Mustangs Venture into the Rock Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness

December 15, 2023


By John Such

The Westerners group, The Mustangs, hike one of the several canyons in the Secret Mountain Wilderness along the challenging HS Canyon Loop.

High-clearance vehicles were required for the Mustangs of the Sedona Westerners as we ventured out on a perfect November day to explore HS Canyon Loop - located in the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. We loaded into several high-clearance vehicles at Posse Grounds and headed up the well-traveled Dry Creek Road in West Sedona. While most drivers head straight ahead on the paved road to Boynton Pass Road, we turned right to continue on Dry Creek Road which once you pass the trailhead parking lot becomes… we’ll say… rather primitive. Dry Creek Road, also known as Forest Road 152, is very big bumpy at the beginning and continues on for four miles past the Devil’s Bridge trail and Van Daren Cabin turnoff. We turned left at the Secret Mountain Canyon Trailhead and there we found plenty of parking.    

The HS Canyon Loop is a challenging hike and is best for more experienced hikers. Parts are considered a remote area so long pants/sleeves are recommended. While the HS Canyon Loop is accessible to most hikers, there are some challenges to keep in mind. The trail involves an elevation gain of about 780 feet on uneven terrain, so sturdy hiking shoes are a must.

There was a chill in the air, but quite pleasant as we were well-prepared for our 5.5-mile hike. We hiked along the Secret Canyon trail for about a half mile where we saw fresh bear scat on the trail. When we joined the HS Canyon Trail a quarter mile farther along there were even more bear droppings which definitely caused us pause. We never saw a bear on the trail, though. Maybe our conversations ran them off as we debated what the HS stands for - happy smiles, or maybe horse… droppings. You can decide!

The beginning of the HS Canyon trail is heavily tree-covered with large Alligator Junipers and Fir trees.  The trail offered a delightful mix of red rock formations, and lush vegetation even at that time of year.  We were immediately immersed in Sedona's mesmerizing natural beauty. The trail meandered through a diverse landscape, starting with a gradual ascent that led to panoramic views of the surrounding red rock formations. 

As we entered the first of three canyons on our adventure, we were greeted by the usual Prickly Pear Cacti, Scrub Oaks, and Manzanitas. The canyons, with peaks reaching approximately 5,800 feet, offered spectacular views. We scrambled up about 200 feet and then we could see beautiful views of Sedona.

In the second canyon, we saw a grove of Manzanitas. The trunks were over five inches wide, and the distinct red bark was quite beautiful. From the third canyon, we had beautiful views of Maroon Mountain. Contrasted with the clouds, it is a sight to be seen. It was there we stopped for lunch and admired the mountain.  After lunch, we left Maroon Mountain behind, and the trail began to descend gradually.  

One of the highlights of this trail is the chance to immerse yourself in Sedona's iconic red rock scenery. Towering sandstone formations surrounded us throughout the hike, creating a sense of awe and wonder. As we hiked deeper into the canyon, we noticed the colors of the rock formations change with the shifting sunlight, providing endless opportunities for stunning photographs. On our way back to the parking lot, we saw Maple trees with vibrant reds, and Poplar trees with vibrant yellows, which is a special treat specific to this time of year.

We were happy to see our jeeps as we reached the parking lot, though the vehicles were now dusty and red from the drive in. The HS Canyon Loop in Sedona, Arizona, is a captivating hiking adventure that immerses you in the stunning beauty of the red rock landscapes and showcases the diverse flora and fauna. The Canyon Loop awaits, promising an unforgettable outdoor experience amidst the wonders of Arizona's red rock country for more experienced hikers – at least those with access to a high-clearance vehicle.

As with any natural environment, it's crucial to practice “Leave No Trace” principles while hiking in Sedona. We respected the flora and fauna, packed out all trash, and minimized the impact on this beautiful landscape to leave it as we found it for all the hikers who choose to follow.

The Mustangs of the Sedona Westerners hike on Thursdays and offer more physically challenging hikes featuring great scenic beauty. Varying in their degree of difficulty, the majority of Mustang hikes are generally six to nine miles with an elevation change of 1,000-2,000 feet - or sometimes more. Most hikes will move along at a moderate to slightly above-moderate pace.  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.

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