The Amblers do Munds Wagon Trail on Foot
March 10, 2023
By Jan Taylor
Recent winter moisture continues to offer visual delights. Here, just feet from Munds Wagon Trail, is flowing water and truly serene experience.
The Amblers section of the Sedona Westerners did a five-mile hike on the Munds Wagon Trail February 2, 2023, led by Jim Meade and co-lead by me. It started out as a briskly cool and sunny day, but with the up- and down-hill trail, we quickly started peeling off layers. It’s amazing to hike in shirt sleeves in early February, especially after the long cold spell we’ve had the last two months.
The historic Munds Road, now called Schnebly Hill Road, was originally built as a cattle trail, begun in 1896. It wasn’t completed by J. J. Thompson, one of Sedona’s early settlers, until 1902. The Munds Wagon Trail, the hiking trail, parallels Schnebly Hill Road. During most of the year, the sound of Jeeps taking visitors up to Cow Pies and Merry-Go-Round Rock is continuous. On this winter day, however, the gate to the dirt part of the road was closed, so we had nothing but the sound of birds and the many waterfalls. Yes, waterfalls. Following the rain and snowmelt, Bear Wallow Creek was still flowing, giving us beautiful views of numerous small waterfalls, cascades, and occasional patches of ice. It was truly a magical day. Above us to the north towered the Redwall cliffs of Mitten Ridge with towers, buttes and an occasional view of a rock window. In all, we had 16 stream crossings on our out-and-back hike, requiring some careful rock-hopping. The view changed constantly with snow-covered cliffs on the north-facing slopes to our south side, and the snow-covered slope to the east heading up to the Mogollon Rim. We could see the trace of Schnebly Hill Road heading up to the Rim, although the unimproved dirt road is no longer advisable for anything other than a high-clearance all-wheel drive vehicle.
Along the south-facing cliffs on our north side, we could make out the narrow trace of the Fort Apache Member of the Schnebly Hill Formation, a brownish horizontal limestone band originally deposited in a shallow tropical sea in the Early Permian period, about 280 million years ago. In the Sedona area, the band is 10-12 feet thick and forms a hard layer that provides a nice hiking platform for the Hiline Trail. In the area of Fort Apache, over 200 miles southeast of Sedona, this rock layer is about 100 feet thick. But it pinches out northwest of Sedona in the Sycamore Canyon area. The Fort Apache Member is the middle rock layer of the Schnebly Hill Formation, bounded by sandstone above and below, all very hard cliff-forming rock layers. In the creek, though, we also saw boulders of all sizes, including boulders of Kaibab Limestone brought down by flood waters from the Mogollon Rim above us to the east. This rock is the surface rock of both the South and North Rims of the Grand Canyon, as well as what you are walking on in Flagstaff. It is a much younger rock than the Fort Apache Limestone and is filled with marine fossils from 270-247 million years ago.
Besides appreciating the incredible geology around us, we were enthralled with the beauty of the creek and its waterfalls. Most of the year, there are just a few scattered pools if we are lucky. There were still a few patches of snow along the trail, melting into muddy areas, but we were stopped by very slick and sloping ice along the slickrock sandstone just before our planned lunch break. This was too dangerous to traverse, but, fortunately, there was an equestrian bypass leading a few yards up to Schnebly Hill Road. We wisely took the bypass, which only took us a few minutes out of our way. The road itself was snowy and icy, but there were enough melted patches to walk on. While we were enjoying our break, we heard yelling just below us on the trail. Along came another group of hikers who didn’t take the bypass. They paid for it by sliding into the creek below. We felt justified in taking the road for a few yards.
It was a wonderful day for a hike in this beautiful canyon with good company.