Prairie Dog Sighting Near Thunder Mountain

March 31, 2023

By Jon Petrescu

Just like clouds make interesting looking objects, the Red Rocks can spur our imaginations. Here, what appears to be a large prairie dog pops up near Thunder Mountain.

February was a cold and wet month. The originally scheduled hike was supposed to be Thunder Mountain Trail via Chimney Rock. The hike leaders, Donna Forsyth and Lisa Celeste, had scouted the hike the previous day to determine trail conditions. Due to the below freezing temperatures and concern for ice on the trail, and in coordination with the Ambler Hike Boss Jan Taylor, the hike was adjusted to Thunder Mountain and Andante trails. The start time was changed to 10am instead of 9am to allow the air temperature to warm up to at least freezing.

At the hike sign-in and trail briefing at Posse Grounds, the hardy adventurers who showed up we were warned that as the day warmed up, there would be muddy areas on the trail but not much ice. A new Westerner introduced herself. She has visited Sedona many times over the last several years and discovered the Sedona Westerner hiking group prior to this visit and joined. She was well prepared for the hike with her hiking boots, new hiking poles, and dressed for the cold.

After carpooling to the Thunder Mountain trail head, the hike started east on Thunder Mountain Trail heading toward Coffee Pot under cloudless skies and very bright sunshine. We took the right fork ont0 Andante Trail which parallels Thunder Mountain at a slightly lower elevation, keeping us closer to the residential area bordering the forest. Along the way we passed the glittering gold spire of the Buddhist Stupa.

After about 30 minutes the uphill sections warmed us enough to where just about everyone removed their heavy outer layer. The wintery chill seemed to make the views of West Sedona and Airport Mesa sharper and brighter.

At the junction of Thunder Mountain and Sugar Loaf trails we stopped for several minutes to enjoy views of Salt & Pepper red rock formation and Little Sugar Loaf. From that viewpoint we also had great views of Coffee Pot and Thunder Mountain. At this point we turned around and headed back to the trailhead on the Thunder Mountain trail. This took us higher on the slope of Thunder Mountain and closer to the rock formations.

On the west side of a very large upright boulder, we stopped for our snack break and enjoyed views of West Sedona from a different perspective. We talked about the rock formations around Thunder Mountain. Here one of the members told us that, in addition to being called Thunder Mountain, it actually has two additional older names: Capital Butte and Greyback Mountain.

Someone asked what the name of a particular rock spire that was between Thunder Mountain and the Coffee Pot formation. No one knew. We all decided, because it was so unique, that it must have a name. Just before we got up to continue the hike one of the members said it looked like an upright, on-watch prairie dog. Everyone agreed that from our viewpoint and perspective that it did look like a standing prairie dog. For us now, it is the Prairie Dog formation.

We stopped at the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park for a quiet ten minutes of peace and contemplation.

Returning to the trailhead parking lot everyone’s boots had picked a good layer of red mud. Fortunately, one member had a supply of booties to wear over our mud laden boots. A few were prepared with an extra pair of shoes to protect the drivers’ cars. One just took off his boots and carried them on his lap for the ride back to Posse Grounds.

The Sedona Westerners always welcome new members.  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 seasons 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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