Sedona Westerner Mustangs hike Flagstaff Area Trails

October 01, 2021

By Dennis Chisholm

The Mustangs make their way through the Museum Burn Area. Our first impression was a fabulously interesting collection of burned trees, but upon closer examination the forest floor was teaming with all varieties of new life and vegetation.

The Sedona Westerners Mustang group was chomping at the bit to start their first outing of the hiking season on Thursday September 9th 2021. We met at the Posse Grounds in Sedona with a reading of the rules and a reminder of the updatedCOVID-19 protocols for the club. Dividing ourselves up into carpools, we were on our way to the Sunset Trailhead just north of Flagstaff.

After a beautiful drive through Oak Creek Canyon, with just a little rush hour traffic in Flagstaff, we arrived at the trailhead which is popular with bikers, hikers, and horseback riders. There were plenty of hikers and bikers, but no equestrians this day.

First things first, the weather gods were looking down favorably on us throughout this hike and made it extremely enjoyable. Itwas the end of summer, and just a little warm, but a standard beautiful Arizona day with clear blue skies and just the starting of some puffy cumulus clouds building towards Mt. Humphreys.

Our hike was led by Dave Vanderwater and co leader Gary Morgan. Dick Williams was the tailgater. About 8:30 our group pushed off on the Sunset Trail through second and third growth ponderosa pines that cast beautiful shadows on the forest floor.This was going to be a good day. 

We stayed on an easterly track as we traversed through more young growth ponderosa. The Shultz Tank slowly started topresent itself on our left. Although we were walking through a mildly burned area, there is something unique going on here. Sophia Sweeney was taking a moment to smell the flowers and had us all put our noses right up to the ponderosa’s bark to smell the sap. It was a very unexpected sweet vanilla scent.

As we continued down the trail there was a veritable arboretum of trees, including Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir, and Aspensfluttering in the mild breeze which are just now presenting theirsubtle hint of light yellow. We could tell fall was on its way…and so were we!

We had been on a steady push since leaving the parking lot but the contour lines were becoming closer together, meaning the uphills were getting a little more challenging. It’s a relief to be out of the valley heat and into the higher altitude crisp air of the Mogollon rim. We reached a high point of East Dry Lake Summit at 8642’ and from this vantage point were able to make out most major peaks, including Fremont and Humphreys.

After taking in the spectacular views and grabbing a snack, we traversed the Museum burn area of 2019. This was a true forest fire in that over 1000 acres of forest exploded into a wild intensity, burning entire trees from the forest floor to their crowns. As devastating as this fire was, everywhere you look a variety of plants and trees has invaded the burnt landscape claiming the ground as its own. 

Up to now we had been enjoying the peace and quiet of the outdoors, but progress has its way of intruding. Our solace was broken with the cacophony of back hoes, skidders, chainsaws, and enormous dump trucks. In what appeared to be a cleanup operation from a previous thinning operation, they were making and moving enormous brush piles away from the affected areas.  It actually gave you the impression that some gigantic beaver had been really busy. 

We put the heavy equipment and dusty service road in our rearview mirrors, passed Dry Lake Hills, and were again in the mixed Forest that we enjoyed so much at the beginning of our hike. It was a relief and a pleasure to be on our final track leading to our starting point.

The final tally for our almost 4 hour adventure was 6.5 miles and over 850 feet of elevation gain.

One of the common words used by all to describe our hike was “awesome”, and we agreed that our day’s experiences bode well for our future hikes. I know everyone truly meant it. 

If you are interested in the joining the Sedona Westerners club, please visit the website at  It only takes about 5 minutes to sign up, and there are weekly hikes suitable for all abilities.  Monthly meetings are still held via Zoom at present until the Covid 19 restrictions are lifted.


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