Penguins and Carroll Canyon

April 07, 2023

By Sara Stiffler

Although close to town, Carroll Canyon and its associated trails combine for a beautiful winter’s day excursion. Here the Amblers descend into the wash.

I awoke to the sound of blustering wind and thought it must be the fan of my heater. Then I realized my heater was not running. In fact, it was the wind blowing through the tree outside my window. When I checked my weather app, it reported the outside temperature as 32 degrees with wind gusts up to fifteen miles per hour. I considered this for a moment. Then I got dressed for my hike with the Amblers anyway. I figured if I got to the trailhead and it was too windy and cold, I would just go home.

A crowd was already gathered when I pulled into the parking lot at Sunset Park. Whether the other hikers had considered the wind or not, I don’t know. Someone did comment they were surprised there were so many of us. We were there now, and we were all ready to hike. Due to our group size, we split into two groups - trail leader Linda Schermer leading the first and Jane Dasher taking charge of the second.

The trailhead for the Carroll Canyon trail is about a block away from Sunset Park, but there are only three parking spaces at the actual trailhead. Along the path to the trail head, The Sedona Public Library has installed a series of eighteen panels displaying the pages of Salina Yoon’s children’s story, Penguin and Pinecone. The book would have to wait as we hurried on for our own morning adventure. Luckily, by the time we got on the dirt trail, the wind had died down. 

Linda and Jane had scouted the trail the afternoon before and warned of mud puddles along the trail, saying that by the end of their hike they both felt they were wearing platform shoes from the thick layers of mud under their hiking boots. They hoped with the cooler temperatures we would find the mud frozen instead. As it turned out, we had a little of both. 

Old Post Trail is precisely what it sounds like. An old Postal Route for mail coming into and leaving Sedona back in the day. The trail is wider here as a result, though thoroughly rutted by the elements and the tire tracks of mountain bikes that frequent the trail. We came across several mountain bikers along our hike.

White patches of snow left over from the storm earlier in the week remained, many untouched by paw or boot. Small pools of water were iced over awaiting the crack of a hiking boot or bike tire. Slight elevation gains offered panoramic views along the trail. To the north Capitol Butte, and Coffee Pot. To the south, Pyramid, Napoleon’s Tomb, Cathedral Rock, Courthouse, and Bell Rock. 

The path narrowed and we reached an outcrop of gray rocks, the perfect stopping point for a morning break. A family of deer weaved through the trees on the hill across from us. We lost count of how many as they moved in and out of the shadows of the trees.

As we moved on to the Carroll Canyon trail, the path gained elevation again and the canyon came into view. The canyon serves as a wash for melting snow and rain from numerous tributaries to the north and feeds into Oak Creek to the south. Across the canyon, sloping walls dotted with juniper trees plunge toward the rocky cliff of the canyon. The trail is not close enough to see all the way down the deep canyon, which descends as much as two hundred feet.

Ambler Boss, Jan Taylor, told us that Carroll Canyon carries the distinction of being only one of three locations in Sedona where Esplandande Sandstone, the fifth layer of sedimentary rocks in the Supai Group can be seen. The other locations are in Oak Creek near Midgley Bridge and at the bottom of the Devil's Kitchen sinkhole - and outside of Sedona, the Grand Canyon.

From this point, the trail crosses the Carroll Canyon Wash five times. Rock stairs lead down to the wash and back up again. Many of the crossings were dry or merely muddy, a couple required rock hopping to avoid icy water. 

With Table Top Mountain and the Sedona airport to our east, we found the metal trail sign for the Bandit trail. The sign was one of several donated to the trail system by the Sedona Westerners many years ago. A nice reminder of the Westerners' storied history in Sedona. The trail leads up to the Airport Loop trail and was named for a dog named Bandit who had lived in the area. 

As we reached the end of our trail, we passed a beautiful cholla cactus with yellow tips. When I stopped to take a picture I was warned to beware the “jumping cholla” - as the prickly tips can break off easily and catch on your clothes and skin. If that happens, don’t pull the cactus out of your clothes with your bare hand (ouch!), but rather bring a fine-tooth comb and brush the prickly spines off that way. This is good information to have. I just thought it was pretty to look at.

Be it mountain lions lurking in the woods or pretty cacti along the path, it’s best to keep your wits about you when you’re hiking.

Now to read Penguin and Pinecone on the way back to my car. 

Spoiler alert: It’s a sweet story about sharing, caring, and friendship. Check it out if you get a chance.

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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