The Sedona Westerners Hit the Trails with a New Trail Boss
September 01, 2023
By Sara Stiffler
Trail Boss Ray LaPorte stands ready to lead the Sedona Westerners for the 2023-24 hiking season.
While we may have been told not to wear white after Labor Day, in Sedona early September means it’s time to strap on your hiking boots and once again hit the trails with the Sedona Westerners hiking group.
Now that the 100-degree temperatures of the summer have finally started to fade away, the Westerners are gearing up and taking to the trails – especially those with areas of shade and more tolerable temperatures. The official start of the 2023-24 season begins on September 5 as the Dogies take to the trail for a six-mile hike at Elden Springs / Fatman Loop near Flagstaff. The Mustangs, Amblers, Rustlers, Rough Riders, and Drovers soon follow with hikes in Sedona and Flagstaff with organized hikes planned five days a week through May 9, 2024. As in previous years, the Westerners will be sharing their hiking adventures with you through their articles in the Red Rock News each Friday.
The Sedona Westerners began in 1961 when a small group of people decided to form a social group and organize social activities – primarily around horseback riding. The group added hiking to their list of activities in 1964 and began to explore the new trails being established in Sedona “to make the best of Sedona’s outdoors.” Organized weekend hikes soon became the main social activity of the group members. The Westerners are one of the oldest continuously active clubs in Sedona and have been hiking Sedona trails for over 60 years. Membership has grown over the decades, to more than 400 members in 2023.
Westerner hikes vary in length and endurance with experienced guides leading each hike. Trails are scouted before each hike to ensure they know the route and the trail is safe. Each year Hike Bosses and individual hike leaders are given instructions to ensure each hike is well-planned out and contingencies accounted for. Westerners know Sedona trails.
This season the Westerners welcome a new Trail Boss, Ray LaPorte. Having served as Wagon Boss (Vice President) last year under the leadership of Donna Forsythe, Ray feels prepared for the administrative task of running the Westerners not only as a social group but one that practices education and service for the greater Sedona hiking community. Last season Ray worked alongside other volunteers to help the Forest Service keep visitors safe during the trail improvement work at Cathedral Rock. Ray feels a deep sense of giving back to the community through service, making him the ideal person to lead the Westerners.
Ray’s first experience with the desert Southwest was during a childhood summer trip to New Mexico and Arizona with his family. The desert left a striking and positive impression on him as the landscape was quite different from the bayou country of Louisiana the family called home. Outdoor adventures were always a part of his upbringing.
After several visits to Sedona over the years, Ray and his wife Carol moved to the Village of Oak Creek eight years ago. Both had distinguished careers in the Air Force where Ray flew KC-135 air refueling aircraft as part of the Strategic Air Command. Later, as a civilian contractor, he helped develop Command and Control software for the Department of Defense (DoD). Looking to find new activities and new friends when they arrived in Sedona, they soon discovered the Westerners’ website online. The group quickly filled “the social gap” the newcomers felt and lasting friendships soon developed with their fellow Westerners.
Ray began hiking with the Rustlers and was impressed at how well organized the club was in what the hike leaders knew, and how the hike bosses managed the schedule. He said the club “engages you right away,” and to prove that, during his second season with the Westerners he became an assistant hike boss for the Drovers under then Hike Boss, Sophia Sweeny. Ray went on to serve two seasons as the Hike Boss for the Drovers. It was “an easy choice” for him to join the Board of Directors and serve as the Wagon Boss (VP) under Donna Forsythe last season. Ray praises Donna for doing a "marvelous job" and hopes that he, too, can "help make a difference" with the club.
The Westerners offer hikes at all levels – from beginners (Amblers, Rustlers) to the more athletic (Mustangs, Rough Riders) and everything in between (Drovers, Dogies). With more than 200 hikes and events scheduled for the hiking season, the $30 membership fee is a bargain to be sure. Locals and visitors are encouraged to renew or sign up on the Sedona Westerners website now (www.sedonawesterners.org/membership). It only takes a few minutes to sign up.
Whether you are a local looking for companionship on the trails, a visitor hoping to learn more about Sedona’s expansive trail system, or a retired Air Force pilot, the Sedona Westerners is the hiking club for you. And even if you can’t join the Westerners on the trails, stay tuned each week to the Red Rock News as the hikers share their experiences hiking the Red Rocks and beyond.
A full list of the scheduled hikes and events can be found on the Westerners’ website at www.sedonawesterners.org/schedule.