Hot Air Balloons Were a Welcome Sight
October 06, 2023
By Sara Stiffler
A hot air balloon descends over Cockscomb at the end of a morning flight.
As the summer was winding down, my fellow hikers and I took an early morning hike on the west side of town – led by Linda Schermer. Near Cultural Park, we saw a number of hot air balloons lowering down over the landscape enjoying the final minutes of their morning journey.
We carpooled and pulled our vehicles off Red Rock Loop Road. Without high-clearance vehicles, the low shoulder made it difficult to pull out and back onto the road. The Lime-Kiln Trail crosses Red Rock Loop Road at this point. To the east, the trail intersects Scheurman Trail but also continues straight eventually meeting up with Red Rock Loop Road again near Red Rock State Park. We chose to go west. I’d say the sun was to our backs, but it wasn’t quite over the mountains behind us yet. As we looked to the north, the hot air balloons were lower, hovering over the Cockscomb. Ironically, a rooster crowed about that time somewhere over in nearby Elmersville. There was a nice sense of calm and relaxation as we started our hike.
The Lime-Kiln Trail extends all the way to Cottonwood from here, ending at Dead Horse Ranch State Park but we weren’t going that far, of course. In the 1880s, limestone was extracted from the area and the lime was burned in a kiln to create mortar for the construction of houses. Early settlers used the route as a shortcut between Sedona and Cottonwood. The road was abandoned with the advent of cars and what is left is used primarily for hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding.
The trail was shady at first as we waited for the sun to catch up. And it did as the trail gradually climbed. We had extended views to both the north and the south. We could even make out the town of Jerome and Cleopatra Hill in the distance. A lone white flower, perhaps a pricklyburr (Datura innoxia), stood tall among the brush at the side of the trail.
The trail widened and followed the old wagon road for some distance. The road was rutted in long strips, so we had to watch our footing along the way. We passed over several washes as well reminding us not to hike this trail in the rain. But this day, the sun was shining brightly and moved from behind us to overhead now.
We took a side path off the main trail that took us down a steep embankment to Oak Creek. The path met the creek at an area referred to as Gooseneck Bend where the water was high. A short tributary of Oak Creek split off in a T from the creek, roiling and cascading over a small row of rocks. We did not attempt to cross to see where the water was being diverted. We took a short break to enjoy the creek. The smooth surface of Oak Creek along with the bright sunlight provided mirrored reflections of the trees on the other side of the creek and the red rock walls of the cliff beside us.
Going down to the creek, we hadn’t considered the climb back up the steep path to the main trail. And steep it was. The rocky path was challenging, and we had frequent breaks to catch our breath and took advantage of the shade where we could find it.
Prickly pear cacti wore purple tunas (fruit) along the edges of their pads offering a sign of the upcoming change of season. Prickly pear cactus often grow yellow flowers on their pads during the spring and early summer – which attracts bees. In the late summer, the fruit appears. For the extremely cautious and adventurous, the fruit can be picked and made into jelly. None of us were tempted to pick the fruit for fear of the “prickly” spines.
As we neared the end of our hike, we could see the gorgeous landscapes of rolling hills and mesas again to the south and the north. Gone were the balloons and no sound came from the rooster.
The Lime-Kiln Trail offered us a scenic and challenging hike. The final challenge, getting our car tires off the low shoulder and back up onto the road. Insert the sound of tires spinning on the loose gravel.
To learn more about the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club, view this season’s hiking schedule, or to become a member go to www.sedonawesterners.org. The hiking season runs through May 9, 2024, and the membership fee is only $30 for the whole season.