The Rustlers Trek the Jim Thompson Trail
October 27, 2023
By Donna Forsythe
The Rustlers walk along the 150-year-old Jim Thompson trail north of Uptown with views of the Pointed Dome and Munds Mountain Wilderness.
On a sunny, late-September Saturday, the Rustlers set out to trek the infamous Jim Thompson trail that runs from Jordan Road to Midgley Bridge. Our hike leader, Deb Hicks, rounded us up at the Jordan Road trailhead and briefed us on what to expect: a somewhat rocky, but easy 5-mile out-and-back hike, with low elevation gain and beautiful red rock views along the way. She mentioned that the trail has historical interest as it was once a road used back in the early days.
The historic significance of the trail piqued my interest. Who is/was Jim Thompson and how did the trail come to be named for him?
Doing a little research, I discovered that John James Thompson was the first non-Native American settler in Oak Creek Canyon. Born in Ireland, Jim traveled by boat to New York and make his way down to Texas. He was wounded in the Civil War, but continued his travels journeying to Mexico where we worked as a cowpoke. Gold prospecting beckoned him to Nevada, where he ended up running a ferry boat instead. It was there that Jim met Abraham James and his family – including three daughters. Still single at age 37, Jim eventually found his way to Arizona.
He arrived in Oak Creek Canyon in 1876. Claiming squatter’s rights, Jim settled on the land now known as Indian Gardens. In a few short years, the James family joined him in the region and made their home in the area known as Camp Garden – twenty-three years before Sedona became the official name of the new settlement. Jim married sixteen-year-old Margaret James – the daughter of his longtime friend. He built a wagon road along the creek to connect the two homesteads. Imagine, if you will, what an undertaking that would have been.
When heavy rains overran Oak Creek and destroyed Jim’s original road, he and his sons built another road, high above the Creek. The new road was an even greater challenge. It started near where Jordan Road is today. The road extended along the base of Steamboat Rock, over Wilson Canyon, up over another tall ridge, and then back down to the creek to his home. Today, nearly 150 years later the path of the old road remains, though years of erosion would make for a rather bumpy road. It would be rough going for a wagon or any vehicle today. It’s now known as the Jim Thompson Trail.
On that recent September day, a congenial group of Rustler hikers from the Westerners, all women - save for one man, by the way - eagerly set out to enjoy the beautiful, breezy early fall day. The trail is wider than most due to the fact it once was a wagon road, so we were able to walk two abreast in some places which allowed for easy conversation and camaraderie as we ambled along admiring the scenic surroundings.
The trail meanders through Mormon Canyon with up-close majestic views of Steamboat Rock. Washes and mountain slots dot the landscape. The sky was clear that day and at certain vantage points, wide-open views appeared: Thunder Mountain, Coffee Pot Rock, Chimney Rock, uptown Sedona, Wilson Mountain, Munds Mountain, and Midgley Bridge. We could even make out Mingus Mountain beyond Cottonwood and the city of Jerome nestled on the mountainside twenty-eight miles away. The scenery was spectacular, and it was made even more special by the deep-blue sky backdrop. Several of us removed our sunglasses to check to see if the sky was really that blue - and it was.
The Westerners have a long history of hiking the Jim Thompson Trail. In fact, Albert Thompson, one of Jim’s sons, was a charter member of the club in 1961. And, in the mid-1970s, a group of sixty-two Westerners hiked this very same trail and they even wrote an article about it for this very newspaper. In that article, they noted the erosion and warned of the resulting dangers of loose rocks that were strewn along the trail. Today, the trail is manageable, but as with most trails in Sedona, hiking poles and excellent balance are highly recommended to navigate this trail.
One can only imagine what Jim Thompson would think of people casually walking along his old wagon road for recreation rather than using the road as a lifeline between settlements. His adventurous spirit, courage, and determination are the foundations that link the past to the present, laying the way for Sedona to become a thriving community. It’s only fitting that the trail bears his name to this day.
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.