prepare for backpacking. Maybe some of us will be back, someday, to hike further on the Arizona trail.
The trail alternates between meadows and groves of conifer and aspen. These are big trees, unlike those we generally see on our hikes in Sedona. The grass was tall from great summer monsoon rains. We saw a deer bounding through the meadow, startled by our early morning group of hikers. It quickly bounded into the safety of the forest.
We stopped to take a break to enjoy the sun shining through the aspen trees. The low morning sun turned everything a yellow-gold. The fall color did not disappoint. Pictures captured what some thought looked like a cross or an angel shining through the trees. Looking up the mountain we had a clear view to the top, with not a cloud in sight. Some of us will be back in the winter, to ski at the Snowbowl, while others have given up skiing, content to hike the mountain instead.
Further on, we came to Hart Prairie. This was a stage coach stop in the early days of Grand Canyon tourism. The trees have been recently thinned to preserve the Prairie. Early pictures were used as the baseline. Tree stumps dotted the prairie where large trees were recently felled. These thinning operations are not new to those who live in the area. The result is a healthier forest to enjoy. For us, it meant great views down the mountain to distant peaks. The view goes on for miles.
After a short break in a small clearing to enjoy a snack, we headed back to Aspen Corner. The sun was now higher in the sky, so the people just starting out had missed the golden forest. The wind had increased a little, so the aspen were shimmering, another delight to our senses.
Thanks to Barbara O'Connor for leading the hike and Jim Warren for tailgating; we had a delightful morning walk in the woods and the prairie.
If you are interested in joining the club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership. You are invited to our next monthly meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, January 11, at the Sedona Methodist Church, 110 Indian Cliffs Road. Sedona Westerners, written this week by Terri Petrescu, appears every Friday in the Sedona Red Rock News.