Sedona Westerners Rough Riders on the Vultee Trail

May 07, 2021


By Dr. Kelly-Leigh Thomas

Photo courtesy of Harold Brockwell The above desert spring plants are seen along the Vultee Arch Trail in Sterling Canyon and similar canyons and many areas around Sedona. The plant in the foreground with beautiful pink-purple blooms is a Wild Four O’Clock. T

The Sedona Westerners Rough Riders are happy to be on the trail again! Although our Westerners’ season has been abbreviated due to the pandemic, we managed to finish off our season with a full schedule of hikes for April to mid-May. Each of the Sedona Westerners hiking groups has had enthusiastic attendance. Following our Covid 19 guidelines and common sense, we have kept our hiking groups to 10 hikers including the leader and tailgater, maintained 6 feet distance between hikers, and have worn masks when we carpooled together.

Saturday is the designated hiking day for the Rough Riders with our meetup location at Posse Grounds, 8:00 AM sharp. The warmer weather and busy roads made an early start that much more important. Our trailhead destination for this mid-April hike was Vultee Arch/Sterling Pass Trailhead in Sterling Canyon. Our access to the trailhead was down the long bumpy, “high clearance vehicles only” Forest Service Road 152, taking us close to an hour to reach the trailhead. Dodging pedestrians all along the way got even more challenging as the day went on. Foot traffic to Devil’s Bridge has been compounded by the compressed hiking season and the social media attention that the Devil’s Bridge hike generates. Dusty people and dogs choose to crowd the road instead of hiking the comfortable and scenic Chuck Wagon Trail to the west.

Gearing up at the trailhead and heading east along the Vultee Arch Trail, we enjoyed the walk into Sterling Canyon guided by our Scouts Marisa Combs and Ken Ferguson. Our 3.5 hour hike covered about 4 miles with an accumulated vertical climb of about 800 feet. We travelled along a wash enjoying the boulders, newly leafing trees, sparse spring flowers, and of course…..conversation! Stopping for a snack on a beautiful slick rock before heading up again towards the north of Vultee Arch, we took the time to enjoy the beautiful views. Our hope on this hike was to enjoy the flowering spring desert plants; however, in this regard, our spring has been off to a slow start. Normally on the Vultee Arch Trail environ we would expect to see many Desert Indian Paintbrush, Hedgehog Cacti, Fernleaf Biscuitroot, Agave, Yucca, Wild Four O’clock, and Firecracker Penstemon; but today they were few and far between. The green budding trees that were a contrast to the dry brown autumn leaves that we were walking on gave us hope. One flowering plant that seemed plentiful as we climbed higher was the Fernleaf Biscuitroot. Native Americans harvested and still harvest this plant’s starchy roots which can be eaten raw, cooked as a vegetable or ground into flour. It is said to taste like celery or parsnip or…..you guessed it: stale biscuits!

After lunch we headed back out to our cars, realizing the only place we encountered people was near the trailhead! Moral of the story: A little extra effort and forethought will get you hiking in a less traveled area.

If you are interested in joining the Sedona Westerners club, please visit the website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership. Monthly meetings are held via Zoom at pres Prient until the Covid 19 restrictions are lifted.

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