A Cold Morning Hike Under the Watchful Eye of the Batman Rock Formation
February 02, 2024
By Sara Stiffler
The iconic Batman rock formation stands tall over the Hangover Trail and the Sedona Westerners Rustlers hiking group.
I often have to remind myself that while 32 degrees is officially freezing, that hiking in cooler weather is not such a bad thing. With no wind, the cool temperature just meant we needed to layer up appropriately – with two or three layers under our winter coats, and gloves, of course. Our Sedona Westerners Rustlers group did just that on the first Saturday in January on a hike led by Jim Sweeney with Mark Hurtt, the Rustlers Boss, in the back tailgating. It had snowed on Thursday, but most of the snow was gone by then. Another storm was looming the next day, but the weather was perfect for our hike up to Hangover that morning.
When we reached the parking lot on Schnebly Road, we found another group of hikers. These were the Rough Riders group of the Sedona Westerners. We had planned a six-mile hike, so I asked the group how far they were going. One of the men joked, “Twenty-seven miles.” They were hiking to the Queen’s Garden (a hike I haven’t done) for a total length of 8 miles and an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. Not 27 miles, but still impressive.
Our Rustlers group let the Rough Riders take off ahead of us and soon they were out of view as they sped up the path to Munds Wagon Trail. We followed at a steady pace behind them on the same trail. Jim Sweeney generally hikes with the more advanced groups such as the Mustangs, Drovers, and Dogies, so we were on our A game keeping pace with our experienced hike leader. The sun was still behind the mountain, but the views were still stunning. Someone pointed out the Batman rock formation. From that viewpoint, the Batman didn’t quite look like the iconic Batman symbol yet, but as we continued up the trail, the shape came into view as the gray morning sky turned a brilliant blue.
Munds Wagon Trail follows a cattle trail from the late 1800s through a wooded path along the Bear Wallow Wash. For the most part, the trail seems remote and secluded. That is until you hear the distinct sound of a jeep or four-wheel drive vehicle grinding and bouncing its way up the rough and rugged Schnebly Hill Road that parallels the wash. I think I prefer walking.
The Hangover Trail intersects Munds Wagon at about the 1.5-mile mark. From there we continued the gradual climb up the hill, below the Batman. In all, we had an elevation gain of over 500 feet from this point, so it was a good workout. As the trail climbed, the landscape spread out around us – from Chimney Rock and Thunder Mountain to the west to the distinct Steamboat rock formation with Wilson Mountain looming behind it due north of us. We could make out the Jim Thompson Trail on the hillside in the distance, Midgley Bridge, and the dark green valley of Oak Creek Canyon.
As we looked across the way, we saw the Rough Riders group again, taking a much-deserved break on a sloping ledge. One of the hikers was wearing a distinctive yellow jacket. We waved in acknowledgment – proud of our accomplishment and theirs. We took our own break along another sloping ledge where we found a little sunlight to keep us warm as we sat on the cool red rock.
We had come across a few other hikers on the way out, but we found even more going back including one young lady in a knee-length oversized puffy jacket that seemed perfect for an Instagram posting.
We’d lost track of the Rough Riders group, but I took a picture of the rock cliff above us near the Batman in an off-chance I could see them. It wasn’t until I got home and zoomed in tight on my photo that I realized the other group actually was hiking along the ledge above us. The yellow jacket drew my eyes to where the hikers were on the hillside. I wonder if they saw us, too?
While the hike had seemed all uphill going, we still had some climbing to do on our return journey. We didn’t waste any time on the downhill sections and gave it our all as we climbed back up from the Bear Wallow Wash to the parking lot on the last mile of Munds Wagon Trail.
By the time we returned to the parking lot the temperature had risen to a “balmy” 41 degrees and most of us had removed at least one layer of our outerwear. We disbursed to our cars and headed back down the hill. Thankfully the traffic had thinned out from the previous weeks during the holidays - capping an already great start to the new year.
The Sedona Westerners have scheduled hikes every week from September to May for just about every ability. The cost to join is only $30 a year, and all are welcome… even short-term visitors to the region. Our website, www.sedonawesterners.org, has all the hikes listed, our history, and a handy signup link. We invite you to start your adventures in the Red Rocks with us today – even if it is a little chilly out.