The Rough Riders and Scouts Find a Giant in the Woods

May 17, 2024


By Allison Thomas

The Sedona Westerners found this Alligator Juniper, a symbol of strength and resilience, on the Woodchute/Martin Canyon Loop trail.

Located about four miles southwest of the city of Jerome, the Woodchute Wilderness rises to an impressive elevation of 7,800 feet offering scenic views to both the north and south. On a particular Saturday in April, three Rough Riders and six Scouts of the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club ventured beyond the Sedona city limits to make our way to the Woodchute Wilderness – which contains 5,923 acres of protected woodlands. The hike was memorable not just for the views, but the weather as well - we hiked not only through the usual intense sun, but also through high winds, mud, and even snow.

The Woodchute/Martin Canyon loop hike leads you immediately to a splendid panoramic view from atop of Woodchute Mountain. After the steep, yet relatively short ascent, we stopped at a lookout for a moment to catch our breath and to gaze north at the majestic and imposing San Francisco peaks north of Flagstaff, magical in all their snowcapped glory. We could see the Verde Valley below, Sycamore Canyon, Mingus Mountain, and the red rocks of Sedona off to the east and beyond. 

We continued on to a beautiful open forest passing by an old cattle-watering tank. The lower elevations of our hike were covered with juniper trees while the upper areas had ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Navigating the many switchbacks on our descent to Martin Canyon required our full attention due to the rock rubble. The bottom portion was nicely marked with piles of rocks along the way ensuring we would find our way.

I discovered that the Woodchute Wilderness was strictly used to harvest the timber in the late 1800’s. This was accomplished by constructing a chute on the northern slope of the mountain to deliver ponderosa pine timber to the copper mines at Jerome. The logs were transported by the chute to loading platforms where the narrow-gauge railway (often used in mountainous terrain) took the logs to Jerome. The need for the logs was twofold. One to stoke the fires in the smelter and two for shoring timbers in the mines. This railway is now Forest Road 318, which marks the end of the Woodchute Trail #102. Due to the continual and intense logging of the trees, the growth seen today is a second growth forest.

We did find one tree that had outlasted all of the others, an Alligator Juniper. These trees can reach heights of forty-five feet and can have a diameter of over twenty inches and grow extremely well in areas that are very hot and have little moisture. They even have the ability to just stop growing during these conditions and restart when conditions are more favorable. Some live for over 500 years. We were lucky enough to encounter one particularly impressive Alligator Juniper as we came out of the wash. With its distinctive dark, squared, and cracked bark resembling alligator skin it exemplified life, growth, wisdom, and strength. It was clear when we looked way up the top of this tree, Woodchute had been its home for many, many years. Fellow Scout and Horticulturist, Shaun Symond, shared with us that this was the largest and oldest juniper he had ever seen. Likely 250-350 years old, easily.

Although we drove a long way to the trailhead, it did allow for a wonderful opportunity to view the amazing landscape of the area. The highlight for this Canadian, though, was hiking through the lingering snow on our way in and out - and being able to make the last snow angel of the season!

The 2023-2024 hiking season has ended for the Sedona Westerners, although, we have two more articles lined up for the Sedona Red Rock News, so look for those in the coming weeks. Our new hiking season will start up in September so be sure to check out our website at www.SedonaWesterners.org for more information about the hiking club. We look forward to seeing you on the trails.

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