Westerners Mustangs Hike The Devil's Back Door
April 23, 2021
By Dave Minott
Photo Courtesy of Alan Gore Recently this spring, the Mustangs hiking group of the Sedona Westerners hiking club completed a strenuous hike called "The Devil's Back Door." This took the hikers towards the iconic rock arch known as Devil's
Through the centuries, poets from Frost, to Dickenson, to Shakespeare have waxed optimistic and with joy over the coming of spring, the season of new beginnings – earlier dawns, warmth in the air, budding plants, and singing birds. On such a lovely spring morning, the Mustangs hiking group of the Sedona Westerners hiking club assembled to hike together. Besides sensing the new beginnings that come with spring, our group of hikers was excited over another welcome new beginning, the resumption of group hiking following the long “COVID winter,” during which our group hikes had been suspended.
Assembling at the Long Canyon Trailhead, our hike leaders described the planned hike, named Devil’s Back Door. Appropriate for the Mustangs group of robust hikers, this hike was billed as a scenic, but very strenuous hike, 7 miles long and entailing 1,100 feet of elevation gain. Our group of hikers then split into two smaller groups that would hike a distance apart in order to prevent trail overcrowding.
Guided by our hike leaders, Dave Minott and Patrick McNabb, we started out on the Mescal Trail, and then picked up the Devil’s Bridge Trail. While indeed headed towards Devil’s Bridge, we purposely avoided going to this iconic, rock-arch attraction. This is because Devil’s Bridge, in particular, now attracts large crowds of out-of-town hikers, often several hundred per hour. Many of us locals have observed the roadside traffic jams that have become the norm daily in the Devil’s Bridge parking area. It appears that Devil’s Bridge, in particular, has now become Sedona’s go-to destination for young visiting hikers who base their hike choice solely on which hike gets the greatest number of “likes” on social media.
As we neared Devil’s Bridge, rather than following the crowds up to that now overly-popular destination, we followed the portion of the trail that took us beneath the Devil’s Bridge. The view of the Devil’s Bridge rock-arch, looking up at it from below, was uniquely striking, prompting lots of oohs and aahs, and photo-taking. As we continued our hike, we unfortunately encountered a large area of rock that had been defiled with graffiti. Accordingly, our hikers documented the exact location of the graffiti and sent that, along with photographs, to the U.S. Forest Service, in order to hasten the removal of the graffiti. The Sedona Westerners have long espoused the wilderness mantra, “Leave No Trace!”
Leaving Devil’s Bridge, we then hiked through stands of Juniper trees, towards a rock formation called Norm’s Notch. Along the way, we noticed the first spring flowers in bloom, Paintbrushes and also the blueberry-like blossoms of Manzanita plants (Manzanitas and blueberries are indeed relatives). Nearing Norm’s Notch, we noticed another group of hikers there. Our first thought was, they must be Sedona Westerners! And sure enough, they were hiker friends who then joined us for a scenic snack break there on a red-rock overlook.
Crossing then to the other side of the canyon, we began the return leg of our hike and found a nice lunch spot. Perched there against the canyon wall while munching our lunches, we enjoyed the fine views of the red-rock formations up and down the canyon. However, what drew the most commentary was the view of the Devil’s Bridge arch, now directly across the canyon from us at a distance. We watched as more than a hundred visitor hikers were stretched out in line at Devil’s Bridge, waiting their turns to step out onto the Devil’s Bridge rock arch to have their picture taken by a friend or relative. The wait in line was likely over a half-hour. We decided we might have been viewing from our remote perch a little bit of Disneyworld here in a Sedona wilderness canyon.
As we resumed our hike, we spotted Balanced Rock, high up on the opposite canyon wall. This rock is striking, as it looks like a solitary, huge egg that is balanced precariously on its end, totally defying gravity as it resists tipping over and crashing down the cliff side.
We next descended to our final trail choice, the Chuckwagon Trail, which took us quickly back to our starting point. As the hike ended, everyone seemed particularly grateful to have been with their Sedona Westerner friends, able to hike together again. Although very tired after completing this strenuous hike, all of us agreed it was both very scenic and a satisfying challenge.
If you are interested in joining the Westerners club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership. Monthly meetings are only facilitated via Zoom at present until the Covid 19 restrictions are lifted.