The Westerners Find Ducks in the Wilderness

November 11, 2022

By Dr. Kelly-Leigh Thomas

Although the Bear Sign trail did, indeed, live up to its name today, there were also more subtle signs of nature’s smaller creatures. Here a tarantula checks out the camera of a Westerner hiker.

The Rough Riders are back on the trails as the new season for the Sedona Westerners has begun. Our 60-year-old Club of happy hikers continues to offer diverse hikes and historical, botanical and geological treks into nature.

In early October, and perfect autumn weather, our group enjoyed a 7-mile loop called “Many Ducks”. Leaders Deb Weinkauff and Randy Dent were charged with keeping track of our expedition as we enjoyed this wilderness area.

The hike began in the Bear Sign area, where beautiful washes, creeks, red rocks and lookouts challenged our hikers. Decidedly, the most difficult part of this hike is the long, arduous, bumpy drive to the trailhead on Vultee Arch Rd 152 and negotiating past all the pedestrians claiming ownership of the road.

This “Many Ducks'' hike involved a long march through pines and firs where we ran into a cute male desert tarantula on the trail. He was kind enough to provide this week’s photo op. There were many creek crossings, and on the aptly named Bear Sign Trail, much fresh bear scat was seen. This omnivore had clearly enjoyed the local berries that the forest provides this time of year.

Ursus americanus, the black bear, likes to mark territory by scratching bark off trees, which was noticed on a nearby tree! An animated discussion followed on how hikers should deal with a Black bear versus a Brown bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) interaction.

Although we only have black bears in our area, many hikers have visited northern trails where both exist. Safety in numbers along with loud, noisy hikers help deter these bruins, leading to very rare sightings.

The next leg of our journey had us turn to climb the David Miller Trail to a lovely Coconino sandstone lookout, the destination for our snack break.

We had time to think about 22-year-old David Miller, a recent college graduate and new hire for the US Forest Service in 1998. After 8 weeks on the job, David headed into Bear Sign Canyon for a three-day hike and was never seen again. This trail was named to honor David Miller the following year.

Someday, hopefully, evidence will surface to explain this tragedy. Mystery still surrounds it today. There should be a tent, camping supplies and clothing somewhere in these canyons. One of our seasoned hikers thought there may have been a recent discovery of clothing, but I have not yet found anything to substantiate that discovery.

Leaving the David Miller trail, we dropped down to the Secret Canyon Trail which led us to our lunch spot on another beautiful overlook. Along with the view, homemade baked treats were enjoyed by all.

Swapping stories about past hikes and upcoming hiking trips keeps everyone thinking about all the possibilities that hiking can provide, especially here in the Sedona area.  While sharing these stories we completed our hike by boulder hopping through Rose’s canyon, dodging fallen trees and making it back to our cars. The rain predicted for our hike did fall, all two drops! Yet another lovely Sedona Westerners hike was under our belt!

Lastly, I owe you an explanation about the name Many Ducks for this trail. Ducks are markers or cairns left on a trail to mark an important turn. This challenging hike has many twists and turns, so you guessed it…many ducks were needed!

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  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.

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