Flowing Water, History, and Spring Flowers on Bell Trail

May 05, 2023

By Dick Williams

Wet Beaver Creek is normally a small stream, but the snow melt from the rim has greatly increased its flow lately. Here, the usually calm swimming hole known as the “Crack” is more like a swirling pool.

Our adventure this morning began in our normal VOC gathering place.  Today’s destination was Bell Trail and a trip up to the infamous “Crack”, which is a favorite swimming hole and picnic spot. Getting to the trailhead is pretty easy.  Just go south on 179, pass under the interstate, and keep going a few miles, past a one-lane bridge, to a left turn that is well-signed for Bell Trail parking.

There is also a road for Bell Trail overflow parking…which is a good indicator of how popular this route can be.  Today, however, both the trailhead parking and the overflow were empty. Normally it is a summertime destination, so the crowds were low and for the first half of the day we had the area practically to ourselves.

The trailhead is adjacent to the National Forest Service’s Beaver Creek Work Center, which has a very interesting history.  Originally built as the Beaver Creek Ranger Station in 1935, it began with three buildings.  The Ranger Residence, the Ranger Station, and the Carriage House.  All of the structures were designed with the architecture of the day, and are still quite beautiful in their own unique ways.  The complex was added to the US Register of Historical Places in 1985, which is quite an honor for an NFS structure.

The complex was turned into the Beaver Creek Work Center, affectionately known by NFS personnel as “The Beave”, when the Sedona and Beaver Creek Ranger stations were combined to become the Red Rock Ranger District and the new Ranger Station and Visitor Center were built on 179 just south of VOC.  These days, the complex provides housing for seasonal work crews, trailer spots for Forest Volunteers, stables for backcountry horses, storage for trail maintenance equipment, and serves as a staging complex for fire crews.

The Ranger Residence and the Ranger Station are both being used for storage these days, but there are activities in process to renew the buildings and infrastructure and potentially add more housing for seasonal work crews.  Being able to accomplish this would help the Red Rock Ranger District mitigate the lack of affordable housing that hampers its ability to attract trail workers. 

So back on the trail it was a beautiful spring day, with a “Sedona Blue” sky, light winds, and mild temperatures.  The hike itself is 3.5 miles inbound to “The Crack”, with a relatively flat trail the first portion with more hills and loose rocks near the end.  Although not that difficult, it can be very hot in the summer…especially for the folks hauling coolers. 

One thing about this particular journey was out of the ordinary, however.  That was the sound of the rushing Wet Beaver Creek.  Normally it is just a burble with low flow, but the recent snow melt-off up on the rim were making for a very high flow today.  Many of us had never seen it that high, nor heard it. 

Along the way you pass a black rock about 15 feet square on the left side.  At first it looks like it just cleaved off the hillside and stopped near the trail.  Upon further inspection, however, there are some very nice pictographs on the flat face.  You just have to wonder if this was an ancient version of Facebook or Instagram.  What story were they trying to tell?

A little further along there is a spur trail called Weir Trail that heads down to gauging station for the creek.  Given the high flow, we decided to just keep on going.

Arriving at the Crack, it is evident that the normally smooth and tranquil swimming hole has been replaced by a torrentially swirling pool.  There were no fewer than 7 swirling eddies in the current. Besides two other couples we were the only ones there.  After a snack, and watching an accidently dropped water bottle swirl in the eddies and then shoot downstream, we put on our packs and headed back to the trailhead.

In only a few minutes we began to encounter groups of users on their way in.  Many already in swimsuits and with towels.  The otherwise peaceful interlude we enjoyed just moments before was about to be inundated.  This was confirmed when we arrived at the parking area…all the spaces were now filled and folks were heading to the overflow.

We thanked our hike leaders Dan Wiencek and Jim Thomas for a wonderful trek, filled with the sights and sounds of rapidly flowing water and the emergence of many new spring wildflowers.  It was a picture-perfect day.  And as a bonus, we went past the historical Beaver Creek Work Center to boot.

We were joined again today by a couple of new Westerners, who are only in town for a short while but decided to join the club.  More and more we are seeing folks do this…finding the $30 annual fee a tremendous value if only for a few weeks or months of hikes.  The different routes, scenery, and opportunity to meet new people who share a love of hiking are a true bargain compared to private guides or small group tours.

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 sedonawesterners.org.  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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