The Mustangs Venture to Black Canyon
October 28, 2022
By Dave Mascone
Beautiful waterfalls and pools in the Sedona area can be elusive but beautiful. This hidden gem is at the end of a long climb up the Black Canyon Trail near Cottonwood.
The morning broke pleasantly, mild in temperature, with a refreshing breeze and clear skies. With that, our intrepid group of Mustangs set out for Black Canyon trail. We started early, 7 AM, as our hike involved an eight-mile trek and a cumulative elevation gain of 1800 feet.
As normal, we gathered at a common location – but not the typical Posse Ground or Village of Oak Creek. We corralled in Cottonwood at the Cliffrose Trail parking, for Black Canyon and the trail to it sat in the cascading hills beneath Mingus Mountain.
Once gathered, the hike boss read the rules. Covid requirements and cautions, of course, as Covid remains a jeopardy absent vigilance. Then reminders to pack out all items and leave nature unspoiled, both for its sake and the sake of others who will follow.
With that, we set out with Dennis Chisholm as our leader and Kelley Malek as our tailgater. We passed through a gate, traversed a short flat section, then headed upward.
The uphill ran easy underfoot with sand or crushed stone being the trail surface, and we encountered essentially no boulders, ledges, or sharp turns. But we did climb, for three miles, up and up. And a mischievous second gate taunted this hiker, as I mistook it as our having finished the uphill. Not the case. Trek on.
When we eventually finished the climb, we veered onto a side spur to Black Canyon proper. The trail turned decidedly less favorable. It narrowed, plunged downward, became slippery with loose rock underfoot, twisted in tight steep turns, and in places blocked our progress with boulders requiring rock scrambling. Never dangerous, not overwhelming, but not a stroll. Mustang level.
Then our descent reached the canyon, and the majesty of canyon stretched out before us. Jagged rock faces surrounded us all around, forming upward spires and rough walls. We faced not sandstone as in Sedona, but rather ancient igneous rock, molten minerals hardened back in geological time, now visible after millions of years of removal of overlying sedimentary layers.
And this igneous stratum displayed a kaleidoscope of colors – rugged, muted, earthen tones. The colors included blues tones shading to both steel gray and light turquoise, oranges blending towards shades of tan, dark pale reds, and touches of faint yellow and green.
Beneath our feet, the recent rains had filled the canyon wash with a fully flowing creek. Not a boisterous one, but rather one that ran softly, in a delicate fashion, adding a melodic babbling to the ambiance. Along the creek, pools formed, their surfaces reflecting the rock walls, abundant vegetation, and occasional water cascade.
And rocks dotted the creek bed, some rocks rounded from years of incessant scouring by grit-filled monsoon surges in the creek. Others remained jagged, geologically newer, split more recently from the rock faces as expanding ice in rock fissures fractured segments.
We proceeded on amongst the rocks and creek. We just followed the creek, rock scrambling up and down boulders, rock-hoping back and forth as needed across the creek, and bushwacking in places on the shores. After a stretch, the creek turned right, and we continued following the creek. Then after another stretch, we came upon the gem of the hike – a fifty-foot waterfall. Don’t picture a wide wall of water, but rather a concentrated jet of water rocketing down the smooth, vertical chute the jet had worn in the rock face. Quite magnificent.
Lunch was had, pictures taken, videos recorded, serenity enjoyed, and solitude appreciated. Rest and refreshment done, back we went, retracing our steps, and while a loop is appreciated, no loop was possible as the steep walls meant the way out was the way in.
Back up on top, the scene changed. The rock cliffs and babbling creek became endless stretches of meadow and open forest undulating over the smoothly cascading slopes. Grasses filled the meadows, and with the recent rains, the grasses now formed thick blankets of seed topped stalks. Prickly pear cactus had similarly thrived, many sporting flowers, and sturdy, round junipers dotted the landscape everywhere. And sneaking in between, tiny wildflowers added dashes of color to contrast the greens hues of the grass, cactus, and trees.
We passed through the upper gate, and while the mid-day sun did heat us up, we kept a good pace and soon came upon the welcome sight of the lower gate, knowing the parking lot lied just a couple hundred feet further.
The Sedona Westerners always welcome new members, and we have hikes multiple days of the week for all abilities. If you are interested in joining the club, please visit our website at sedonawesterners.org. You will find an interesting history, the whole season’s list of planned hikes, and a handy membership link. It only takes five minutes to sign up and start your new adventures here in the Red Rocks.