The Mustangs Hike a Snowy Woods Canyon

March 25, 2022


By Alan Gore

Even after a light snowfall, the contrasts of blue sky, green plants, white snow, and red trails are beautiful.

After a sudden late-winter snowfall in the Sedona area two days before, we had been wondering whether the hike we planned was even possible. We decided that actually it wasn’t, but we saved the day by switching to nearby Woods Canyon, and by starting off an hour later than usual. The morning was exceptionally cold, and we started out wearing every layer we had brought with us.

Parking at the Red Rock Ranger District Center off Hwy 179 in brilliant weather, we headed east into Woods Canyon. Dennis Chisholm led us on the outbound, crossing and then paralleling Dry Beaver Creek. On this occasion it already held some snowmelt. A sunny previous day had left the trail itself free of snow, but within a half mile into the canyon, it began to get muddy from snowmelt coming in from each side.

We made our way along the canyon bottom keeping the wash on our right, climbing slowly through a landscape sugared with fresh snow. We noted that the creekbed below us was filled with dark gray basalt boulders that had rolled down from the lava beds laid down in ancient times on top of Horse Mesa. Because these are harder than the sandstone surrounding us, they have long since ground any of it mixed with the basalt back into sand.

Like all creekbeds in our vicinity, Dry Beaver was thick with cottonwoods, but we saw a number of white-trunked sycamores mixed in with them. Pale trunks against snow and blue sky and dark basalt – it’s a color combination we don’t see often here.

We stopped for lunch at 4.4 trail miles in, an expense of red slickrock facing the wash. In this day’s black and white canyon, still another contrasting color.

Woods Canyon continues to climb up into the high country, crossing I-17, for a total length of 20 miles, but we opted to turn around at our lunch spot. Guenther Pollak took over the lead on the way back. Although the day had started so cold, the temperature was now in the high sixties. We expected a lot more of the trail to be as muddy as the stretch we had encountered on the way up. But the conditions had another surprise for us: the muddy section of the trail coming up was now totally dried out. Woods Canyon is especially thirsty for rain this year, and we’re still behind on precipitation.

As we crossed back over the creek on the approach to the Ranger District Center, we saw thick mats of bright green algae floating on the water. How does it survive the frosty nights at this time of year?

Our total distance for the day was 8.8 miles, but with an elevation gain of only 546 feet. If you are looking for an easy hike that takes you through picturesque country, this is a trail you will want to add to your list.

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